It’s that time of year when a reflective look back at events and our collective activities gives us all a warm festive glow and a sense of optimism for the year ahead.

Most would agree, however, that 2016 has been a hell of a year at a global level, and for many there’s a need to see it over. For others, there is anticipation about what the year ahead will bring. It feels a little like we’re ending the year in hiatus. It’s messy. But as my predecessor here at a-n was fond of telling me, “messy can be good”.

Throughout all this messiness, we’ve all been very busy.

a-n’s membership increased this year to an all-time high of 21,000, and I’m delighted that in 2016 through our a-n Professional development and Travel bursaries we’ve distributed £69,331 to 83 of our members right across the UK. You can read more about the outcomes on a-n blogs. (Overall, a-n gives back over 34% of its membership income direct to artists through bursaries and employment on its programmes. We’re proud of that, and are working hard to increase that over the coming years.)

Further a-n bursaries also supported artists The Brownlee Brothers, Paloma Proudfoot and Aniela Piasecka, Dorian Braun, and Jack Saunders to present new commissioned work for the Platform exhibition, which opened in July, as part of Edinburgh Art Festival 2016. You can read more about Braun’s project for Platform in our Q&A with the artist. The artists have also written about their Platform projects on a-n blogs.

We also posted images of the resulting commissions on a-n’s Instagram, where earlier in the summer a team of a-n members had been busy posting images and commentary from inspirational degree shows around the country.

Working internationally and campaigning at home

Post-referendum we did a quick survey to start to assess the impact of leaving Europe on your work and livelihoods. 1,399 members took part in July and 452 of you submitted thoughtful comments to an AIR Council open call.

Among other things we learned that over half of you had travelled to Europe up to six times in the last year for work – that’s a significant level of interaction. We know travel is, and always has been, a vital element of artists’ working patterns – for development, to build networks, to make and sell work.

Ensuring continued freedom of movement is essential, and through our involvement as members of the Creative Industries Federation, as new members of Culture Action Europe and in discussions with the British Council, we will continue campaigning around this and looking at international opportunities on your behalf over the next year.

In November, a-n was accepted as the National Representing Committee for the UK of the International Artists Association, a non-governmental organisation working in partnership with UNESCO to stimulate international cooperation among artists, to improve their economic and social position and defend their material and moral rights. We look forward to seeing how this international platform can benefit our members.

Campaigning at home, a-n and AIR were delighted after two years of rigorous consultation and sustained advocacy to launch the Paying Artists Exhibition Payment Guidance. With widespread support from artists, curators and funders in England, Scotland and Wales, the guidance will enable the sector to put fair exhibition payment into practice – a vital step to ensuring the sustainability of the arts ecology for decades to come.

This wouldn’t have happened without the input of our AIR Council and our membership’s active involvement throughout the process. There’s plenty still to do here and from early next year we’ll be working with partners and funders to ensure this guidance is embedded.

Artist leaders

Investing in artist leaders and changemakers was behind the launch of the first dedicated Clore Visual Artist Fellowship supported by a-n in July. Manchester-based artist Maurice Carlin began his Clore journey in September – you can read about his experience so far in our Q&A and you’ll hear more from Maurice later in the spring.

We also piloted a small bursary which enabled four of our artist members to train as fully qualified coaches with RD1st in Lancaster. All four have now qualified and you’ll hear more about their transformational experience of coaching in the new year, linked to an announcement of a major new initiative from a-n for our members.

Looking ahead

In early 2017 we’ll be looking forward to your applications to the next round of a-n bursaries – three strands are already open for application, with further opportunities to be announced in January.

We’ll also report back on a small pilot research project we’re running in Scotland for older artists, in partnership with Luminate, Cove Park and Magnetic North in February. And a-n will be ‘on the road’ in the spring for a series of pop-up events working with some of our artist-led partners across the UK. We look forward to seeing some of you at these.

We also have a number of new resources and tools in development, and will be developing our mutually beneficial partnership with Disability Arts Online to build some dedicated and much-needed resources and tools for artists working with disability.

One of the things that has struck me this year is seeing artists and arts communities actively coming together. From the ‘messiness’ there is a growing sense of positive and constructive solidarity, support and collaboration. Many are stepping up, finding and projecting their voices into political and cultural debate through various public and social media platforms. Others are taking quieter but no less powerful routes through their work and practice.

In a recent a-n blog post, Dan Thompson, artist and a-n board member, talks of his understanding of the role of the artist “to help people take the lead”, reinforcing the powerful civic role artists have – and have always had – as changemakers and influencers. It leaves me hopeful for the year ahead.

1. Paloma Proudfoot and Aniela Piasecka, performance of Made To Be Broken as part of the Platform exhibition at Edinburgh Art Festival 2016.
2. Jane Wilson, artist and part of collaborative duo Jane and Louise Wilson, speaking at the launch of Exhibition Payment: The a-n/AIR Paying Artists Guide. Photo: Kirstin Sinclair
3. Maurice Carlin, Performance Publishing: Excelsior Works, 2015. Performance co-commission from V22 and ‘Multiplied’ at Christies, to publish the 5,000 sq ft Excelsior Works warehouse floor plate in CMYK relief prints, before a radical transformation of the surrounding area.

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