As a freelance artist I always have one eye on current opportunities. I know we are living in austere times but that is no reason for arts organisations to compound the austerity of artists by offering ‘opportunities’ that pay so poorly that they are economically unviable to apply for. We’ve all heard the ‘it will be good exposure’, ‘it will look good on the CV’ lines that really amount to nought.
In the run up to Christmas I noticed several ‘opportunities’ that stood out as prime examples of the above. Seven Stories advertised for artist volunteers before changing it – after having had it brought to their attention the reality of the opportunity - to actual paid opportunities – although not saying what that pay was. However the opportunity I want to focus on here is the advertised ‘opportunity’ by Venture Arts. Their ‘Artist Callout’ included the following text
‘ OutsiderXchangeS came about to develop the talents and profile of learning-disabled artists and also to investigate the potential to make new, interesting, challenging work through visual artist ideas exchange and real collaboration.
Venture Arts are looking for 5 artists to work alongside 5 learning disabled artists to develop ideas, share practice and, through collaboration, develop contemporary art.
All successful artists will receive £1000 artist fee and given a free studio space for five months (February – July 2016) coming together for 1-2 day(s) per week to share their studio with a learning disabled artist involved in the project.’
So, £1000 for 1-2 days a week for 5 months. That equates to around £50 a day for 1 day a week or £25 for 2 days. Ok so there is a ‘free studio’ but which artist is going to move their studio for 5 months?
This poor fee was brought to the attention of Venture Arts and the advert was amended to
'All successful artists will receive £1000 artist bursary and given a free studio space for five months (February – July 2016) coming together for 1-2 day(s) per week to share their studio with a learning disabled artist involved in the project. The bursary is intended for artists to use in the production of their own work.'
So the fee became a bursary. Still, it just doesn’t add up. Let’s unpack this a bit more. The original advert on line has been amended with an ‘in the interest of better communication’ including
'For learning disabled artists this is an opportunity to work alongside other artists, one or two days per week when they will use the shared studio as a drop in studio. Learning disabled artists will not be based there at other times. For other artists, this will be an opportunity to interact with learning disabled artists. The open call is intended to attract artists who want to learn from learning disabled artists and the exciting field of learning disability visual art practice.
'the selected artists will have their own free studio space for 5 months, which will be adjacent to or adjoining the shared studio space. The studios will be at Baltic 39, Newcastle and project spaces run by Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. Artists will not be expected to lead or run workshops, or support learning disabled artists.'
To my mind this does not add clarity to the situation. It seems the call out falls between wanting an artist collaboration and a volunteer.
‘The idea is to create a platform for collaboration to take place between artists. We envisage that all artists involved in the project will be inspired by each others practice in creating work. The £1,000 bursary is to support artists in their own practice.’
At the end of the day Venture Arts, working with their partners in the project, want a collaboration that develops contemporary art which can be showcased in the venues. The partners – Baltic, Castlefield and CVAN – are all funded by Arts Council England and this is an Arts Council Funded project. However, it would seem that none of the organisations appreciate or value the time and work of artists within the funding structure of this project.
The partners, as NPO’s, need to engage with the Creative Case for diversity as a requirement of their funding. It is an ACE priority. This seems a cheap and cynical manner in which to achieve this. I wonder if the Lead Artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber, is being paid in the same manner – I hope not.
I work extensively within Arts Equality and Diversity, I have been the recipient of several Creative Case funding awards and I have an awareness of working with diverse artists. It is not as simple as putting two artists in a room and saying there you go – collaborate, make some art.
I am not going to unpack all the salient issues here but they need to be thought about. Presumably, and it is a presumption, the artist with ‘learning disabilities’ – and I really do not like the labelling inherent within this – will probably be classed as a ’vulnerable adult’ which then impacts on safe working practices, DBS, access needs etc. How will access requirements be met – around working practices – times, amount of concentration, does a carer need to be present, are there any other ‘complex needs’ to consider? There is no evidence that this has all been thought through or if it has, it is not clear.
If a new graduate is – and I use the term ‘selected’ rather than ‘employed’, will they have the requisite skills, or if an artist – experienced in practice and diversity – is selected why are they not being paid for this skill set?
I have raised issues around this callout with other artists. There has been much discussion on various social media platforms. I also raised it with Artists Union England who campaign, amongst other issues, on fair pay for artists. Together with them we will be taking this matter up further in the new year.
Yesterday I received an email from Creative Case North 'consortium' ( - smacks of a dehumanised post- armageddon cultural landscape). There's going to be an event. The ever optimistic side of me thought Great! Something positive for diversity in THE NORTH. Maybe something will change, maybe we are making progress. But then with heavy heart i remembered the last Creative Case event I went to in the north last year. On the back of that i wrote this rant for Axis. I do so hope things are different this time and i feel represented and heard as a diverse artist. I do so hope I feel part of a conversation and not just talked at. But then there is hope and there is experience - maybe one day they will match up.
The Axis article
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Creative Case – Arts Council England’s new approach to diversity and equality, where the focus is on great art rather than a limiting label of gender, sexuality, race or disability for instance.
I recently attended a regional Creative Case conference – as a ‘diverse artist’ an invitation would have been nice – but then I realised that the conference wasn’t really for me, neither was it for the few other freelance artists present. It seemed more for organisations to collectively say ‘Yes, we do diversity’, satisfy their Arts Council England National Portfolio funding criteria and dispense a self-congratulatory pat on the back. Tick that box!
In an ‘Open Space’ forum I got told many things including ‘It’s hard for everyone in the arts’ and I’ve ‘Got the same access to opportunities as everyone else’. It was clear most of the people present had little experience, understanding or awareness around issues of getting seen, heard or making a living as a ‘diverse artist’. Clearly, if we all had the same access to opportunities and there really was a level playing field, what were we doing at a conference devoted to diversity in the arts?
As I tried to express the difficulties faced by diverse, particularly disabled, artists, I felt I was marginalising myself even more. The more I tried to convey that we haven’t all been to art school and that a massive schism exists between how ‘diverse arts’ and ‘mainstream arts’ are valued and represented, I could feel the disconnect intensify. Oh, the irony!
The word disability returns 89 search results on Axisweb and 69 on the a-n site. Disability is under-represented in society as a whole and this is reflected and magnified in the arts. Shouldn’t arts organisations be doing better? How can there be ‘great’ diverse art if diverse artists are consistently excluded? So if you do diversity like you say you do, then invite us in. Go on, take a risk, let’s converse, let’s collaborate!
Last Sunday, a wet and miserable April day, about 70 people gathered at St Nicholas' Psychiatric Hospital in Newcastle to bear witness to Devising Psychosis - a newly devised piece of collaboraitive theatre.
Gathered in the Jubilee Theatre - a wonderful example of a Victorian proscenium arch theatre completed in 1899 and a grade II listed building - were academics, artists, medics, therapists, service users, service providers and philosophers to name but a few. We were wanting to start a dialogue and a process of cross-pollination of interest and activity.
For me, it had been a long journey. Last year i took an idead to Alisdair Cameron at Launchpad in Newcastle suggesting we should celebrate 100 years of schizophrenia as a diagnosis. Much dialogue ensued - not least - should we be celebrating it at all? I was of the opinion that we definitely should celebrate it - but perhaps not in the traditional way.
From that moment on it become a group project. It really is the most collaborative and egalitarian project i have ever worked on. For starters there was no leader. We took the responsibility we were best able to take. We learnt as we went along, we skill shared, encouraged, mentored, we stumbled and picked ourselves up. We didn't actually get anything together in time to celebrate the 100 years and thus Psychosis 101 was born. We all liked the multi levels of references within this title.
Eventually there were about a core of 10 of us - this lead to millions of e-mails and loads of meetings. This is the price of working in a manner none of us had worked before - we were in unchartered territory driving at night with no lights. But because we all pulled together in the same direction for the common good, no egos over-riding anyone else's we got there. We sourced the funding, got the early intervention in psychosis team on board, recruited an evaluator, found a venue, drew on a lot of good will and - take a deep breath - finally got to perform.
The devising psychosis artists- myself ( Aidan Moesby), Tess Denman Cleaver and Sean Burn and we worked with the staff and young people who access EIP. The process took 10 weekly workshops where we exchanged skills and showed different approaches to making theatre, writing, oral narratives etc working towards a devised, and improvised, piece of theatre. By the end of the process we were all leading, we were all participants, there was no us and them as is usually the case in 'community' based projects to some degree.
We have much to learn from this process but we believe it can work with similar groups in similar ways. We want the project to have sustainability and have a legacy. We do not subscribe to the parachute in - parachute out model of engagement. We hope to train some of the young people we worked with as peer leaders to pass on the skills again. Critical to the success was also the buy in from the managers and staff of the early intervention in psychosis teams in newcastle. In fact the staff would have liked the process as training for them.
The event can be seen with some photos here http://www.facebook.com/events/319741064751527/
A performance of new work from the Devising Psychosis group will be presented. Comprising of mental health service users and staff from Newcastle and Gateshead Early Intervention In Psychosis teams, the Devising Psychosis Group have been collaborating with artist Aidan Moesby, theatre company Tender Buttons, and playwright Sean Burn over the last 2 months to devise a new piece of theatre. Performed against a backdrop designed and created by artist from Newcastle and Gateshead and North Tyneside Arts Studios, the piece is reflective of individual experiences and those gained together during this unique collaborative process.
Also performing areSean Burn will read from tattooing lorca - a sequence about sectioning and post-sectioning recovery.
A talk given by Dr Mark Cresswell, lecturer in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.
Family therapists from Newcastle Early Intervention in Psychosis team Kevin Hawkes & Alex Reid will talk about their personal journey as mental health practitioners in working with families and psychosis.
The event will also feature two participatory art installations by Aidan Moesby based around personal and cultural notions of well-being, and visual art from North Tyneside Arts Studio and Newcastle and Gateshead Arts Studio.
We live in difficult times. The National Portfolio funding came out – a few of the organisations we are all familiar with suffered. Arcadea – my local disability arts organisation didn’t get any funding at all. Geof Armstrong is at the helm and steering through the storm admirably.
How can the Arts Council claim to be promoting disability and disabled artists in the region (let alone nationally). How can it just ignore a whole cohort of artists, audience, producers etc in the North East? This decision leaves Manchester or Liverpool or Wakefield as my ‘locally’ funded organisations. But enough of that.
I was fortunate enough to meet Elinor Urwin from the Art House in Wakefield to go through some of my rejected applications. This was a brilliant – if not a bit difficult – use of an afternoon. There was so much material – so many rejections – to choose from. To have some simple pointers and some incisive analysis on my approach was invaluable. It is difficult to get feedback from applications, though I always try. Yet it is so contradictory. 'Too conceptual'; 'not conceptual enough'; 'too prescriptive'; 'not prescriptive enough'; 'too flaky'; 'too detailed'. How do you make sense of it? Well, having the objective eyes of Elinor reflect on this brought some clarity. So thank you Elinor – and congratulations to the Art House on their continued funding.
Why is it that artists (I have not always been an artist) have to say they are busy, or working on this or that. Why can’t they just say "it’s really REALLY hard out there and I’m struggling." I know why. You have to boost your own stock. No one wants an artist who isn’t busy etc etc. So I am blessed with all this time and cursed by the low moods of under employment. The irony is that I have a few exhibitions on and coming up – which is fab – but jam for tomorrow doesn’t put food on the table today.
I have just installed ‘Do you think we can talk about this?’ - a solo exhibition at the Centre For Life in Newcastle, which opens next weekend – the 16 April. It is a collection of pieces which reflect on my personal experience of diagnosis 'Bipolar Disorder.' and weaving in elements of the personal and cultural agenda surrounding mental health.
It runs for a couple of months. Can we talk about mental health? At once we are fascinated by those perceived as kooky, off beat, crazy and then we tire of them and vilify them and perpetuate the stereotypical images and viewpoints of those living with an enduring mental health condition. I hope we can talk about it. I hope we can get a right good open honest discussion going.
I don’t know about you but I quite like having a bit of autonomy when it comes to my own life. Not that I’m a control freak or anything – far from it. I like the fact that the world just happens and presents a variety of experiences for me to respond to at times. I see my new psychiatrist tomorrow. Now this is a case in point – my previous psych. was nu-skool "I am the expert in my own condition" – we make decisions together, I have a degree of autonomy in the things that affect my life. Great!
Where am I going with all this. Well tomorrow I will say to my new psych. that I take rejections personally. That they have a profound affect upon my mental health. The method of rejection also has an effect. The rub is this. As an artist you are constantly putting yourself on the line, constantly putting yourself in the ‘Palinesque’ sights of rejection. Constantly applying and proposing.
In fact at times, applying and proposing – be it for commissions, workshops, funding or even benefits – can be a full time job. Unless you are very fortunate, rejection is all part and parcel of being an artist. He may suggest medication, he may tell me to \'Deal with it\' or \'do something different\'. I’m still trying to deal with it – maybe some CBT will help.
I remember back in the good old days when people used to write proper letters to each other. In the case of applications you got a letter back. You could pretty much tell if it was an offer or interview or rejection. (I remember returning to love letters, I remember too the Dear John – at least they thought enough to write. The modern world is so throw away and often devoid of true meaning – dumped by text – callous!) You had some time to compose yourself before opening. These days it’s a line in the from-subject box and a two or three line standard reply of rejection. This is invariably followed by something about there being too many applicants to provide any feedback.
Like many of you out there, I proposed an idea to the Unlimited strand of the Cultural Olympiad. Like many I was disappointed. They suggested we apply for a GFA from the Arts Council. I like to think, and rather naively I am learning the hard way, that the disability and the disability arts world is somehow softer and more considerate to those within it because it sure is a brutal world out there in the wider diaspora. So other than the fact that I don’t even know who sits on the Unlimited panel, I am finding it near impossible to discover this. And I like to think I have good research and internet skills. That hardly constitutes feedback, nor is it particularly helpful.
So as I compose another GFA, I am left wondering who got the money, was it new work or reworked, was it money for old rope, jobs for the boys and girls, a larger Tsunami of cash heading South? I hold onto my idealism of inclusion not cliques, meritocracy not favours, transparency not dodgy deals in the smoky back rooms. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
You can see more of my work at www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Aidan-Moesby