What a strange thing to say. Of course, it’s the answer. Isn’t it? There simply aren’t enough salaried jobs, are there? So, if we want to make performance art, we have to get funding, whether its lottery/quango funding or trust/charity funding. That’s how it’s done. Alternatively we provide teaching, training, workshops and outreach. We share our skills and sometimes we’ll get funding to do that too. These are the options, right?
No. These things are not enough. There’s a better way.
Perfectly poised ….
As performance artists we are already naturally blessed with the answer. The very expression of our art-form is communion with others. Performance is always a collaboration of many parts, including audience, artists, other professionals, supporters, benefactors and interested parties. Even solo artists cannot create and express their art alone. The act of performance is a blessed conjoined gift and therein lays its ultimate strength. We are in fact perfectly poised to make a real difference to the future of arts funding.
It works like this. Every single performance of every single type happens at the epi-centre of a community, like concentric rings in a pond. The make up of that community may shift and reform but a performance is always at the centre of its ring. Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of that as a whole and been encouraged, often through the funding application process itself, to compartmentalise our community. We’re asked to address audience development as a separate issue from fundraising; to fully describe projects before we’ve had a chance to liaise properly. Worst of all, we have come to see our relationship with our community as something separate from our Art. It is not and can never be.
This compartmentalising and separation of relationships is what has left many large theatres stranded and struggling. They thought the building itself was their asset, their resource. They were wrong. It was always their community, in the widest sense. Lyn Gardner speaks of this separation between artist and audience 05/02/14, and how, if we address this, we might create an “army of advocates” for our work 07/05/2013.
In this context, it’s an interesting sign of our times, how rarely you see positions for Animateurs in the arts today. In this country we’re more used to seeing the Animateur in the music industry. Music Jobs UK describe them as helping “audiences to appreciate musicians and music in new ways and helps them to enjoy music that they may not be familiar with. They also help the musicians as they develop techniques for reaching out to their communities and encourage as many people as possible to engage with music and music related activities.”
However, in France and Italy in the 1960s and 1970s the role was seen to encompass a broader artistic remit. An Animateur or Animatore was “a practising artist, in any art form, who uses her / his skills, talents and personality to enable others to compose, design, devise, create perform or engage with works of art of any kind” (Smith 1999, 2009) – “animation” was to breath life into a thing and do all that was required to allow it to happen, including marshalling the necessary resources and funds.
To me, this moves us closer to the kind of holistic community development that all performance needs. As a performance artist/organisation you have a community which is your greatest strength and continual communication within it should not be an extra task but should be part of your Art. You need to employ or to think like an Animateur. You need someone who can resist the imperatives to segregate and compartmentalise, someone to love and nuture your whole community, including audience, sponsors, benefactors and interested parties, in all the ways that are needful to create your art.
Still not sure, well then let me prove it to you …
The South West is seething with talent and creativity in this regard …..
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The inspiration is right here in the South West performance landscape, just look around you.
You can see it in the action at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter. The dynamic direction there of David Lockwood and latterly of Fin Irwin has meant that they haven’t relied on the theatre itself to generate income. What they have created is a beautiful community of performance artists, audience and sponsors; a hub of developing practice that supports local, and indeed national, talent. Through their Framework Programme and Residencies they’re continually growing and nurturing their community.
It's right there in the promenade, open-access, landscape-involved work of Burn the Curtain.
You can see it in North Devon too. Multi Story Theatre have taken years of experience of working with young people, into schools but not as an add-on, or an outreach extension – but as an integrated way of creating and developing their performances. And in the inspired work of Viva Voce whose mission is to “create artistic experiences from the words of real people” in excellent verbatim theatre.
And in a myriad of smaller enterprises such as Theatre Rush’s Story Exchange, and indeed Interwoven Production’s own Squilometre community-commissioned performance concept.
I’m not saying that none of these organisations has received traditional arts funding, or that they won’t in the future. I am saying that because of their community integrated approach, they are better positioned than others to survive without it in the future.
And the beauty is, the real gem of glory is, in changing in this way, in wholly embracing and animating your community to fund and shape your art, you’ll be playing an active part in changing the arts landscape forever. So, if you’re hurting from another rejected funding application, finding your talents and enthusiasms blunted by having to provide endless “evidence” of your worth, take heart. The answer is already here. And the more we operate in this way, the less we will need arts funding.
As performance artists, in the sharing, the grace and the communion of your art – we are uniquely and perfectly poised to change the world.
Smith, Mark K. (1999, 2009) ‘Animateurs, animation and fostering learning and change’, the encylopaedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/mobi/animateurs-animation-learning-and-change]
It’s a driving question and it’s about more than just subsistence because it also tends to be the way we judge the success of our art. One of the first questions you’ll get asked by another artist is “do you do this full-time”? So few of us achieve that heady goal that its very scarcity makes it all the more desirable. But it is a very divisive tendency and one to be avoided. It just generates envy and discord amongst artists, whose natural tendency otherwise would be to collaborate and co-create.
It is also, I’d like to demonstrate, a very old school way of looking at things. The economics of scarcity is well recognised and deeply embedded in our thinking. Apparently, we will all pay more for something that is rare. But economics is not a pre-scriptive tool. Things don’t have to be that way. It is a de-scriptive tool. It simply tells us that most people, in most circumstances, will behave in that way.
So, it is extremely interesting to note that there are many voices now; many artists, environmentalists, theorists, in fact people in all walks of life, who are succeeding in persuading people to behave differently! It is aided by, but not exclusive to, the internet and social media. It is strongly linked to the revulsion that many feel about how we exploit and despoil our planet and comes from the camp of holistic ecology and environmental responsibility.
It has been coined by Charles Eisenstein, as Sacred Economics but in fact many of its characteristics were laid out as a kind of manifesto for artists as early as 1979 by Lewis Hyde (The Gift).
Hyde argues strongly that to exchange or barter something for a fixed price is to “kill” the cultural, artistic and spiritual value of the “thing”. It is cancelled out, removed from universe, from the common good. Whereas, when something is given freely, each transaction will increase its worth, value and benefit. And it will continue to increase as long as the gift keeps moving. Both Eisenstein and Hyde therefore argue strongly in favour of Gift – giving your services away.
But how can this work?!! How does this make the artist’s subsistence any more tenable? Now, I’m aware that, being a recent convert to these ideas I’m behaving like an AA “two-stepper”. I’m all excited about the revelation and now want to go and tell others all about it, before I’ve done the hard work and all the steps in between. I haven’t proved it can work yet. But I’m also aware that many people are making it work and I’m conscious of wanting to emulate some of the openness and vulnerability of Amanda Palmer, one of the most successful proponents of this approach.
Amanda, a musician, is famous for having cut out the middle man and for her profound and direct connection with her audience through social media and crowd-finding. That is, if she has one, her business model. She just asks her fans for their help.
So, I’m sharing my thought process with you, just like Amanda does. I want to keep the conversation open as I continue to research, explore, discuss and trial how this might be.
Here are some of the things that I think are important to developing a Gift approach and a Sacred Economy, particularly in theatre and the performing arts:-
1) I think it is ‘sacred’ and important to give your work away but to ask people, in an easy, fun way to return the gift if they can/want to. This means extending your performance into Q & A or some other activity that includes the audience. It means not sending them away at the end of the show but, rather, finding some way to celebrate their participation and facilitate their gift. Afterall, if your performance is a gift then their return gift should be part of the performance.
2) I think it also means finding new and interesting ways of Asking. Sometimes things will have to be funded up front or you simply won’t be able to move forward. Amanda Palmer famously raised over million dollars through KickStarter crowd-funding for a planned tour. The successful norm is for much smaller amounts though and often projects fail to meet their mark all together. The difference that Amanda makes is her direct and profound connection with her audience. She gives herself up to them entirely, that connection and communication is part of her art.
3) It means changing your view of what success is. Like many artists, I’m interested only in making enough to continue being creative. Profit and excess have very little meaning for me. But as I’ve mentioned many will measure your success as an artist by your income. It’s hard not to feel pressured by this. I find that the concept of “Right Livelihood” helps. This means finding a livelihood that DOES NO HARM. It allows you to be the artist you need to be but also requires that you make enough return not to do yourself or your loved ones any harm – in other words, to gain a reasonable and responsible income. Striving for a Right Livelihood feels like a worthy and achievable goal.
4) It means being aware of your own Gift. It’s no mistake that artistic talent is referred to as a Gift. We are all familiar with those moments when we’ve created something that seems to come through us, rather than from us. In order to successfully share your Gift and ask others to help you support it, you have to know it, explore it, develop it and bow into its service. This means not changing or corrupting it to someone else’s vision. James Stenhouse tackles some of this in his excellent blog How to make a living as an artist where he exhorts us to never “… let ANYONE tell you what kind of work you should be making. EVER”.
5) Finally, I think it requires a community; a minimum number of individuals who understand and value the concept of Gift enough to keep it moving, to return it and gift-it-forward so that we can all then know that we are part of the whole. The greater that community is, the more successful the approach will be. I may be wrong in this. I’d be interested to know what you think.
That seems like a great place to end. But I’d love to keep the conversation open. Please leave your thoughts and comments and I will endeavour to answer each of them.
Eisenstein, Charles 2011 Sacred Economics. Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition. Evolver, Berkeley, USA.
Hyde, Lewis 2012 The Gift. How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World. Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Musicians, painters, actors, directors, performers of all kinds; there are more of us than there are regular, paid jobs. This is a fact, so how can we survive and make art that we can be proud of at the same time?
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JoJo Spinks is a Westcountry writer deeply in love with her landscape and her life!
"Thank you very much for joining me here. Please read on to explore more about Working in the Gift and my joint passions of participatory arts and the Devonian landscape." JoJo :)