Modes of Practice in [and out of] an Age of Austerity

Yesterday I went up to Stoke-on-Trent to take part in the Modes of Practice in an Age of Austerity event being run by New Generation Space, where 20 or so artists of different types met and discussed the issues important to them.


I was particularly attracted by the prospect of some interesting brain fodder from artists Emily Speed (‘Getting Paid’) and Rich White (“how a practitioner whose work is not saleable in the traditional sense survives in these difficult times”) as well as a chance to check out The Exchange, which seems to have been popping up on my radar a bit recently. Really though, it’s always good to get the chance to find out about the nuts and bolts of how others function as artists, so it was nice to just be in a room with other people talking about this sort of stuff and galvanising my own practice.

Rich's checklist for deciding what opportunities to pursue

The presentations from Emily and Rich were both very thought-provoking – naturally there were references to money, but there were also strong themes around questions of when we should say no to offered opportunities and assessing different types of value.

The five prompts for discussion

After the presentations we split up into smaller groups and spent some time responding to prompts for sharing our thoughts and experiences:

  • What impact have the cuts had on your practice or the practice of other artists you know?
  • What are your main concerns for the coming years?
  • Have you started to employ any strategies for surviving the cuts, and how could artists help and support each other during these difficult times?
  • What are the best and worst traits in an artist?

The Wall

Our fifth prompt was to decide on five rules to ensure good practice. These were then pooled and voted on until we had a mini manifesto of sorts.

Participants vote for the items they think are most important

I didn’t make a copy of the final list per se, although it was interesting to note that the rules all seemed to me to be independent of the current economic climate. The issues of prime concern to us were to keep making work of high quality; to be rewarded (financially or otherwise) fairly for our work; and to be part of wider, mutually and innovatively generous networks.

The blocks we are encountering to these come from perceptions and expectations from society as a whole and we have not always been guilt free of perpetuating them ourselves. If I have one hope for what might result from activism catalysed by the cuts, it is that we may do something towards addressing these attitudes.

If you would like to receive a copy of the manifesto that was produced during this session – or can think of people, institutions, organisations that you think should receive a copy – I suggest you add your request to the comments on the event’s page.

Update: Anna Francis’ post here: