Artists’ Terms of Engagement with Fundraising: The Artist Support Pledge, Generosity and Equity

Artists’ Terms of Engagement with Fundraising: The Artist Support Pledge, Generosity and Equity

https://artistsupportpledge.com/reds/


by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellow and Public Programmes & Residencies Producer from The Tetley, Georgia Taylor Aguilar

 

The #ArtistSupportPledge is an international movement of support for artists and makers to generate income. The premise is that an artist sells work for a maximum of £200 each and when £1000 is reached; a pledge is made to purchase another artwork or donate 20% earned. An estimated £15m of sales have been generated. Simple and generous. It was established by Matthew Burrows, an artist and creator of Artist Support Projects, a development programme to facilitate peer critique and networks amongst mid-career artists. Through the Artist Support Pledge, this article explores the changing terms of engagement that individual artists have with fundraising, alongside the need for greater and continual drive for equity.

 

Funding bodies and organisations acted quickly to re-configure strands following Covid-19’s paralysis, with Arts Council England announcing emergency grants within days. Nevertheless, the pledge was quicker to plug this brief power hiatus, becoming a growing economy. This need is partly demonstrated by the many unable to benefit from income support or the job retention scheme. This is due to the industry’s precarious work practices; many straddle a mixture of PAYE contracts, freelance work, zero-hour and temporary contracts. As of 2015, UK artists were earning on average £10,000 or less per year.[1] In this sense, the 2016 research commission by The Freelands Foundation – ‘How can we support emerging artists?[2] still remains relevant, if not optimistic. Covid-19 has exacerbated these pre-existing urgencies cited, including; the need for using dynamic and inclusive funding models to channel funds towards underrepresented practices; a drop-off point for practices 2-5 years post-graduation; and opportunities encouraging competition over collaboration.

 

Burrows cites the art market’s current pyramid system economy which ‘makes some people very wealthy and very powerful, but at the expense of many many many practitioners who struggle under that system.’[3] For millions of artists without gallery representation, until now potential supporters would usually buy work through websites, enquiry form, catalogue and email. In general, showcasing a portfolio through Instagram far outweighed selling work through the platform. This pledge has simplified the buying process by utilising assets and a decentralised structure to widen networks by connecting communities of creators. The welcoming process is more accessible; for those practicing in an environment riddled with systemic barriers, to first-time sellers, emerging artists and those with non-traditional arts backgrounds. The hashtag as a successful search tool flattens the platform to profile a balance of artistic practices; including contemporary art, craft, ceramics, textiles and interior design. It’s a pleasure investing time to fumble through the weird and wonderful, as well as rogues and repeats – all the while mapping preferences with algorithms. It reminds me of artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s “ENERGY: YES! QUALITY: NO!”,[4] an affirmation he applies to his practice. As an invaluable crux to this initiative, ‘ENERGY: YES’ incites active thinking and movement over exclusivity and particularism.

 

The Artist Support Pledge is another contributor to a resurgence of nurturing a greater appetite for collecting contemporary artworks. Other examples of collecting initiatives include Delphian Gallery’s Lockdown Editions; releasing a weekly print, with post-printing profits going to the artists. Guts Gallery are exceptional – they platform underrepresented contemporary voices by creating a support system to artists who are often denied opportunity. Platformed artists include Black, Asian, and minority ethnic, LGBTQ, neurodivergent, working-class, and disabled artists. These initiatives grow our appetites and set an example for what an accessible collecting culture should look like.

https://artistsupportpledge.com/reds/


Exhibiting and selling work are usually subject to few gatekeepers; who prioritise platforming certain people, at certain times, whilst fitting into an agenda. Because opportunities to sell are arguably limited and inconsistent, instead, efforts are channelled into competing for threads of opportunities – for grants, residencies, commissions and/or development programmes etc. However, this growing competitive culture of statutory grant income is increasingly unsustainable for individuals. For instance, pre-covid pending applications were cancelled, so were projects abandoned or re-framed for new priorities. Within a finite window and challenging circumstances, artists invested even more time to re-apply again and again. This labour needs to be recognised. Some cultural workers (the good eggs) offered support by helping with applications. An artist-led initiative, Keep it Complex, challenged this competition culture by facilitating a ‘Solidarity Syndicate’ to approach Arts Council England’s Emergency Grants. The process to access funding should not detriment those juggling practices alongside employment precarity, caring responsibilities, disability and health conditions etc. Fundraising processes rarely take an intersectional and accessible approach to understand artists’ complex, changing, and contradictory lived experiences. In this way, the competitive and rigorous processes that can foreground funding applications favour those who have the tools, resources and prior experience of applying for funding; all of which is a privilege.

 

Successful initiatives are therefore enveloped in equity and generosity. Burroughs’ financial premise is ‘if generosity is genuine then it has to feel slightly uncomfortable’.[5] Asset-based approaches, including above initiatives, that empower artists with income generation tools only go so far. By pairing this with equity and anti-racism action, these seeping uncomfortable feelings should be re-distributed away from individual artists. They demand greater structural change over individual solutions to match the scale of the issue. Dr Nisreen Alwan asserted that the words ‘“Diversity” and “inclusion” imply charity from a position of power and superiority. They give the impression that the group who is opening the door to diversify and include others still holds the key. The point of antiracism is that there should not be a key in the first place. The door should be widely open to all.’[6] Imagine if commitments and actions to ‘equity and justice’ were made over ‘diversity and inclusion’ narratives. Covid-19 has highlighted the continual responsibility of funding bodies to critique the distribution, processes and dismantle the terms of engagement in which individuals and communities access funds.

 

 

You can keep up to date with Georgia and her work on Twitter @georgiataylora


[1] Susan Jones, ‘Artists’ Low Income and Status are International Issues’ <https://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/2015/jan/12/ar...

[4]  http://www.thomashirschhorn.com/energy-yes-quality-no/

[5] Matthew Burroughs, ‘Artist Support Pledge’, The Curator’s Salon, <https://thecuratorssalon.com/artist-blog/artist-support-pledge> 6:03