FRSA Pete Lawrence explains why a connected community is essential for the future of art in Britain.
In the wake of government proposals to cut arts funding and rely more on private initiatives, artists and art organisations up and down the country are focused on securing their next round of funding. I can just imagine thousands of emails winding their way to potential funders as people take stock of their situation and switch into survival mode.
Approaching such a fundamental challenge to funding from the perspective of individual artist or institutions ignores the wisdom, ideas, innovation and ultimately action, that can come from the crowd. Art provides real value to our society and economy: we need to how shared confidence in acknowledging this contribution and working together in tough times.
In the last 50 years or so, art has underpinned a broad shift in the political and cultural fabric of Britain. Decades of investment have revived museums and galleries and inspired entrepreneurialism among individual artists and an eager set of collectors waiting for the next Hockney. The result has ensured that the creative arts industry has never been more vibrant. Britain is a global cultural and creative hot spot. NESTA even predicts growth in the creative arts industry of more than double the rate of the rest of the economy: a contribution of as much as £85 billion.
Survival needs to go well beyond any notion of avoiding the axe wielding coalition. It is also about enabling self-sustainable communities. Cameron referred to this in his vision of the Big Society when he showed that he recognized that people are becoming more community minded and organising themselves accordingly, whether or not this was smokescreen for the cuts. I am pleased to see artists already joining together to petition against arts cuts. The savethearts.org.uk project backed by prominent artists including Tracy Emin and David Hockney is a great example of collaboration. But it is only part of the journey that the art community must now embark upon. We need to paint over today's individualistic 'protect my own art' approach in favour of a more collaborative and community ethos.
Communities that are too 'general' can be limited
I would like to see a contemporary twist applied to the old world order where artists were supported by their fraternity of workers within a guild. This afforded protection to thousands of individuals in the past but also created a vibrant community spirit and a pride in arts and crafts. Now is the time to reinvent the guild. The recent Connected Communities report from RSA projects demonstrates the requirement clearly when it points out that “communities that rely solely on geographic terms have major limitations” and “communities that are too 'general' can be limited.” The report found that nearly a quarter of respondents could not name anyone in their existing social network who they thought was good at bringing people together or could help them contact someone with influence, power or responsibility.
To achieve real traction a community needs to be focused, with members working together for a common interest and purpose. This is exactly the mission of Pic-Nic Village, a blueprint for a community for artists and other creatives. It is currently raising finance through crowdfunding with the intention that it will be a member-owned community with a more ethical and human approach than most social networks. Its mission is to provide a hub for artists, curators and collectors and to enable the art community to share and benefit from each other's skills and passions, providing a shop window for talent that might not otherwise see the light of day.
It should be possible for everyone to make money from art, doing something they enjoy, and in the process blurring some of the boundaries between work and leisure, and offering an alternative modus operandi to the all pervasive 'living for the weekend' mindset. Let us not forget how we can, as a group, become a catalyst for innovation and change, campaigning and paving the way for a brighter future for art. We can all be major players – tastemakers, arbiters, editors, commentators – in a new community that works together for the benefit of art, the economy and society.
Pete Lawrence FRSA founded the first boutique music and arts festival, the Big Chill, in the 1990s. Please visit Pic-Nic Village to learn more about the initiative and applying to become a founder member.