Happy new year! I was delighted to kick off 2018 as a panellist for the ‘Art for Everyone’ event at St Cross College, Oxford, this week. The panel, chaired by British-Iranian photographer Cyrus Mahboubian, also included Paul Hobson, director of Modern Art Oxford; and Natasha Arselan, founder of AucArt, an innovative new online auction house specialising in early career contemporary art. Organiser Sai Villafuerte produced this event as part of the college arts week and did a wonderful job of attracting a large audience with some great questions and points to share.
Our discussion was pretty wide-ranging, and centered on the various challenges of widening access to art. We touched on the representation of the art market and art making by the popular press; what education could do to foster confidence in art audiences; the role of digital social media in content production and visual literacy; and the role of public funding in supporting the arts.
In considering the issues inherent to widening access to art, it’s useful to reflect carefully on whose access we are hoping to improve. Of course visual art can always benefit from being exposed to wider audiences, and it is important to set out the benefits of supporting and encouraging the general public to engage with visual art regardless of their income or educational experience. But I was also keen to include artists themselves as a participant group. Much of my current research is concerned with the sustained and normalised poverty experienced by many artists, and the way in which they are expected to produce professional work that enriches society, without being paid for their labour and skills.
My main point in our panel discussion was that if we don’t provide real and sustained financial and career development support for artists, and if we don’t change the way we pay for and think about art labour, then art making will continue to be done only by those who can afford to do so. Is it right that only some voices are able to create art, and ask the questions that art poses? We need to think carefully about the implications of this for our visual art sector and for our broader cultural heritage.
Thanks to Sai, Cyrus, Paul, Natasha and St Cross College for a stimulating event. Find out more about the Arts at St Cross series by emailing anna.villafuerte AT stx.ox.ac.uk.