Time is Money

I’m slightly treading water here. Self-preservation I think.

How content1 are artists with being content2?

1 happy, fulfilled, satisfied
2 subject matter, material

I can only imagine I’ll re-write this each week, looking at each of the themes, from pay to studios to sector identity, but content (as in material) is a really weird concept from an inside perspective of this year’s Independents Biennial. We’re producing a programme that won’t actually be ready until it’s over, so the closest we get to ‘filler’ are these reflective writings from myself and the Artist Hosts.

Mine might be filler but theirs is original art work that happens to be presented through the written word. But, in terms of paying artists, what are we paying for? We’re not paying for content, not this time. This time we’re paying for time.

But is that time content? Because it wasn’t a collaborative process to reach that decision. It was internal; led by facilitators – not artists.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of content, or filler. I prefer seeing ideas for what they are. There’s a polar opposite of what I would term ‘good art’ happening right now in the city; a series of light sculptures, commissioned elsewhere, shipped in, un-collaborative, un-apologetic. I get that that’s subjective. People are allowed to enjoy River of Light. It doesn’t make them any less accomplished as a consumer of visual art to enjoy something.

If anything, it’s a work that gives entirely to its audience – provides a foothold into the arts for a novice viewer. Fine. Good. But it’s the absolute peak of Museums 3.0.

Museums 3.0 is a structure, and guidance that arts producers, curators, and facilitators in general, are supposed to work towards. Funnily, other than the top 10%, and a few from the other 90% who have snuck into their conversations, no one has ever even heard of it.

Museums, as we know them typically, are places to preserve artefacts. Galleries, in many ways share that output. Museums 2.0 (where we were in the 90s, and 00s for the most part) was about participation; making; seeing; doing. That was about driving an experience out of the viewer – exceeding just viewing.

So Museum 3.0 goes further, it is a practically useful museum. A space created for and by the actions of its viewers. It sounds more far reaching than it is.

In practice, it means curating what audiences ask for, not engaging them in what you’ve already decided.

So River of Light, fits right there. It creates a Museum 3.0 out of the streets of the city.

Liverpool Biennial, our big sister, is Museum. Pure. Crisp. A presentation of the best of the art world, that happens to be in Liverpool. Again, I’m sorry that that’s so basic, but it’s not meant as an insult and it doesn’t reflect on their 2021 programme which is actually much more formed around the history of the city (a Museum 2.0 format or engagement and participation in learning). Independents Biennial, us, kind of isn’t any of them. We’re here because we think the artists need a space to breathe, and be represented.

It’s not a virtue thing, more a self-preservation one. It’s just too hard to exist in a space where every effort is made to present “what the people want” when it means the people making the work – the ones who are trained, professional, skilled individuals, seem to either get paid, or credit, rarely both in a fair proportion.

So the question of artist pay – and I promised this was going to lead back here – within these structures, is perhaps more complicated, because when does payment become a transaction for goods, rather than services? Why do we enable a sector where you can pay for the work of an artist as though you’re buying a mint condition 1st edition Pokémon card?

Yes, there is a portion of the art world where work is sold as goods. It’s the most stable, and traditionally the most successful, but it only makes up 30% of the industry. So what of the other 70%? Why are they still being commissioned as if their work was a commodity; an end result; content?

A commission seems to have become a purchase, from what I can see. Whether it’s a purchase of a right to display (temporary) or a purchase of a right to own (permanent), it’s about claiming ownership of the work of an artist. And it almost never really factors in the time spent prior to that.

This bit might be a bit virtue-y. Sorry. We’re working in the way 2021 is – quietly, slowly, thoughtfully, because we’ve had enough of presenting the work of others under a banner. They own their work. They own their right to share their stories. Our part in that, Liverpool Biennial’s part in that, Culture Liverpool’s part in that, all of our partners who have their own work ongoing, and all of our audiences who have their own work ongoing, have a duty to help the artists who prop them, and us, up to thrive rather than survive. I think that starts with paying for time, not output.

I know that that’s an opinion, not a fact, but art takes time. Time is money.