Creative Times RePost: Why can’t the arts be more like a kitchen?

I’m a contributor to UK online creative industries magazine, Creative Times. They ask that I give them a bit of lead-time when I publish something new, so I’ve decided that every time I write something for them I’ll publish the new link here, along with a copy of the last post. Kind of like a blogger exchange program.

My new article is called “please sir, can I have some more” and went live today. If you follow me, you’ll see it’s something I was chatting about on twitter earlier today with @publiczacha, @Ben_f0x@shapednoise & @teknetia.

The last article I wrote for them was published in November 2011. It is reposted below for your convenience (and my archive) and includes their intro. [NB: I didn’t ‘quit’ my job, the contract came to an end, but never mind. And a fine example of indies and orgs working together is the Geek in Residence program that I set up at ozco & am a little bit proud of :)].

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Why can’t the arts be more like a kitchen?

A new kind of New York worker?

A new kind of New York worker? (taken by Fee Plumley at Zuccotti Park #OccupyWallSt)

Self-proclaimed technoevangelist Fee Plumley quit her well-paid job as a strategic digital culture funder in Australia to embark on a largely unfunded ‘really big road trip’ of her own. Here she explains why, and calls for a new spirit of cooperation between institutions and individuals in the arts.

In a recent blog post, Artists Institutions and the Decline of Public Discourse, American director/producer/dramaturge Polly Carl writes of a friction between institutions and individual practitioners in contemporary theatre. This might feel a million miles from the UK, or from your own creative practice. But she raises salient points that deserve consideration regardless of your country or artform.

In context, I’m a Brit now based in Australia where from 2009-2011 I was a strategic digital culture funder. Now a permanent resident, I’ve returned to my previous (freelance) role as a media artist and creative producer. Am I insane to leave a stable job with the best salary I’ve ever had? Sure, the contract had come to an end but the stability didn’t have to. The Australian economy is virtually blossoming by comparison to other countries right now, and I’m pretty sure I have a decent chance of getting another ‘proper’ job. So why would I choose to instead set off on a personal, “pretty much unfunded solo project of my own?

Am I insane to leave a stable job with the best salary I’ve ever had?

I’m sure this will get me in trouble with somebody somewhere, so I’ll start with a disclaimer. I don’t dislike institutions; I have nothing whatsoever against the people who work in administrative or managerial capacities in buildings where art takes place, whether that’s toward funding, creation, production or distribution. But I can’t honestly say that it is my passion to work either in them or for them right now.

I want to be an artist again, and in that capacity my work exists in the ether. It’s mainly internet-based, which you can access via desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile, public screen… In fact, most of my past work was all mobile. Sometimes my work takes solid form, but even then I prefer transient gatherings like festivals or unconventional spaces to engage with my participants. I’m also a traveller; I don’t feel the need to even stay in one city permanently. This makes me a bit ‘different’. Worse, it makes me hard to ‘account for’ in traditional economic models.

It also, most tragically of all, turns me into one of the threats that Polly writes about. My preferred way of working (independent, nomadic and digitally-powered) is not attempting to act as any kind of threat whether ‘independence vs institution’, ‘digital vs physical’, or ‘old vs new’ (something I’ve written about previously).

Our world has changed because of technology, yes, absolutely… that’s what worlds do when we make new discoveries. But there is no need for ‘change’ to mean ‘conflict’. Change can mean growth, collaboration, evolution. The blending of ingredients makes for quality cooking. The blending of cooking styles – ‘fusion’ – brings out the essence of flavours, textures and colours in a way that provides a new appreciation for the origins and potential of each.

Why can’t the art world be more like a kitchen? Instead of competing against each other, why can’t we cooperate to develop a better sector in which we can all compete against all the pressures that are actually preventing current cultural growth? This type of fear (and fear-mongering) closes down our opportunity for debate, yet debate is what keeps us progressing.

What we need right now, in the current economic and political climate, is to fuse what’s best about all our practices, whether they start or exist in institutions or through independent activities, and whether they happen in buildings or through the air.