I have recently been elected to the Executive of the Artists Union of England.
There has never been a time more relevant for unions or when thay have been needed as much as today in the face of pernicious austerity and dogmatic cuts that benefit the rich and leave the poor to get poorer. As Disabled Artists we are doubly dammed in the current econmic climate.
More information can be found here http://www.artistsunionengland.org.uk
Artists’ Union England is a new trade union for professional visual and applied artists. Unlike other cultural professionals, artists have had no collective voice in the form of a trade union, to represent them at work and to lobby and advocate on their behalf.
As a trade union, run by volunteers, we aim to represent artists at strategic decision-making levels and positively influence the value and role artists play within society.
I have been appointed the Disability Associate for Salisbury International Arts Festival. I am looking at the organisations activity within a Disability context.
For exampe one of my first 'actions' was to ask all the staff what came to mind when they heard the word 'Disability' and when had they felt 'Excluded'. Next up provoked them to think about their language - I am not there to tell, or be perjorative - more to catalyse self and organisational reflection - there was a lot of 'mentalist' language being used as stress was rising. Such as bonkers, very popular, or manic or crazy or nuts etc. The 'mad money' jar is filling up nicely - though not so fast now. In fact one of the staff picked me up on my language - so that was a success.
I have written something for the website of the festival here https://www.salisburyfestival.co.uk/editorial.php?ref=Focus-on-disability although it can be seen below.
Some thoughts from Aidan Moesby, the Festival’s Disability Associate
When we think about disability there is a tendency to imagine the visible and the physical. Perhaps an image of a person in a wheelchair springs to mind. However the diversity of disability is much more complex than this.
With the legacy of the particularly successful London Paralympics in 2012 and the images in the media due to recent global events, we are becoming more accustomed, and hopefully more tolerant, to those not just with visible disabilities but also those with hidden ‘impairments’. The Invictus Games are a good example of this and increasingly the focus around mental health issues.
However, there is still much to do around accessibility, discrimination and stigma with regard to disability. The Festival already programmes outstanding work by and about artists with Disabilities. This year sees Candoco and Owen Lowery visiting Salisbury and An Angel at my Table is being shown as part of a Kiwi film double bill. And to further its work around this, ASIAF has taken the bold step of having a Disability Associate to experience and respond to the Festival.
As Disability Associate I am taking a look at the work of the Festival as an organisation through a disabled lens. This includes exploring the attitudes and language around disability, accessibility and equality across the range of activities of the Festival.
During this year’s ‘City Encounters’ I became The Bureau of Audience Discrimination, to playfully highlight the random and often contextless way people with disabilities experience both ‘passive’ and ‘active’ discrimination in the everyday.
Throughout the Festival at Salisbury Arts Centre and the Playhouse I have curated a series of changing interventions which highlight issues around disability in a playful and gently provocative manner. Continuing my ‘Headlines’ work with my imaginary newspaper, ‘The Daily Compulsion’, I will show a changing headline of questions and statements which people with disabilities often experience or are directly challenged with. In addition, in the Playhouse a plinth with a bell jar atop will house a changing installation which highlights some of the pejorative language and stereotypes around mental health.
Come and join me at an open table at Salisbury Arts Centre between 2 and 3pm on Saturday 11 June. I am inviting people to join me to discuss or comment on any issues raised by interventions during the Festival and to discuss broader issues around Disability, Equality and Accessibility.
I look forward to meeting you.
Supported by Unlimited Impact
I love the weather. Perhaps not the actual weather - like the rain we've had here for last few weeks and the flood i had a couple of days ago - but the general weather - and we are blessed in the UK with such a variety. It used to be a topic to get anyone talking - but now with the phones and tablets and apps we don't talk so freely to strangers.
My current exhibition is an attempt to address that and also explore wellbeing through the weather - using it as a metaphor. My head feels a litttle foggy today, my thinking is a little cloudy, s/he stormed out of that meeting - oh they have such a sunny disposition.
Opening on 16th of January at noon is my newly curated exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre Cwmbran 'An ‘in’ with a stranger'
As a freelance artist I always have one eye on current opportunities. I know we are living in austere times but that is no reason for arts organisations to compound the austerity of artists by offering ‘opportunities’ that pay so poorly that they are economically unviable to apply for. We’ve all heard the ‘it will be good exposure’, ‘it will look good on the CV’ lines that really amount to nought.
In the run up to Christmas I noticed several ‘opportunities’ that stood out as prime examples of the above. Seven Stories advertised for artist volunteers before changing it – after having had it brought to their attention the reality of the opportunity - to actual paid opportunities – although not saying what that pay was. However the opportunity I want to focus on here is the advertised ‘opportunity’ by Venture Arts. Their ‘Artist Callout’ included the following text
‘ OutsiderXchangeS came about to develop the talents and profile of learning-disabled artists and also to investigate the potential to make new, interesting, challenging work through visual artist ideas exchange and real collaboration.
Venture Arts are looking for 5 artists to work alongside 5 learning disabled artists to develop ideas, share practice and, through collaboration, develop contemporary art.
All successful artists will receive £1000 artist fee and given a free studio space for five months (February – July 2016) coming together for 1-2 day(s) per week to share their studio with a learning disabled artist involved in the project.’
So, £1000 for 1-2 days a week for 5 months. That equates to around £50 a day for 1 day a week or £25 for 2 days. Ok so there is a ‘free studio’ but which artist is going to move their studio for 5 months?
This poor fee was brought to the attention of Venture Arts and the advert was amended to
'All successful artists will receive £1000 artist bursary and given a free studio space for five months (February – July 2016) coming together for 1-2 day(s) per week to share their studio with a learning disabled artist involved in the project. The bursary is intended for artists to use in the production of their own work.'
So the fee became a bursary. Still, it just doesn’t add up. Let’s unpack this a bit more. The original advert on line has been amended with an ‘in the interest of better communication’ including
'For learning disabled artists this is an opportunity to work alongside other artists, one or two days per week when they will use the shared studio as a drop in studio. Learning disabled artists will not be based there at other times. For other artists, this will be an opportunity to interact with learning disabled artists. The open call is intended to attract artists who want to learn from learning disabled artists and the exciting field of learning disability visual art practice.
'the selected artists will have their own free studio space for 5 months, which will be adjacent to or adjoining the shared studio space. The studios will be at Baltic 39, Newcastle and project spaces run by Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. Artists will not be expected to lead or run workshops, or support learning disabled artists.'
To my mind this does not add clarity to the situation. It seems the call out falls between wanting an artist collaboration and a volunteer.
‘The idea is to create a platform for collaboration to take place between artists. We envisage that all artists involved in the project will be inspired by each others practice in creating work. The £1,000 bursary is to support artists in their own practice.’
At the end of the day Venture Arts, working with their partners in the project, want a collaboration that develops contemporary art which can be showcased in the venues. The partners – Baltic, Castlefield and CVAN – are all funded by Arts Council England and this is an Arts Council Funded project. However, it would seem that none of the organisations appreciate or value the time and work of artists within the funding structure of this project.
The partners, as NPO’s, need to engage with the Creative Case for diversity as a requirement of their funding. It is an ACE priority. This seems a cheap and cynical manner in which to achieve this. I wonder if the Lead Artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber, is being paid in the same manner – I hope not.
I work extensively within Arts Equality and Diversity, I have been the recipient of several Creative Case funding awards and I have an awareness of working with diverse artists. It is not as simple as putting two artists in a room and saying there you go – collaborate, make some art.
I am not going to unpack all the salient issues here but they need to be thought about. Presumably, and it is a presumption, the artist with ‘learning disabilities’ – and I really do not like the labelling inherent within this – will probably be classed as a ’vulnerable adult’ which then impacts on safe working practices, DBS, access needs etc. How will access requirements be met – around working practices – times, amount of concentration, does a carer need to be present, are there any other ‘complex needs’ to consider? There is no evidence that this has all been thought through or if it has, it is not clear.
If a new graduate is – and I use the term ‘selected’ rather than ‘employed’, will they have the requisite skills, or if an artist – experienced in practice and diversity – is selected why are they not being paid for this skill set?
I have raised issues around this callout with other artists. There has been much discussion on various social media platforms. I also raised it with Artists Union England who campaign, amongst other issues, on fair pay for artists. Together with them we will be taking this matter up further in the new year.
Yesterday I received an email from Creative Case North 'consortium' ( - smacks of a dehumanised post- armageddon cultural landscape). There's going to be an event. The ever optimistic side of me thought Great! Something positive for diversity in THE NORTH. Maybe something will change, maybe we are making progress. But then with heavy heart i remembered the last Creative Case event I went to in the north last year. On the back of that i wrote this rant for Axis. I do so hope things are different this time and i feel represented and heard as a diverse artist. I do so hope I feel part of a conversation and not just talked at. But then there is hope and there is experience - maybe one day they will match up.
The Axis article
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Creative Case – Arts Council England’s new approach to diversity and equality, where the focus is on great art rather than a limiting label of gender, sexuality, race or disability for instance.
I recently attended a regional Creative Case conference – as a ‘diverse artist’ an invitation would have been nice – but then I realised that the conference wasn’t really for me, neither was it for the few other freelance artists present. It seemed more for organisations to collectively say ‘Yes, we do diversity’, satisfy their Arts Council England National Portfolio funding criteria and dispense a self-congratulatory pat on the back. Tick that box!
In an ‘Open Space’ forum I got told many things including ‘It’s hard for everyone in the arts’ and I’ve ‘Got the same access to opportunities as everyone else’. It was clear most of the people present had little experience, understanding or awareness around issues of getting seen, heard or making a living as a ‘diverse artist’. Clearly, if we all had the same access to opportunities and there really was a level playing field, what were we doing at a conference devoted to diversity in the arts?
As I tried to express the difficulties faced by diverse, particularly disabled, artists, I felt I was marginalising myself even more. The more I tried to convey that we haven’t all been to art school and that a massive schism exists between how ‘diverse arts’ and ‘mainstream arts’ are valued and represented, I could feel the disconnect intensify. Oh, the irony!
The word disability returns 89 search results on Axisweb and 69 on the a-n site. Disability is under-represented in society as a whole and this is reflected and magnified in the arts. Shouldn’t arts organisations be doing better? How can there be ‘great’ diverse art if diverse artists are consistently excluded? So if you do diversity like you say you do, then invite us in. Go on, take a risk, let’s converse, let’s collaborate!
When you only have an hour and a half to run a workshop it can go either way – As a facilitator it can be the longest, loneliest 90 minutes you never want to experience - or - you ask your co-facilitator how we doing for time and synchronise an OMG! Where did that go so fast? Actually it was a WTF? But you need to at least try to be professional.
Really though. You can only ever scratch the surface of a topic like Social Media and Wellbeing as myself and Victoria Betton (@victoriabetton)discovered at the Round Foundry as part of Leeds Digital Festival on the 11th October 2012. The event, Facebook vs Reality tied in with Love Art Leeds, a month long foray into all that is Mental Health related, and coincided with photographer Anna Roberts exhibition
The audience were a diverse mix of those who live, eat and breathe social media to six formers and those who are trying to get to grips with it for work and everywhere in between. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, there were no professionals from the mental health services. Refreshing because I find it heartening that people are interested in wellbeing – their own and others – in the digital age without it being their job. It helps me kid myself that stigma is easing and boundaries being eroded.
A large cohort were freelancers where the distinction between virtual and real world entities are not so distinct. As one person said ‘We are our brand’ and that is reflected in the Twittersphere, on Facebook and shot through by Instagram. Perhaps too, for the freelancer, Social Media can stop or salve that feeling of isolation, that dissociation from the world of colleagues and teams.
We looked at different platforms and why we liked or loathed them, the advantages and pitfalls – the ‘Life Leakers’ and the ‘Sharers and Spillers’. But what was really great was that people felt safe enough in that short space of time to disclose about episodes of depression and cycles of disorders and how that is perceived by the author and the viewer of ‘updates’.
Yes, the more connected we become the less connected we might actually be, but if we have authentic digital relationships we can feel part of a supportive community. We do not have to compare ourselves with the extroverts with a thousand ‘friends’ and think how empty and dull our own life is. A few present, me included, had met people in real life – particularly through Twitter – and that had and does enrich our lives. At one stage everyone grouped together according to favoured platform – there was a definite air of smugness emanating from the corner where the Instagrammers had embedded themselves.
Ultimately, we drew no conclusions. We did not design the perfect platform for wellbeing. What we did do though was make real connections in the real world. We talked, shared, some swapped addresses or business cards –and we all took a sharp intake of breath when someone inadvertently said the word ‘Nutcase’. Oh, and we laughed – now that’s got to be good for your wellbeing.
What is clear though is that we could have continued all afternoon, people are genuinely interested in exploring the relationships between Social Media and Wellbeing. It is the beginning of a dialogue I hope to continue.
For Victoria’s view of the day check out her blog at digital mental health.
Last Sunday, a wet and miserable April day, about 70 people gathered at St Nicholas' Psychiatric Hospital in Newcastle to bear witness to Devising Psychosis - a newly devised piece of collaboraitive theatre.
Gathered in the Jubilee Theatre - a wonderful example of a Victorian proscenium arch theatre completed in 1899 and a grade II listed building - were academics, artists, medics, therapists, service users, service providers and philosophers to name but a few. We were wanting to start a dialogue and a process of cross-pollination of interest and activity.
For me, it had been a long journey. Last year i took an idead to Alisdair Cameron at Launchpad in Newcastle suggesting we should celebrate 100 years of schizophrenia as a diagnosis. Much dialogue ensued - not least - should we be celebrating it at all? I was of the opinion that we definitely should celebrate it - but perhaps not in the traditional way.
From that moment on it become a group project. It really is the most collaborative and egalitarian project i have ever worked on. For starters there was no leader. We took the responsibility we were best able to take. We learnt as we went along, we skill shared, encouraged, mentored, we stumbled and picked ourselves up. We didn't actually get anything together in time to celebrate the 100 years and thus Psychosis 101 was born. We all liked the multi levels of references within this title.
Eventually there were about a core of 10 of us - this lead to millions of e-mails and loads of meetings. This is the price of working in a manner none of us had worked before - we were in unchartered territory driving at night with no lights. But because we all pulled together in the same direction for the common good, no egos over-riding anyone else's we got there. We sourced the funding, got the early intervention in psychosis team on board, recruited an evaluator, found a venue, drew on a lot of good will and - take a deep breath - finally got to perform.
The devising psychosis artists- myself ( Aidan Moesby), Tess Denman Cleaver and Sean Burn and we worked with the staff and young people who access EIP. The process took 10 weekly workshops where we exchanged skills and showed different approaches to making theatre, writing, oral narratives etc working towards a devised, and improvised, piece of theatre. By the end of the process we were all leading, we were all participants, there was no us and them as is usually the case in 'community' based projects to some degree.
We have much to learn from this process but we believe it can work with similar groups in similar ways. We want the project to have sustainability and have a legacy. We do not subscribe to the parachute in - parachute out model of engagement. We hope to train some of the young people we worked with as peer leaders to pass on the skills again. Critical to the success was also the buy in from the managers and staff of the early intervention in psychosis teams in newcastle. In fact the staff would have liked the process as training for them.
The event can be seen with some photos here http://www.facebook.com/events/319741064751527/
A performance of new work from the Devising Psychosis group will be presented. Comprising of mental health service users and staff from Newcastle and Gateshead Early Intervention In Psychosis teams, the Devising Psychosis Group have been collaborating with artist Aidan Moesby, theatre company Tender Buttons, and playwright Sean Burn over the last 2 months to devise a new piece of theatre. Performed against a backdrop designed and created by artist from Newcastle and Gateshead and North Tyneside Arts Studios, the piece is reflective of individual experiences and those gained together during this unique collaborative process.
Also performing areSean Burn will read from tattooing lorca - a sequence about sectioning and post-sectioning recovery.
A talk given by Dr Mark Cresswell, lecturer in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.
Family therapists from Newcastle Early Intervention in Psychosis team Kevin Hawkes & Alex Reid will talk about their personal journey as mental health practitioners in working with families and psychosis.
The event will also feature two participatory art installations by Aidan Moesby based around personal and cultural notions of well-being, and visual art from North Tyneside Arts Studio and Newcastle and Gateshead Arts Studio.
Before I get to the crux of what I have to say I want to make it perfectly clear that I think Shape Arts do some amazing work in the areas of Disability and Equality. However I was a little dismayed to read a call for submissions with a £10 fee.
As a fulltime self-employed artist I have witnessed an increase in Pay to Display opportunities. In a similar way the number of unpaid/or very poorly paid internships has increased and thankfully we are moving to limit and legislate these.
In which other areas would you pay to do what you do – as it is we have seen opportunities decrease and fees shrinking in tandem for freelance artists.
Bodies funded and sponsored then requiring submission fees wether selected to exhibit or not– what does this cover? Is that not already covered by Arts Council England or other partnerships and sponsorships? If not then why not, why should the artist bare the cost? Shape does fantastic work but what I am surprised at is that, and if I may use a Twitter hash tag – The Hardest Hit – are being asked to pay again. All I am asking is if you are going to the lengths of having an art exhibition then please – put the artist first.
Then again artists are responsible for the cost of getting their work to and from the collection points – again expenses to be met by the artist – and then have the luxury of a 40% commission on sales. Are we not trying to be professional artists and support them – surely some of that support must be in curating and showing work that can be supported practically and financially or we merely contribute to maintaining the status quo. Pallant House and their Outside In Biennial of Outsider Art is a shining example of putting the artist first. I wonder why this model cannot be replicated elsewhere – or in this case particularly.
I wonder about the motivation in general for submission fees, what does that say about where we place artists in the art world and society as a whole?
This is the beginning of a dialogue for me. I have not mentioned things such as wanting to show my work in context, being proactive about who I show with and where, how does showing in a particular exhibition develop not just my career but my practice?
I would be interested to hear your views on ‘Pay to Display’
In the first six months of 2011 i could count the number of 'paid' days work on my toes. This lead to an impact on my pocket and my health. The pressure was immense, the sense of failure even bigger - self doubt - self esteem - you name it - the rollercoaster of being a freelancer. I had no idea where my next project was coming from. So when things slowly turned around - at first a few days turning a bridge into a formal garden, then an exhibition in leeds and wakefield, a residency in Dundee and so it continued.
I felt compelled to say yes to everyone and everything for fear of everything drying up again. This has been a massive learning curve. My health started to slide. Usually I am very good at self monitoring and keeping my mental health fairly stable. I was committed though and as a freelancer we know we are only as good as your last job. We are our own stock. Our reputation as an artist depends on what we do and how we do it. Managing this through failing mental health is fraught. everything you do has a psychological/professional/personal cost. Getting to the finish having succesfully completed commitments became a massive, nay monumental undertaking.
The fact i did achieve everything is in no small part due to some of the people i worked with along the way, particularly Sarah Derrick from Dundee Contemporary Arts - who was noy only supportive but very understanding and accommodating.
The final work i did was take part in the 'View From Here' exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre, This was an unusual experience for me. I was invited by e-mail from someone i had never met or heard of. We had phone and e-mail discussions and i went to visit the site. As time and budget were tight i sent down ideas to be executed and installed by the team at Salisbury. This lead to interesting developments which i will write about eleswhere.
As part of the exhibition i was invited to take part in an artist panel discussion about the work shown. I wanted to take part but knew i was not at the top of my game - did i cancel? did i make excuses before i did it? did i just try to get through and ignore the whole mental health thing? It passed off ok but would i like it as a sole reflection of me and my practice? Probably not. But I did it, no one died.
This event was further complicated as I met someone who was wanting to discuss the prospect of a possibility of working together in the coming year. So there's me comparitively mentally unwell trying to say I can do this, this is my approach and trying to convince this person who I had never met before that i am a 'safe pair of hands' , you know how it goes.
I guess what I'm getting at is the contrast between making a living, keeping well, doing interesting and varied work - the whole juggling thing and keeping everything moving successfully.
I'm doing an Engage Residency at Dundee Contemporary Arts. This is a post in response to something that happened - a small everyday occurence. But sometimes it's the small everyday occurences that trip us up.
It’s a constant dilemma, but mostly i know where i stand. If someone asks me how i am then i tend to answer truthfully. Mostly i know people aren’t actually remotely interested in ‘how you are’ - it’s a social construct - they just want you to say fine, or good, so you can move on. People (mostly) don’t want to know where you are on your own anxiety scale, or how close to the edge you are, or how well you are coping - well enough to be out but not to fully integrate with the world - well enough to be out and only do the things in your safe zone - well enough to be out but don’t want to be ambushed by new things in an already unsteady and unstable world. I’m sure you get the picture.
Yesterday I was on the well enough to be out as long as i mediate my interactions in the world really, really tightly. I was introduced to someone whilst talking to someone else. I was the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. I know the social mores etc - say hello and shake hands - except i didn’t - couldn’t - face that personal contact - and such was my level of anxiety that i couldn’t really engage even on a superficial level.
Now my dilemma comes because when asked how i was by the ‘introducer’ i said ok - but that was because i didn’t want to expose myself in front of a complete stranger in a situation where it would be inappropriate to divulge your inner psychological fragilities. But then that lead to the further awkward exchange and me not shaking hands - which makes me appear just a bit rude - not vulnerable. So today i feel i have to go and do some apologising.
So should I have been emotionally honest and exposed myself emotionally in front of a stranger? Should i have explained myself? Should i have stayed at home? I don’t know. It’s fraught. And i guess it has a salience to the residency which is why i am blogging about it here. Maybe i should think of doing some contextualising rather than apologising and maybe engender a debate around this and similar issues.
After having had a bleak first part of the year - as is well documented here - i now find myself flitting from one thing to another. I am pleased, really pleased. about this - but i know how fragile it all is in this current climate.
I am doing an Engage Everyone residency at DCA in Dundee. It's got a fab print room. I am looking at issues of engagement - why don't people access or engage with contemporary art. - people with disabilities that is. Another artist is looking at physical disabilities. Needless to say I am looking at the mental stuff.
In an attempt to normalise mental health I thought I would do a series of newspaper headlines from my fictional paper 'The Daily Compulsion'. Man puts left shoe on first. Very tame I know but it gives you an idea (if my right shoe goes on first I have to put them both on take them off then put them on properly with the left shoe first.) but I want more stories about significantly impairing, embedded etc.
I am looking for your input in the form of your stories about the things you do. Not just the C's from OCD but the rituals we have around the day to day or special. I will make you anonymous and immortalise you outside the DCA as a newspaper headline to a fictional paper. I am also thinking of making a book of them too. There are the - man checks front door is locked - normal stuff everyone does but which can be a behaviour of something else. If you would like to contribute please send to mailoto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be greatly appreciated.
It has been quite interesting getting people to look at things from a mental health point of view - i engage with spaces psychologically mostly - and then physically. I have already written on the nature of engagement with a space at http://engageeveryone.tumblr.com/
I return to DCA for another 2 weeks at the beginning of October. Meanwhile I am currently installing my solo show at The Art House, Wakefield which opens tomorrow - 28/9 and is part of the Wakefield art walk.
I’m not whingeing. It’s just a fact. It’s hard and no denying it. This has been the hardest, year I have had since being a freelance artist. I am in the hinterland, on the cusp, of being emerging and emerged – whatever emerged means. It’s like some kind of spurious notion like somehow things will be totally different when you have emerged. I am not some kind of butterfly who is in the process of artistically cocooning himself in the studio to break out that chrysalis one day and .....Da Dahhh!!!! Fully formed emerged artist and successful to boot! Hooray. Thrice Hooray.
I know artists – as I keep saying and keep encountering – always talk up their game about how busy they are. Well, Grizedale residency – over 100 applicants, Halle 14 over 130, Knowle West over 100 and I could go on. I remember back in the day when you would apply and be unfortunate if 20 or 30 others applied. So I presume not everyone can be really busy – working on this, planning that, something on the back burner here, fingers in pies there.... I have had very few paid days work this year in relation to previous years. I work every week – I put proposals in, I make new work in the studio, I try to keep busy, moving to avoid drowning in the fatigue of not having purposeful activity.
Let’s face it – work gives us many things. Not just money. It gets us into the world, it keeps us socialised, it can help our esteem and confidence, it can contribute to our well being quite considerably. Up until the end of June I was suffering from rejection fatigue. Absolute poverty was snapping at my heels. My moods were seriously affected, I was very very low – although as my not very helpful psychiatrist would tell me – I was not ‘clinically’ depressed. Then he would helpfully throw in that not every low mood is to do with me being Bipolar. My partner is an artist. Both self employed. How do you get benefits or help to get you through the lean times. You fall between the cracks of the welfare state.
I have had exhibitions this year and I have more lined up – but they don’t put food on the table. They are definitely jam for tomorrow. So how do you get out of it? How do you get by? How do you keep motivated? How do you keep swimming against the tide? I was considering doing what I have never done before – take a non art job to support my art. Fortunately I never had to act on the decision. One day work came through my door, visiting like a long lost friend and bold as brass. I am enjoying it but I have one eye on the door wondering when that friend is going to walk back out.
We live in difficult times. The National Portfolio funding came out – a few of the organisations we are all familiar with suffered. Arcadea – my local disability arts organisation didn’t get any funding at all. Geof Armstrong is at the helm and steering through the storm admirably.
How can the Arts Council claim to be promoting disability and disabled artists in the region (let alone nationally). How can it just ignore a whole cohort of artists, audience, producers etc in the North East? This decision leaves Manchester or Liverpool or Wakefield as my ‘locally’ funded organisations. But enough of that.
I was fortunate enough to meet Elinor Urwin from the Art House in Wakefield to go through some of my rejected applications. This was a brilliant – if not a bit difficult – use of an afternoon. There was so much material – so many rejections – to choose from. To have some simple pointers and some incisive analysis on my approach was invaluable. It is difficult to get feedback from applications, though I always try. Yet it is so contradictory. 'Too conceptual'; 'not conceptual enough'; 'too prescriptive'; 'not prescriptive enough'; 'too flaky'; 'too detailed'. How do you make sense of it? Well, having the objective eyes of Elinor reflect on this brought some clarity. So thank you Elinor – and congratulations to the Art House on their continued funding.
Why is it that artists (I have not always been an artist) have to say they are busy, or working on this or that. Why can’t they just say "it’s really REALLY hard out there and I’m struggling." I know why. You have to boost your own stock. No one wants an artist who isn’t busy etc etc. So I am blessed with all this time and cursed by the low moods of under employment. The irony is that I have a few exhibitions on and coming up – which is fab – but jam for tomorrow doesn’t put food on the table today.
I have just installed ‘Do you think we can talk about this?’ - a solo exhibition at the Centre For Life in Newcastle, which opens next weekend – the 16 April. It is a collection of pieces which reflect on my personal experience of diagnosis 'Bipolar Disorder.' and weaving in elements of the personal and cultural agenda surrounding mental health.
It runs for a couple of months. Can we talk about mental health? At once we are fascinated by those perceived as kooky, off beat, crazy and then we tire of them and vilify them and perpetuate the stereotypical images and viewpoints of those living with an enduring mental health condition. I hope we can talk about it. I hope we can get a right good open honest discussion going.
Apples and Snakes posted a Facebook link to an article by Alex Hudson on BBC News entitled 'The Creative Process and Mental Illness'. The basic tenet is that mad equals creative.
I really don't like these catch all assumptions and wrote the following brief retort. Is this really balanced and considered?
Spare me from 'cheap journalism' that uses the link of madness and creativity/poetry These kind of articles peddle the usual stereotypical visions of the mad creative. Over diagnosing, reframing things like shyness into social anxiety disor...der - so it can be pathologised, medicalised and medicated increases the number with 'diagnosis' and the 'Big Pharma' profits.
In other words, poets are 20 times more likely to end up in an asylum than the general population.' what tosh. The so called asylums are not full of poets - stats can show anyone anything. If you look at a copy of Diagnostic & Statistical Manual DSM (iv) everyone could be diagnosed with a disorder.
These kind of articles do nothing at all for those with enduring mental health issues but perpetuate ridiculous myths and oh - what about those with mental health issues who aren't creative - Doubly Damned and unfortunate?What do you think?
I don’t know about you but I quite like having a bit of autonomy when it comes to my own life. Not that I’m a control freak or anything – far from it. I like the fact that the world just happens and presents a variety of experiences for me to respond to at times. I see my new psychiatrist tomorrow. Now this is a case in point – my previous psych. was nu-skool "I am the expert in my own condition" – we make decisions together, I have a degree of autonomy in the things that affect my life. Great!
Where am I going with all this. Well tomorrow I will say to my new psych. that I take rejections personally. That they have a profound affect upon my mental health. The method of rejection also has an effect. The rub is this. As an artist you are constantly putting yourself on the line, constantly putting yourself in the ‘Palinesque’ sights of rejection. Constantly applying and proposing.
In fact at times, applying and proposing – be it for commissions, workshops, funding or even benefits – can be a full time job. Unless you are very fortunate, rejection is all part and parcel of being an artist. He may suggest medication, he may tell me to \'Deal with it\' or \'do something different\'. I’m still trying to deal with it – maybe some CBT will help.
I remember back in the good old days when people used to write proper letters to each other. In the case of applications you got a letter back. You could pretty much tell if it was an offer or interview or rejection. (I remember returning to love letters, I remember too the Dear John – at least they thought enough to write. The modern world is so throw away and often devoid of true meaning – dumped by text – callous!) You had some time to compose yourself before opening. These days it’s a line in the from-subject box and a two or three line standard reply of rejection. This is invariably followed by something about there being too many applicants to provide any feedback.
Like many of you out there, I proposed an idea to the Unlimited strand of the Cultural Olympiad. Like many I was disappointed. They suggested we apply for a GFA from the Arts Council. I like to think, and rather naively I am learning the hard way, that the disability and the disability arts world is somehow softer and more considerate to those within it because it sure is a brutal world out there in the wider diaspora. So other than the fact that I don’t even know who sits on the Unlimited panel, I am finding it near impossible to discover this. And I like to think I have good research and internet skills. That hardly constitutes feedback, nor is it particularly helpful.
So as I compose another GFA, I am left wondering who got the money, was it new work or reworked, was it money for old rope, jobs for the boys and girls, a larger Tsunami of cash heading South? I hold onto my idealism of inclusion not cliques, meritocracy not favours, transparency not dodgy deals in the smoky back rooms. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
You can see more of my work at www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Aidan-Moesby
As ever, I have left it to the last minute, I want to first post before the year is out. Whilst I like to think of time more in terms of a continuum I can’t help but be lulled into some re-appraising of the year and thinking of the coming months. Sometimes it’s good to draw a line under something and lay it to rest, though I am not sure about this stop-start of a New Year thing.
As Brecht said ‘However, they won’t say the times were dark. Rather, why were their poets silent?’ These are dark times and getting darker – particularly in the worlds of disability and arts. There is little meat, let alone fat, on the bones to trim and – let’s cut the metaphors - seemingly more applicants for fewer opportunities.
As I ‘emerge’ and move towards ‘mid-career’ (these amorphous distinctions bemuse me) I think about career development. This leads to me a host of things which I will no doubt discuss in future posts. For instance where does the disability arts movement of today fit into the same movement that started out as a much more socially engaged movement?
From where I am sat they appear to be totally separate agendas now. What is disability arts now? Where do I fit into it all? How do I develop a career as a professional artist? Is there room for any more disabled artists? Does disability arts have ‘ranks’ to come through? If so how do you come through them?
As a socially engaged artist I am committed to inclusion in my work and strive to work within an milieu of equality. Sometimes I don’t always feel an equal within social or professional hierarchies be that the mainstream or the disability arts world. I find this contradiction interesting, disappointing and annoying. Sadly, I know I am not alone in this.
Living in the North East of England disability arts has been poorly served recently, thankfully Arcadea has a new Director and some fire being breathed into its’ slumbering belly. I look around the country for opportunities and see the work that Shape, DaDa, Dash et al. are doing.
I lament at times geographical restrictions/limitations of applications. Should I be more creative with my living arrangements? Unfortunately it has gotten so that I barely work or exhibit in my home region and I am grateful to opportunities such as Outside In at Pallant House for showing me in the Biennial of Outsider Art or the curators of the 40th Anniversary of the Disability Act exhibition for inviting me to show at the Houses of Parliament.
2011 is looming. It is likely to bring many challenges – cutting DLA, New Horizons, Arts Council cuts, the southern drain of lottery money in the run up to 2012, keeping food on the table. Thankfully I have woken from my own slumber, I am awake, inquisitive, re-politicised and ready to explore, engage and create an uncertain future in these uncertain times.