On the Autonomy of Artists


Ever since I became involved with the local artists group I am a founding member of, one of my main concerns has been maintaining the autonomy of independent artists. Often, arts runs the risk of losing creative and financial control, due to the fact that many art projects and events rely on funding and sponsorship to be bring creative ideas to fruition. Alas, since there are costs involved, there comes a price with such sponsorship beyond the ledgers.

Most artists I’ve dealt with are appreciative of funding, but I am personally hesitant to accept such offers. With funding and sponsorship, there often comes terms that may dictate the direction in which an artist may create. This can be either a discouragement or a source of future aggravation for artists involved, as it makes artists feel as if they and their creations are being controlled.

Unless art is commissioned, it cannot be dictated. Forcing the hand that creates will produce forced results without the proper inspiration or emotional content that sets art apart from commercial art. Simply put, the artist’s heart will simply not be part of the artwork, and therefore not gave as much cultural or social value.

I feel that to further encourage the establishment of an art scene in our community, a permanent and separate venue should be created, without the edicts from municipally-run cultural event and project coordinators or the typical restraints from private sponsorship. It should be an artist-run facility with responsible management of resources, held accountable to all involved. I am not saying that funding or sponsorship wouldn’t assist in this endeavor, so long as it is provided with the understanding that artists must be allowed freedom to create and “do what they do” with little interference from outside investors and benefactors. All too often, many who truly wish to support art may hinder this process with their zealousness to be supportive, believing they know the ways and means of artists. I’ve seen many artistic projects and events die in boardrooms and committee meetings because those that are not artists tend to think that things simply happen, and that their efforts can further this process. In many cases, I’ve seen it do the opposite, mainly because things are not allowed to simply “happen”, as focus and direction is lost as sponsors and funding sources feel they can dictate the process. Let the art scene happen on its own accord at the hands of the artists who create it. Often, the best efforts by those that are experienced and capable in producing artwork and art events are thwarted by the discouragement of being controlled by forces outside of the creative collective that are inexperienced in the creation and exhibition of art.

If anything is to survive, whether it is of a business or community nature, it must do so on its own, at its own terms. It cannot become reliant on funding either, especially if it cannot achieve self-sufficiency. It must survive, or fail, on its own. This is not to say that funding and sponsorship aren’t welcome, so long as it is allowed to do so on its own terms, not the terms set by the financial backers. I very rarely see such opportunities present themselves. Perhaps the creation of an artist-run centre/gallery, formed in part through a “hands-off” funding approach may be an answer, but I see very few willing to provide financial resources without having a say in matters. Understandably so, as I also would be hesitant to invest into anything that I’ve little if none of the say in the process. There is a fear from financial providers that to fund artists in such projects would result in cultural anarchy or abuse of finances. I can personally assure you that many artists, especially the ones who are “starving artists” know how to handle resources efficiently. Those that have less, know how to be frugal with monies. Those that do not, rarely have the insight of such fiscal responsibility, yet may be the first to complain of the misuse of funds, and retract their investments.

Most importantly, to have an art scene established, it must be allowed to happen, on its own terns, with its own successes and failures to not only explore the feasibility of such ideas, but to further encourage the exploration of local cultural change. It must be independent, free of restraint, and retain its autonomy. Whether dealing with a group of artists or individuals, no likes to be “voluntold“. Allow artists the freedom to pursue their dedicated inspiration, express it, and allow artists the freedom that comes with creative control maintained by the producers of arts. Don’t expect any art scenes to revitalize communities without this freedom through autonomy. Otherwise, it will disappear as quickly as it manifested itself.

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