Run Run Run Run Run | Tamsin Green
Recently I went to an apartment show; a group of 2nd year students pushed all their furniture into a bedroom and filled the rest of their living space with work that had earlier that day been in the studio. The result was energising.
Bringing your work out of the studio and putting it in a space, or on a wall, has an immediate affect on the way you perceive that work. This act is an occasion for pause; you can walk around the other side of the work and see what it is actually doing. Space is important in the function of work. The other important function of the exhibition is celebration; we all do this good thing, and it’s something we have in common.
Run like a professional
Kings Artist-Run Initiative (ARI) is a professional artist-run initiative.1 It could be one of the most bureaucratic ARIs in Melbourne. We all get along, but Kings runs along because it’s structured. In addition to our committee and we have numerous sub-committees. The Kings ARI sub-committees include: Installation and Maintenance, Studio, PR and Media (with IT), Education, Finance, Volunteer, Publication, Flash Night (that’s one night shows), and International Relations (really).2 We have these divisions because we are optimistic about the services and resources that we can provide. For example, the education sub-committee ‘strives to promote Kings ARI as an educational resource, and facilitate relationships with schools and universities’.3 The education sub-committee run tours and artists’ talks for the public and for educational institutions.
We act professional, but we don’t get paid, so our resources are limited to what we can fit in around everything else we do. When I speak to teachers on the phone I’m in my imaginary office.4 That’s the whole point of an initiative; you can put yourself into a position of responsibility without waiting.
Run for your money (5)
I’m not a commercial artist, but that doesn’t mean that I can afford be naive about capital and value. Even the most ephemeral art actions can be turned into commodities.6
How much cash should I hand over in order to show my work? If there is one area in which the ARIs need more self-reflection it is in their reliance on a ‘cash for show’ model. This is the most common model in Melbourne, with average rent for a three-week show heading up towards the $1,000 mark. I’ve accepted this model in the past, now I’m in debt.7 This is not profiteering on the part of the ARIs; the cash always flows past them and ultimately to the owners of the land.8 Everyone bemoans the rent rises, but we still want to use the property. So what are we really paying for? ARIs assume that they operate outside the market because they show non-commercial work. They also assume that they have a shoestring budget, but for Kings that shoestring weighs in at about $60,000 pa (not counting in-kind support and labour) and about $40,000 of this is cash from artists — that’s your money.9 That’s not including the material cost of your work, or your hours of labour.10
Out of Kings’ total cash operating costs $45,000 goes directly to an oddball lycra clad investor who occasionally prowls around the building ominously taping the walls. He takes that money and invests it in his portfolio, making a healthy percentage on top of his capital, which will be also invested. I have a feeling that he’s not planning on sharing it with us later. As rent continues to rise ARIs will have to start thinking about other kinds relationships to property.11 Given that we now pay around $3,750 pcm in rent we could be servicing a loan of $370,000 (according to the CBA interest calculator).12 The idea of actually owning property is a hypothetical proposition that would require a deposit, a lawyer and a long-term vision, but given the amount of cash that passes through our hands maybe we should think about being better capitalists.13
Run in a direction
ARIs are not generally thought of as long term organisations. Arts funding bodies privilege project funding over programming funding and ongoing funding for spaces. This funding encourages spending on time-limited projects with discreet measurable outcomes. Arts organisations have realised the important role ARIs play in growing early careers; so that’s where they’re putting their money. That’s all well and good for now, but what happens when were done emerging?14
Australian ARIs were initiated in the 1970s and 80s in order to bypass the commercial gallery systems. They made available spaces for emerging, experimental and conceptual works that did not necessarily have a commercial aim. This is still how ARIs function but some things have changed. These days ARIs last longer than they used to, the founding members hand over the organisation to new generations of members. ARIs today don’t generally have a specific stated formal or conceptual direction. Kings ARI, for example, seeks to exhibit works that are ‘conceptually and technically ambitious’.15 Many of the artists who initiated Store 5, First Floor, and Art Project, for example, made careers out of these initiatives.16 They got the attention of more conceptual commercial spaces.17 These ‘original’ ARIs were more likely to have formal and conceptual directive. Art Projects, for example, had a focus on contemporary abstract and formal practices. Now the general goal of ‘good art’ combined with a need to fill space in order to service rent can lead to circularity. To discriminate is not necessarily a negative.18 As ARIs start to last they will need to consider and also state their position.’
by Tamsin Green
1. I’ve been on the Kings ARI committee for the past two and a half years.
2. In 2009 we ran an exchange and exhibition with the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, and we are planning to run future international exchanges.
3. From one of our grant applications.
4. Or Centrelink’s office.
5. My interest in art and capital has been enormously encouraged by a recent talk by the Croatian based What How and for Whom (WHW) a curatorial collective responsible for the 2009 11th Istanbul Biennial.
6. For example: there are currently 45 works by Richard Long (the artist most famous for taking walks) listed for sale through ArtNet http://www.artnet.com accessed 11-07-10. POA
7. I am being paid $823.64 to write this piece in accordance with the National Association of Visual Artists (NAVA) recommended schedule of fees. See ‘Fees and Wages’ Chapter 5 of the Nava Code of Practice 2004 available via their website: http://www.visualart.net.au. This is uncommon.
8. Not to be confused with the traditional owners.
9. And $2,500 is the profit we made from what you spent on beer.
10. These amounts vary; when Kings gets funding we pay about half the rent on the artists’ behalf.
11. ARIs can temporarily occupy disused sites. For example, in Scotland ARIs are run out of rent-free council properties, and in Canada they receive ongoing funding. In Melbourne the council supplies some sites for artists’ studios (The Boyd School www. creativespaces.net.au/case-studies/ boyd-school-studios), however, the Arts and Culture branch of the City of Melbourne has to lease these sites from the council at a comparable commercial rate, passing this cost onto the artists.
12. This could get you about 100 square meters of new office/ warehouse space in inner Melbourne. Kings ARI’s total floor space is around 120 square meters.
13. This is over a twenty-year term, I don’t know about you but I’m still planning on making art at fifty.
14. The Australia council handed out $269,184 in funding specifically for ARI/Emerging artist projects earlier this year. The recipients were: Boxcopy: $18,400, Conical Contemporary Art Space Inc: $14,000, FELTspace: $17,945, Firstdraft Incorporated: $20,000, Half Dozen Ltd: $20,000, Inflight Inc: $18,239, Kings Artist-Run Initiative: $12,100, MOP Projects (t/u G Adams & RL Adams): $12,500, Platform Artists Group Inc: $21,000, SafARI Initiatives Incorporated: $20,000, Six_a Inc: $20,000, Sticky Institute Inc: $25,000, Un Projects Inc (t/a Un Magazine): $25,000, West Space Incorporated: $25,000.
15. SNO in Sydney is an example of a space with a particular objective: non-objective art. Level ARI in Brisbane only exhibits work by female artist and curators, there are others.
16. These three spaces were celebrated in a retrospective exhibition ‘Pitch Your Own Tent’ at The Monash University Museum of Art, 2005. Other differences are that there are now more ARIs, around 25 in Melbourne, and that the rent has gone up.
17. Anna Swartz Gallery in particular.
18. Recently I have been working with a free space, this has made me more aware of the effects of rent. Light Projects in Melbourne also has a conceptual theme: projects informed by psychoanalytic or phenomenological research. Light Projects is generously supported by Dr Patrick Johnson (Psychotherapist), Monash University, and Arts Victoria: http://www.light-projects.com
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