What is the biggest question facing artists today? 

A visitor poses in front of an art installation by Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno, entitled ‘Altostratus/M+1, 2017’ during  the Frieze Art Fair in London.
The Guardian asked this question to several contemporary artists. Most of the responses related economic issues, with some referring to questions about morality, ethics and equality. Money issues tend to be high on the list because it is definitely a struggle to make a living as an artist, even it seems, if you are a well-known artist.
The main concern artists have is about space: space to live, space to make work and space to show work. Affordable space. Many cities want to be known for their vibrant arts and culture scene and are actively incorporating this concept into their long-term strategic plans. While I applaud the CRD Arts Service for coming up with a comprehensive Strategic Plan 2015-2018, there is no mention of the need for space for artists. The City of Victoria is working on an Arts and Culture Master Plan called “Create Victoria” and it is encouraging to see that they have heard artists’ feedback, and have listed “space” as a number one strategic priority. Funding and grant initiatives for artists are wonderful, however the best way to create a dynamic cultural city, is to have affordable spaces for artists to live and work. It is important to acknowledge in the ever-increasing desire for density in city centres, we are creating a mono culture of upper middle class individuals with little room for artists to be part of the fabric of this society. Mark Gimein discusses this issue in a New Yorker article called: Why the High-Cost of City Living is Bad for Everyone.
There are various initiatives to help artists find spaces such as Bow Arts in London. They use an online tool called Artist Studio Finder to match artists with studio space (this will make you want to move to London!). Vancouver has started a program for Artist Live Work Spaceswhere you  get a 1,075 square feet space over two levels, with a bright living space upstairs and a studio space below with high ceilings. The space also includes a living area with a full kitchen and room for a large dining table, couch, bed and more. All this for $440/month! The catch is that there are only seven of these spaces available and they are distributed on an “award” basis. More information on this program can be found here: Artist Studio Award Program.
Another space issue is where to exhibit work. Tacita Dean in response to the Guardian’s question says “I think the biggest problem for artists is balancing a need for the market with a detachment from it. The demise of public funding and the overbearing existence of large, commerce-oriented galleries that even museums rely on these days, has distorted the capacity of artists to work freely. We are increasingly mollified by commercial obedience. There needs to be plurality again: other ways, more confusion, fewer defined routes.”We need to make work whether or not there is a market for it.”

Artists will make work whether or not they have a studio space or a place to exhibit. As artist and VISA instructor Xane St Phillip likes to say, “art is its own reward”. Artists are finding alternative spaces such as borrowed or rented space for short term exhibitions, or by inviting people to their home/studio to see work there. And it is true we do need to continue making work despite lack of support from government and society at large, however it is important for this society to understand the role artists play in making our world a better place to live. Including a few paragraphs about “arts in culture” in strategic plans or government White Papers is not enough. As cities expand and develop, a serious consideration needs to be made for the artists that are going to make these cities exciting, diverse and interesting places to call home.

Image: Tacita Dean, white chalk on slate (from Documenta 13)

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