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Above the Parapet

Above the Parapet

September marks the fifth anniversary of my freelance life!

Given ‘austerity’ cuts and my own slightly maverick personality, this feels a significant achievement. I’ve managed to earn a living in an arts and media sector that has been under constant pressure, forced into transition at a speedier rate of evolution than many of us are comfortable with.

That has lead to both a closing down of opportunities as organisations have become more risk averse, more focused on retrenchment and survival. But it’s also led to opportunities that I didn’t imagine when I first went freelance. There has been a need for independent thinkers with the courage and integrity to stick their heads above the parapet, to deliver critiques that are not always welcome by all parts of the sector. There has been a need for research by people whose lines of enquiry are backed by years of experience delivering projects and strategy with a close eye on the political and cultural policy context.

A small pool of new voices has emerged, and I’d like to think that I’m one of them. I’ve been very lucky to be given opportunity by a range of significant organisations that have recognised my ability to make a contribution. Those organisations have ranged from the solidly campaigning, like a-n The Artists Information Company, who have such a strong voice in advocating for visual artists’ pay and conditions, as well as providing incredibly useful resources. But they’ve also stretched to media outlets, like The Guardian, who have amplified the work being done in the sector, and who have championed some voices talking thoughtfully about the issues. There is a sense of being heard, of analysis being noted, even though it remains stubbornly hard to influence dialogue and change at the top level.

In the last five years, I’ve written about 75 articles, reviews, think pieces and provocations for a variety of national media outlets. One of them has even been credited with being a game-changer for the Arts Council (so rumour has it anyway). I’ve met with incredible generosity and inspiration while doing this, thank you.

I’ve written 10 research reports and several case studies, detailing how cuts in the arts have affected the sector, analysing how public funding is distributed, exploring development provision for artists, and providing contextual information for the Paying Artists Campaign. A few of these have gained real attention in the sector and in the media, being cited in funding and strategy documents, as well as being widely shared (most notably, A Fair Share? Direct Funding to Artists).

I’ve worked with twelve arts organisations, some of them artist-led, helping them clarify how they operate and think strategically about their future, amongst other roles. I’ve worked with individual artists in different ways, but always within a strategic context for their practice. I’ve given free advice and lots of time to all sorts of people, mostly students or first jobbers, who have contacted me by email (most of whom haven’t bothered to say thank you).

I’ve taught professional development at three UK Universities on degree and post-graduate art courses. I’ve led a three day academic writing retreat for doctoral students from Bath and Bournemouth Universities. And I’ve led workshops for artists for Future Creative in Kent, and a-n The Artists Information Company.

I’ve talked at various public events, conferences and symposiums, the latest of which is the Touring Exhibition Meeting in Istanbul in September 2015 (who have also bought 150 copies of The Interpretation Matters Handbook as a free giveaway for delegates. What a very good idea!)

Talking writing, tone and language in Istanbul September 2015. Image copyright Rainer Kurzeder/SC Exhibitions

Talking writing, tone and language in Istanbul September 2015. Image copyright Rainer Kurzeder/SC Exhibitions

Talking to Carina Jaatinen, from Stadsmuseum, Finland. Image copyright Rainer Kurzeder/SC Exhibitions.

Talking to Carina Jaatinen, from Stadsmuseum, Finland. Image copyright Rainer Kurzeder/SC Exhibitions.

I’ve originated the Interpretation Matters project, funded by Arts Council England, which puts art writing under the spotlight, explores how and why it looks like it does, and gently suggests that those of us who write about the arts in our different ways could often do it better. I maintain the website which will continue to be a resource for the sector for another two years. Have you contributed to it yet? Please do if you haven’t – there are a variety of ways to do so. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with the De La Warr Pavilion on our Interpretation Matters “strategic workshop programme” as part of the project.

I’ve written a book as part of the project, The Interpretation Matters Handbook, which has gained positive reviews, here and here. The Museums Association has called it “refreshing, opinionated and provocative”; the Jerwood Foundation has called it “refreshing and provocative”, and Arts Professional is in no doubt that it is of great use to the sector. Have you got your copy yet? Email talk@interpretationmatters.com if you want one!

And as if all this wasn’t enough I started and completed a Master of Philosophy degree, writing a 50,000 word thesis researching the interface between biennials of art and cultural policy within a neo-liberal context.

So a huge enormously grateful “THANK YOU!” to everyone who has kept me in work over the last five years:

a-n The Artists Information Company/Arts Council England/Kay Aplin/ArtSway/Art Writing Writing Art/Axisweb/Bath University/Blue Monkey Network/Bournemouth University/Jane Boyer/Brighton University/b-side Multimedia Festival/Lisa Creagh/Dover Arts Development/Rowena Easton/Frame and Reference/Susan Francis/Future Creative/Jeremy Gardiner/The Guardian/Hastings Borough Council/the blessed Susan Jones/Judy Martin/Mitra Mimarzia/Museums Association/New Statesman/Semmel Concerts/Sheffield Hallam University/South West Federation of Museums/The Stage/Turning Point/CVAN/Visual Arts South West…

The Interpretation Matters Handbook

The Interpretation Matters Handbook

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4 thoughts on “Five Years a Freelancer

  1. I’ve just completed my third year as a freelancer. Things do not look as bright as in your case (I don’t live in the UK), but there’s nothing like the privilege of being a free thinker and contributing with, hopefully, constructive critiques for the sector, even if they are little welcome.

    I do follow your project Interpretation Matters, as this is also one of my big passions. We might be organizing a conference next year to mark the 10th anniversary of discussing this issue for the first time in Portugal. So… we’ll be in touch! In the meantime, here are some links, should you like to know more about what we do over here:

    My professional blog, Musing on Culture: http://musingonculture-en.blogspot.com

    My association Access Culture: acessocultura.org (we try to keep everuthing bilingual)

    And a Facebook page I created to discuss museum texts with concrete examples (someone shared one of your articles the other day): https://www.facebook.com/groups/museumtexts/

    So, congratulations and keep up the good work!

    • Many thanks for these encouraging remarks Maria. I am so glad you follow Interpretation Matters (www.interpretationmatters.com for anyone not familiar with the project) and look forward to following the links you’ve posted.
      Good luck in Portugal!
      all best, Dany

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