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Blog - IETM 1: The precarious position of the artist

Artists in Flanders are facing many of the same socio-economic challenges as those in the UK. At IETM, Tanuja Amarasuriya found out more about the impact that's having, and useful ways to work better together. 

I attended an interesting session at IETM (Informal European Theatre Meeting) this year called “Do it together: answers to the precarious position of artists!” (yup, there was an exclamation mark) led by Delphine Hesters and Joris Janssens from the Flanders Arts Institute.

Flanders Arts Institute describe themselves as an “Interface organisation and expertise centre for music, performing arts and visual arts in Flanders & Brussels.” Like Theatre Bristol, they do a lot of work mapping, connecting and sharing knowledge through the arts ecosystem and, like Theatre Bristol, they also place the artist at the centre of their activity. 

The kick start for the session were the findings from a 2-year research they’d done into the socio-economic position of artists in Flanders and Brussels, surveying over 3000 artist across film, performance and visual arts. Here’s what they found:

  1. The dominance of flexible working – leading to an increased individualisation in how people work (more isolation, fewer structures to share the pressure, stress and uncertainty of the professional landscape).
  2. A high demand for non-artistic skills – artists increasingly needing to bring administration, fundraising, marketing etc skills to gain employment.
  3. More ‘slashers’ e.g. artist/teacher, artist/postman – more people working in multiple jobs both in and outside the arts.
  4. Increased economic precariousness – artists earning much lower than the median income for Flanders (despite having many more graduates as a sector than average).
  5. Fragmentation of means across more and more players – resources getting spread more thinly.
  6. Supporting organisations face increased precariousness and any new organisations tend to be smaller.
  7. Inflation of co-production (far fewer shows produced by a single organisation) – and pressure on the independent artist to put the work into bringing the co-producing partnerships together.
  8. The dominance of ‘project logics’ – increased pressure for the art to be instrumental and output-focussed, which leads to short-term horizons, lack of development of artistic vision and makes it harder to build sustainable careers as artists.
  9. Peer spaces increasingly under the pressure of market logic.

One of the great things about IETM is that you get to reflect on your own culture with peers in an international context. This list could equally refer to the situation for artists in England (though I reckon we’d also pick out the decreasing platforms and money for national touring as a distinct challenge).

So when it came to discussing solutions, it was interesting to see the processes they’d identified as useful ways to address these challenges:

  1. Organising the artist community to give collective voice
  2. Sharing non-economic resources
  3. Strengthening the artistic peer sphere
  4. Fair practices in the arts
  5. Work-life balance: artists as human beings
  6. Breaking taboos within the industry
  7. Artist-run organisations
  8. Connecting to contexts and communities 

Again, it’s heartening to think how many great examples of these practices we’ve developed across the UK and how sharing these strategies across borders can strengthen arts ecologies internationally. 

As well as revealing the similarities, IETM is also great at reminding you of many different contexts you are talking to – economically, socially, politically, culturally, technologically. If you’re in a group discussion, there’s a powerful temptation to try and find group solutions, but somewhere like IETM, I find it much more useful to hear about the differences and the creative or angry ways people have responded to those different challenges.

 

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