The old boys club. Left to Right: Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner. All part of Seth Sieglaub's group exhibition "January 5-31, 1969"Opinions about the arts community vary greatly within the arts community. By now, I've talked to a few people working as funders, administrators and curators in Toronto, and I've discovered that there are generally agreed upon regulations (galleries exist through funders, curators organize artists, galleries promote their artists and exhibitions), but the details get confusing: what money should go where? who should be giving money? which type of gallery should be exhibiting which type of artist? along with investigation into what the desirable and effective relationship between artists and institutions should look like.From the perspective of someone trying to make it into the field, it seems like my best option would be to play along, promote copacetic relationships and learn to play the game using the guidance of the general, agreed upon regulations. Or at least to begin with.
Some choose not to play along, instead forging a more divergent path; something I had forgotten how to do after battling with stifling university curriculum for the past 6 years . I recently met with Derek Liddington, Director of XPACE who has indeed trodden a path of internal ideological and action oriented resistance. If you look back through the history of art, it is easy to be reminded of the many arts professionals - artists, writers, curators - who have found success through rustling some feathers, being independently minded and asserting their opinions, whether they were popular or not. Remember when we could stick up for ourselves and have independent ideas? While searching for a job it seems to be the opposite goal, instead trying too hard to mold one's identity and experiences into the desires of any given institution; making ourselves into an alternative version of ourselves when we should be approaching things as real, independently minded people with a specialized and particular skill set applicable in many different and creative ways applicable to many aspects of the cultural field (I say 'we' as recent graduates with cultural degrees). It's a tension between what we ideally want out of the job market with what the job market wants out of us.
Liddington is a great 'advocate' (a word with stronger political associations than he desires) for the under-30 crowd. During our meeting, he happened to reinforce an observation I made in the September 19th post (Gallery TPW: Round Two) about the abrupt and alarming lack of networks and structures after post-secondary graduation. There is a multitude of opportunities for students, but institutional focus and funding seems to have run out for recently graduates. It's possible that the people, committees and advisers in charge of creating work grants and new positions are convinced that graduates have already gotten all the experience they need by the time they are handed their diplomas. Surprisingly, that's not real life. Liddington's personal interest lies in promoting a shift in focus from a structure of training to one of continued support. What are arts organizations doing for the younger generation ready to apply their new exciting ideas and initiatives to the community? Not much. If you're a 25 year old arts administrator, curator, artist, writer like myself, you already know the situation.
There's a generational divide, and it's blatant. The people in charge of galleries and funding distribution today, both artist-run centres and larger public institutions, are run by older men and women with impeccable educations and experience in multiple facets of the arts and culture field but, in many cases, they are ingrained in older methods of practice (maybe more to the academic side than the practical business side?); once-upon-a-time radicals in the festishized hey-days of the 1960s and 1970s, but not so much today where the economy and community has changed drastically. Funny thing is that these older models persist - take a look at any of the institutions called artist-run centres today and the vast differences from one to the next in Toronto - they aren't artist-run centres any more. Then there's my generation, who understands what has come before and knows that things need to be taken in new directions, or at least wants to desperately find out for themselves what these directions could be (what do new artists need? where's the money at...or where will it be next? what's the relationship of critical writing to the physical exhibition? what's the role of the curator after the realization of the curator-as-artist vs curator-as-facilitator and the new era of post-relational aesthetics?). Then to follow us will be the graduates with real university degrees in arts administration programmes.
No generalization implied.
Liddington's 'radicalism' comes from his insistence on a network for us in-betweeners, the new graduates, below 30 years old with applicable education and experience. This shouldn't be radical, of course. It's probably time to demand opportunities for ourselves within the field by first recognizing, that yes, it's not working for us and then deciding that something really needs to be done about that because it simply isn't beneficial for any of these generations involved (except maybe for the ones that want to keep their jobs until they're pried from their desks in high towers after rigor-mortis sets in).