Last year the Arts Council closed their West Norfolk flagship Arts Space in King’s Lynn, and I have to confess it’s demise meant nothing more to me than another anonymous chain store closing in the town, because in the decade I’ve been living and working as a successful contemporary artist in Norfolk I’ve never received a call, a visit, a penny of funding or even a tacit nod of approval from them.
Maybe the fact that I have been lucky enough to become financially successful precluded Arts Council interest in my business, or was it that I created things that people both understood, liked and more than that were willing to part with their hard earned cash to own?
After over a decade in the wilderness I neither expected nor cared to hear from the Arts Council, in fact I was fairly sure that they’d never heard of our business.
I got some kind of an answer to this when out of the blue a party of artists who had always been funded by the Arts Council appeared at our door (on Arts Council expenses of course), to consult with my wife and I, about ‘monetizing’ their practice which turned out to be a euphemism for weaning themselves off Arts Council funding and making their own way in the world.
So, was I to understand by this that far from not noticing my business, the Arts Council were using me in some sort of Darwinian test of commerciality? I doubted it, and given that I’d made it under my own steam, my initial response was ‘why should I help them drag themselves out of a commercial mire of their own making?’
The thing is, I work in the Arts because I feel passionately that they matter, and it turned out that this group of funding dependent artists felt exactly the same way as me. That we had taken a different route into the arts, and that they had become dependent upon support which was increasingly harder to get, only made me want to help them more.
Did our meeting do them – or me – any good?
All I can say is that we met as strangers with diametrically opposing views about how artists should be funded, and parted with at least some of our misconceptions corrected. For my part I understood that some good artists deserve a helping hand, for their part that it was possible to be commercial and ‘do greater social good, than many funded artists’, to quote an e-mail I received afterwards.
Always ones to put ideas into action, Jane and I set about creating a contemporary Art space for Norfolk with which we intend to replace – at least in part – the opportunities for emerging artists to get their work seen in a decent venue, denied to most of them since the closure of the Arts Centre.
The first show (pictured above) is mine, The Painted Garden ; not because I claim any pre-eminence but rather that sales of my work has to fund the venue. Once we have the commercial gallery running our first priority will be a open competition for young artists from across the region whose work and vision deserves recognition, encouragement and promotion.