In an environment of budget cuts and amid a rhetoric of austerity that prioritises the demands of fiscal crisis over and above the need to support cultural activity from the public purse, the field of art practice invariably finds itself subject to a quantitative measurement of value.
In the fearful rush toward accountability, outcomes in the field of the arts that are otherwise unquantifiable are assigned a range of quasi-financial definitions such as Social Return On Investment, Contingency Valuation, or Willingness to Pay that create a criteria for judgment based on economic and numeric terms.
A cursory reading of criticism surrounding valuation applied in the area of the social sciences suggests that many problems surround the fabrication of data from the ‘vital energies’ of human activity.
I am interested in the notion that value cannot be separated from the act of valuation and in how this value is dehumanised by the the tools of data collection, by making anonymous and severing the subject from the information for which he or she is substituted – so that it may be circulated as a new entity.
In order to contribute an alternative diagram of how the arts create value, I am using the narratives of individual artists and arts workers and their descriptions of how they understand their practice. My work for Runway consists of four interviews and transcripts that have been made into word clouds and give a tonal impression of how they might ‘audit’ the values surrounding their own work.
The questions asked included:
How many hours do you put into X?
How do you know if your activity has generated the projected outcome?
A banker and an entrepreneur meet online:
(the Arts Council is the bank right?)
How much of your activity is directed towards getting organised and prepared for valuation?
Do you have any systems to account for the non-financial value of your work/time?
Who invested in you?
What do you provide them?
What do you personally invest?
Prompt them to respond critically about the funding/ curating/ commercial/ institutional structures that have supported them and that they have supported.
Are they able to communicate honestly/ is there translation?
(How) is it different to social work or therapy?
What do you transform with your work?
What do you ask from your audience/reader/ participants?
What makes an artist look like a good investment?
P* is a performer working predominantly in collaboration with others, who has had the development of their most recent project funded by a grant from the Arts Council England. P hesitates to say that this kind of investment in practice is a productive use of resources, but thinks that it is, nonetheless, a good use of resources.
Black is a visual artist, working solo, who is at a stage of re-evaluating their practice. Black sees investment in terms of sacrifice, things forgone for the sake of being an artist: proximity to family, stability, attachment to home, relationships.
Molly is a producer and curator at a contemporary community-based arts charity. For Molly, valuation is a process of translation, a dialogue across the various vested interests or beneficiaries (they prefer to avoid the word stakeholder, which they say is at times shorthand for funder).
Phil is a visual artist, recently graduated from art school, who has experience exhibiting at commercial, artist-run and university art spaces and in a curated festival. Phil has also received a development grant from a major arts funding body and feels that, if available, funding for training and skills development is valuable for an art practice: making the artist “more open to having an output for [their] ideas”. It is also worth investing in the right relationships and connections in terms of thinking about the future.
*names have been changed for the purpose anonymity and consent.
Megan Garrett-Jones is a performance maker and writer. She recently completed a Research Masters in Performance and Creative Research at the University of Roehampton, London....