As anyone who works for an artist run initiative will attest to, it is a labour of love undertaken for different reasons; perhaps to attempt to fill a perceived gap in existing arts programming or the desire to experiment with risky arts practices. With limited programming dedicated to emerging artists in commercial and government art institutions in Brisbane, artist run spaces are considered an invaluable part of the local arts ecology. These were some of the factors that led eight of us, a mix of artists and would-be curators, to start Current Projects at the end of 2011.
Two years’ worth of exhibitions later (and minus four original co-directors), we were presented with the opportunity to take part in Sydney Contemporary as part of [Q] ARI; a curated booth of Queensland artist run initiatives. We thought about the nature of an art fair as a market, where the worth of art is assessed through dollar figures and not necessarily on ideological value. While the inherent value of Current Projects itself may be in the opportunities we offer to artists, we decided to rethink our principles and go commercial by putting the whole thing on the market; Current Projects, Price by negotiation.
However, turning our artist run initiative into a sellable art commodity wasn’t just a matter of putting it on the market. It’s not quite a business sale; after all Current Projects isn’t a registered business and we don’t even have an Australian Business Number. What’s for sale is the Current Projects brand and history; the reputation that’s been built up over nearly two years of continuous programming in Brisbane. The sale would then put a monetary value on something that’s ‘real’ value to the artists who have showed with us is quite undefinable. For many I spoke to while at our sales desk at Sydney Contemporary, a sale was considered a compromise of our integrity, separation and distinction from the commercial scene often being a defining point of an artist run initiative. One of the kinder (and actually frequent) responses to our sales pitch was “I would love to buy you, but I don’t have enough”, suggesting that for many people, artist run initiatives are valuable not just for what they do, but also monetarily.
There were a few types of sale we were willing to negotiate;
The Outright sale
Where Current Projects would be bought outright and the directors would step down, we would have no further involvement in the activities of Current Projects. We recoup personal financial losses and our buyer walks away with two years of exhibition history and the power to determine the future of Current Projects as they see fit. Our pitch to this type of buyer centred on the unique opportunity to buy your way into the local Brisbane arts scene.
The New Director sale
Which would entail the purchase of Current Projects as is, with the co-directors continuing to run it under the buyer. So our new owner acts as something of a director meets philanthropist, with the benefit of being able to steer programming, potential naming rights, and the feel-good aspect of supporting artists. This would be beneficial by injecting funds into Current Projects, perhaps allowing us to take on projects that are currently not financially feasible; however there would be a risk in selling to someone whose vision for Current Projects may not align with ours.
The Franchise lease
Where someone could pay a fee to start their own franchise of Current Projects. We saw potential in this for people who wanted to start an artist run initiative, perhaps recent arts graduates, but who weren’t necessarily interested in having to build up a reputation from scratch. To start a franchise, a potential buyer would need to operate outside of Brisbane and receive training on acceptable Current Projects practice. We would then benefit from extending our reach through new branches and growth of exhibition output.
We were also open to hearing proposals around other types of purchase. Personally, I was hoping Current Projects would end up in a conceptual collection, where the history of the initiative and the sale would be archived as a whole work.
While the intrinsic value of artist run spaces is generally agreed upon, most face financial problems to varying degrees; high ambitions are often paired with shoestring budgets sourced from fundraising, grant money or out of pocket. With this in mind we have decided to keep Current Projects on the market a little longer. The next phase of the [Q] ARI project is an exhibition at Griffith University Art Gallery, open from 5 October to 16 November; we will have our Price by negotiation desk set up and will be taking offers from serious buyers throughout this period.
Amy-Clare McCarthy is the Visual Arts Co-ordinator at Metro Arts, Brisbane and works in exhibitions at the State Library of Queensland. She is a founding...