Dean Kenning: Statement of withdrawal from talk at FlatTimeHouse / Curator/Director’s Response (London, UK)
I was very pleased to be asked to take part in the event Proto-tools at FlatTimeHouse (16-17 Nov) described on the gallery website as ‘part-symposium, part-conversation, part-exhibition’. However I feel I must withdraw due to the non-payment of participants. This is not because I don’t partake in many artistic and teaching activities without being paid, which I do; it is because I believe an Arts Council England funded and otherwise supported arts organisation such as FlatTimeHouse has an obligation to pay all it’s artists and speakers. As I had proposed to speak on the question of art as a resource I feel this issue is relevant to the event.
Firstly, funded galleries and arts organisations should not presume that artists, writers, curators, etc. are either independently wealthy, or have stable academic positions to sustain them. Secondly, and more importantly, such non-payment encourages a reputation economy, which is rampant in the art world but deeply damaging to art. Artists, speakers and organisers of events, when they are not so well known and sought after, are supposed to be grateful to arts institutions for the opportunity to exhibit, perform, curate and speak, and to have their names listed on the institution’s website. Not only is their ‘esteem’ enhanced, but they may make connections (with the ‘right’ people) and thus initiate future possibilities to show work, to curate, write, etc.
The informal networking culture that operates at the heart of the art world’s reputation economy conspires against the ‘vulgar’ discussion of money (except as an abstract theoretical topic of discussion), and so silences those who, while feeling they should not turn down an opportunity, may feel unsupported, unfairly treated, or exploited by galleries which seek to increase their own reputational value by dedicating funding to international name artists, writers and curators. It is not a good career move to criticise those who hold, and potentially enable access to, power.
The policy of selective payment for those working at publicly funded galleries thus reinforces and reproduces art world hierarchies and exclusions, to the benefit of those at the top, through flattery (of power’s ‘generosity’), silence (at its iniquities) and competitive struggle for future visibility (where their should be solidarity and true collaboration). This is therefore a class issue, one which, lacking expression within the dominant system and it’s modes of operation, can become internalised, often painfully so, as personal failure.
FlatTimeHouse, built, supposedly, on the legacy of historical challenges to art’s exclusions, should understand how art as a social resource must begin with the equitable enabling of artistic, curatorial and theoretical production alongside the provision of platforms for visibility and discourse. How are we going to encourage a wider range of people to become artists or art workers if they are not going to get paid?
Regardless of the intentions of those involved, such an arrangement inevitably transforms the use of value of artistic encounter and discussion into the exchange value of art world status, as reputational credit replaces cash payment as the currency which will allow the ‘lucky’ few (the well-off and well-connected tend to be more lucky than others) to rise to the top of the pyramid – and only there unlock the big money.
Dean Kenning is an artist and writer based in London.
My name is Claire Louise Staunton and I am the Curator/Director of Flat Time House. This is an uncomfortable place in which to introduce myself, but I feel such an introduction is necessary since we have never met, spoken on the phone, nor even exchanged an email.
Had we communicated, I could have explained that the symposium of which you write was an externally organised public event. You were invited to participate because the organisers felt an urgent need for a forum in which artists and curators could openly interrogate ideas concerning the tools of art practice and the use value of art, and felt your voice would contribute to this discourse. The organisers/artists approached me to ask if FTHo could host this discussion since their former project space has closed due to a lack of funding and because they feel the intimacy and history of our house is conducive to the group discussion. I was happy to give them the space and time to do so without charge and without the constraints of larger and more inflexible institutions.
Had we communicated, I could have explained to you our funding structure wherein FTHo is neither a regularly funded organisation nor a National Portfolio Organisation. The Arts Council England funds some of our in-house public programming (when we always pay fees and/or production) but none of our overheads, salaries, externally organised events or the pretzels and orange juice that we served our guests over the weekend. The weekend’s symposium was not in any part funded by the Arts Council or any public funding body; rather I volunteered my time and offered our only asset, the house. Moreover, the house is under serious threat of closure (please see Art Newspaper July/Aug 2013 [ http://bit.ly/1f7I2Fl ] due to a lack of secure funding.
Had we communicated, we could have discussed, and no doubt found much agreement on the problem of faceless exploitative organisations in the art world. However, it is my firm conviction that neither we at FTHo, nor the artist-run group that programmed the event, are such organisations. That you did not take the trouble to find out before launching a public attack on us I find deeply upsetting. Your anger comes from real and shared concerns, but your aim is off. We are a very small team of individuals working to a challenging budget who care very deeply about our flexible, autonomous institute, and all of the artists that we invite to work with us.Perhaps the biggest shame is that you missed a really interesting and intimate exchange of ideas between a group of dedicated artists and curators who met on equal terms.
Had we communicated, you might have been happy to come.
Yours sincerely,Claire Louise Staunton