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Let Artists Be Artists

A radical proposal for arts organisations to build a new normal, with artists and communities at its heart

In a nutshell

This summer, we’re contracting 3 artists to work with no ‘targets’, no pre-defined outcome and no pressure for 4 months with 3 different communities in Gloucester. Their brief is simply to work with the community to make people’s lives better through the arts.

We want to rapidly extend this idea of longer-term, deeper-rooted employment for artists to work in and with local communities. So we are reallocating some of our programming budget for 2021. We want to employ artists, full-time, for a year and need other organisations to collaborate with us to make this happen.

We want to run this as a national experiment, to see what difference it would make if more arts organisations were to adopt this artist-and-community-centric model – for it to be part of their ‘new normal’.

How can we restructure our work and re-allocate budgets, to offer artists full-time employment, for 1 year, to simply ‘be’ artists in communities?

To fund these posts, we’ll need others to come on board and are having conversations with organisations around the country to see what happens if they join this experiment.

Over the course of the year, we will share updates and insights on the process with everyone who contributes towards those artists’ salaries. It’s a low-risk way for lots of organisations to test out and see for themselves what this new normal could look like in practice.

What happens when you invest in artists and communities in this way? What was the art that got made? Who participated? What was the impact on the communities involved? Did it reach new audiences? Is it viable? Could it become a regular part of your organisation’s way of working? Would it shake up the current status quo for the better?


Why are we doing this?

We think this moment, where there is no business-as-usual, can be an opportunity to build a new normal for the arts industry. A new normal that gets us closer to the world we want to see – where everyone can access amazing cultural events. Where the systems are:
💥 fair
💥 adventurous and
💥 open to everyone.

It’s also shaped by what we’ve been hearing from artists themselves – both directly in conversation with us, and through things like Louise Blackwell’s fantastic research into independent workers in the creative industries during lockdown.

The new normal: cultural events with artists and communities at their heart

We believe in cultural events that place artists and communities right at their heart. (We’ve got a whole model for this – check out The Strike A Light Recipe for Great Cultural Events).

A growing, proven movement

And we’re not the only ones – there are some fantastic arts organisations who are already working to similar models: the amazing Co-Creating Change Network, that we’re chuffed to be part of; the incredible Slung Low, the excellent Commonwealth, to name just a few.

We’re big believers in this approach to cultural events: putting in the time and care to bring artists and communities together, investing in them, working collaboratively, putting down roots, producing arts events that are made with the people they’re for. (It’s way better -– for artists and communities – than the the one-and-done touring treadmill, for instance.)

But it’s not ‘the norm’ yet

But, even though some people have been working in this way for a long time – even though there are numerous calls for this kind of approach – it is still far from ‘the norm’. We want to change that.


The plan and the proposal

Our plan

We need to value artists in the way we do administrators, producers and general managers. Why not employ them?

That’s why, this summer, we’re contracting 3 artists to work with no ‘targets’, no pre-defined outcome and no pressure for 4 months with 3 different communities in Gloucester. Their brief is simply to work with the community to make people’s lives better through the arts.

The experiment

We want to rapidly extend this idea of longer-term, deeper-rooted employment for artists to work in and with local communities. So we are reallocating some of our programming budget for 2021. We want to employ artists, full-time, for a year and need other organisations to collaborate with us to make this happen.

We want to run this as a national experiment, to see what difference it would make if more arts organisations were to adopt this model – for it to be part of their ‘new normal’.

Your part

To make this experiment happen, we’re inviting arts organisations to work with us. We’re having conversations about how we can do this so it’s meaningful for everyone taking part and we can pool resources. We’re exploring regional and national collaborations. Together, we can make it happen.

We know from initial conversations with organisations that the research and case for funding that comes out of this will be important, as will sharing the learning around co-creating with communities in this way.

An animated GIF. A group of people dance in a community centre while the lights fade through different colours.
People up on their feet dancing at the end of one of our past community-artist collaborative events

1 experiment, 2 ways to get involved

For organisations

Join our pooled experiment. Work with us to develop a model, join the conversation and share resources towards the full-time salary of artists working in and with a community. 

For artists, practitioners etc

Help us spread the word and build momentum for this idea. Work with us to develop the model and tell the organisations, venues and commissioners you know to get on board!

Want to be part of it?

Artists, practitioners

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FAQs

How can my organisation take part and support?

  1. Email christina@strikealightfestival.org.uk to find out more, or to sign up to participate.
  2. Spread the word! Share this page via your organisation’s social media, talk to colleagues about it, invite us to networking events – it all helps make this happen!

Who will the artists be? How will it work? How will you decide how much they will be paid?
We are intentionally keeping this really simple- what happens if you employ an artist for a year? How does that affect their work, their engagement with communities, their relationships with organisations? The detail of who, what, how, how much etc will be worked out in consultation with artists and the organisations involved and will address all the immediate questions around diversity, accessibility, quality, autonomy etc.

Why this approach?
We have had hundreds of conversations with artists, organisations and communities about the arts – and the same things come up again and again. We all know them:

  • Not enough time
  • a project treadmill
  • things taking place in silos
  • inequality between artists and organisations
  • struggling to reach new audiences
  • who art is made by and who it’s for.

There have been endless zoom meetings and webinars about the new normal and we believe that if we’re all trying to do something different, we can’t do that using the same structures we’ve always used.

So this a deliberately open question. Let’s turn some of those structures on their head and see what happens.

What will Strike A Light’s role be?
We will share the progress and learning throughout the year both online and through events where government guidelines allow, with additional opportunities for the organisations who have supported the project to discuss and benefit from the evaluation. We will be a support for the artists- how this works and what they might need will be worked out in consultation with artists- and this support role could be shared with other organisations. We will undertake the HR administration and on-costs of employing the artists.