BLANK the money and BLANK: Part Three

Posted on Apr 24, 2015

This is the final part of a three-part series on the politics of arts funding. Part one introduced the Take the money and run debate, and discussed the problems of boycott and ethical funding policies, while part two looked at the tensions in our attitudes to private and state sponsorship. Here I'll suggest some constructive ways to think about money and the arts.

So what can you do? If all money is dirty, if all artists are hypocrites, and if all funding is ethically compromised, what actions are available to you? I'd argue that accepting the brokenness of everything is a great place to start from if you want to make real and radical changes. I'd also argue that refusing the cling to the purity of any given action opens up a wide portfolio of strategies: rather than trying to hold our ethical ground, we can fight a guerilla war, adopting different tactics as needed to win the world we want. Here are four possibilities:

Take the Money and Run. Artists need to get paid, and the system we need to get paid by is inherently oppressive, exploitative and abusive. You're going to have to accept you're complicit, and you're going to have to learn to hold your nose. Or rather, you're going to have to learn when, for what and for whom it's worth holding your nose, right to hold your nose. Remember that you're own survival is important, and that the work you're doing is important, and decide to make the kind of compromises you can live with. Accept that you're a hypocrite, and make art that matters. Make your life strong so that you can fight back.

Steal the Money and Smash. Sometimes, they're not paying attention, and sometimes taking money from a dubious organisation is an excellent way in to cause them some damage. I heard a story once about an artist who took some money from Vodafone's World of Difference fund at a time when the mobile giant was the target of a major pay-your-tax campaign. The artist used the money to work for a local radical social centre, and leaked passwords to the Vodafone Foundations' blogging platform to activists, enabling some troublemakers to plaster the company's website with propaganda for a couple of days and grab some headlines. This story makes it seem possible to cause more damage to a funder than the benefit they gain by artwashing you. Stay alert for opportunities to use their money against them!

Hate the Money and Shout. But sometimes we need the boycott tactic. Sometimes we need to be able to state clearly that a given funder is not acceptable, and make a paraiah of the national institutions lending their reputation to corporate abusers. This is especially the case when the campaign is called for and organised with those on the receiving end of oppression: boycott must always be more about solidarity with those struggling than individual moral worth. When you boycott, organise with others, and turn it into an extraordinary event. You'll always need to have arguments ready to turn away the easy charge of hypocrisy, but boycott can be one of the biggest ways to shift public perception.

Fuck the Money and Build. The only people who we can really trust, who really need to be able to trust, are each other. Artists, activists and all the people struggling in oppressive systems need to be able to build their own systems of support and mutual aid. A sector of atomised artists each struggling over numbing funding applications and neurotic sponsorship bids is no good for anyone, or for art. We need independently-funded arts and social centres. We need workers co-ops. We need to be honest with each other about money. We need more radical unions. We need to make money off cheap tickets, cheap drinks, cheap food and use it to pay each other. We need to learn how to build autonomous systems of support. We need to look after each other.

Harry Giles is a performer, poet and general doer of things. www.harrygiles.org

Image: Still from “The K-Foundation Burn a Million Quid”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_K-Foundation_Burn_a_Million_Quid.jpg for licensing.

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