We help artists understand and engage with both the art world and the real world: from building networks, finding opportunities, earning money or getting exhibitions to understanding their legal rights, finding affordable accommodation or doing their tax.
Our programme is for professional artists at any stage in their careers, working in any medium. Funded by Arts Council England’s London regional office as part of their national portfolio, we have a non-exclusive focus on practice in London. We are an externally-facing programme of UAL, Europe’s largest creative higher education institution. Our programmes are free and open to any professional artist no matter where they studied, including self-taught artists.
To create and develop our programmes we gather intelligence from artists, both through the programme and via research. This covers topics like how and why artists work, their partnerships, and wider visual arts activity. We match this with research from outside of the arts to put it in context, creating new resources and insights. We use all this to build new projects with our partners to help artists meet their ambition.
Artquest is programmed and run by three part-time workers, all artists, alongside on average 60 artist freelancers who variously write, advise, manage and programme our projects.
In 2020 our programme theme is EQUITY. Research by Arts Emergency / Create London in 2018, reported in Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, based on their 2017-18 survey, suggests that “a high proportion of respondents to the … survey believe that success in their sector is based on hard work and talent (otherwise known as ‘meritocratic’ beliefs), and [that] respondents who are most attached to this idea are highly-paid white men.” It continues: “this is troubling, as the faith in the sector’s meritocracy may signal a belief that little or nothing should change. Particularly worrying is the fact that those people who are in the best position to effect change are the very people who most strongly support the meritocratic explanation.” Taking this as a starting point, this year we ask: if we are part of the problem, how do we become part of the solution?
Implicit in funders’ efforts to diversify audiences and the arts workforce, ongoing since the 1990s, is the fact that demographics of arts audiences remain overwhelmingly white, able-bodied and middle-class (pp12, 52-53). For artists the picture is similar, with most being white (p91) and coming from backgrounds with highly-educated parents. As two-thirds of artists earn less than £5,000 a year from their practice (36% less than £1,000, p8), almost all must rely on other sources of income or methods to reduce expenditure. Power in the art world remains at the top, with selective curatorial practices reinforced by competitive application processes. Many artists value being selected for or awarded something as a proxy for career progression. And many artists complain about the jargon-infused language required throughout the art world – with artists also anecdotally more likely to experience dyslexia.
Our plans for 2020 include:
- a refreshed peer mentoring programme
- further development of our artist data analysis partnership project
- conversations around decolonising the arts and the barriers to change
What we learned from previous years’ programme themes can be found in our Almanack, an annual publication bringing together research by us, our partners, and outside of the arts.
In 2019 we explored WORK in our research and projects. Artists already experience many of the features of work that futurists predict: needing to be highly motivated, surviving on low earnings, using decentralised workspaces, and maintaining highly mobile portfolio careers. Research suggests that artists are not motivated by profit and will subsidise their artistic practice through multiple jobs, including jobs that have nothing to do with the arts. Few report having a pension, and a majority don’t see themselves ever retiring. Despite these traditionally negative economic factors, they overwhelmingly report high levels of wellbeing and think of themselves as serious professionals even when they don’t earn money – only 7% earn more than £20,000 a year in 2015 (for comparison, the 2019 National Minimum Wage of £8.21 for a 39-hour week would pay £16,650 per year), with 36% earning under £1,000 from their practice. Many are from higher socio-economic backgrounds and are much more highly educated than the general population, even though they don’t need qualifications to be an artist. Projects included:
- a pilot programme matching artists at a pivotal moment in their careers to find studio assistants, with Artquest supporting over 80% of fees paid above London Living Wage. Assistants are drawn from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Pilot ends March 2020.
- a conversation between an artist and an economist reflecting on the impact of Universal Basic Income experiment in the Finland
- a day seminar around how artists and museums, libraries and archives can work together, reflecting on our research residency programmes at Conway Hall, the Horniman Museum and the Foundling Museum
For 2018 we took SPACE as a theme to reflect on the spaces that artists use to make work and live, with an eye on London as both a site of acute hardship and opportunity. We commissioned articles on international approaches artists have to space, social embeddedness and how artists use domestic spaces, a case study of the business model of an affordable studio group, and how the spaces available to make work changes artistic practice. Other projects include:
- Spaced Out, a day conference on how artists use and think about space, with a focus on London. Held in collaboration with DACS.
- a talk with artist-led spaces on how they adapt their business models to survive, with audio recording available online
- the launch of the Artquest Almanack containing commissioned articles and research resources around all our themed programmes
Our final theme in this cycle, SUCCESS, will be our focus in 2021.
Our thematic projects run alongside our regular programme of advice and information, seed funding for peer mentoring groups, monthly advisory studio visits, free online legal advice, a free online studio exchange service, and various resources for new graduates and art school tutors. We do not charge membership fees, our core services are provided free of charge, and many of our projects provide funding for artists development.
All of our content (except Artlaw) is distributed under a Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution, share-alike license.
Nick Kaplony: after graduating from Camberwell College of Art and having worked as assistant curator at the Arts Gallery London and Pump House Gallery Nick joined the Artquest team in June 2007. Nick is a practicing artist and freelance curator. His areas of expertise include: education and community projects; exhibition marketing; curating; the public gallery sector; funding applications.
Russell Martin: a graduate of The Glasgow School of Art who has lived in London since 1998. Initially working in gallery education, his self-initiated projects include workshops, residencies, peer mentoring, artist-led galleries, radio programmes, and a series of interdisciplinary arts social events. Russell is also a member of the board at Block 336 and City and Guilds of London Art School, and is an advisor for PRAKSIS, an artist residency in Oslo. His areas of expertise include: peer mentoring projects; artist-led spaces; education and community projects; funding applications and general presentation skills; artists networks; negotiation.
Tom Pope: graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2011 and has worked extensively in education and events before joining Artquest in September 2018. His areas of expertise include: gallery education, commissions, arts events, private funding and sponsorship. Tom’s artistic practice combines performative strategies with photography in a collaborative and playful manner, while additionally undertaking large scale participatory performance projects.
Front page image kindly provided by Michael Heeny.