Louise Trodden: on public art

Louise Trodden, Curator and current Director of Art in the Open/Open City ponders the prospects for artists who make work for the public realm in London.

Capital dilemmas: what price public art in London?

Things seem to be stagnating somewhat around public art as a viable income generating  opportunity for artists in the capital.

Local authorities as we all know are facing unprecedented straightened circumstances, but rather than considering more durational, less costly commissioning approaches they seem to be moving towards longer-term projects framed as part of capital developments paradoxically set to very short time-frames.

The same old public art problems are rearing their ugly heads: insufficient budgets to pay an artist a realistic and worthwhile fee for the scale of the work required, and often no funding to cover the long-term maintenance required to truly value the artwork produced.

One sure fire bet is that opportunities will decrease in the public sector and there will be a stock take of what has happened over the last 3-4 years in this area. Another possible outcome for artists is that funding and finance available for commissioning opportunities will not in future support curatorial expertise or project management and facilitation which are skilled roles. As many experienced artists know, the presence or absence of skilled support can make or break a project and in its absence this is a big extra demand that will fall inevitably on the artist’s shoulders.

With complex demands around public funding for art in the public realm in this difficult climate, and stratospheric expectations about value for money, this could well mean that being able to concentrate on making and developing art for London’s public spaces becomes even more difficult than it is currently. However, although public sector commissioning is likely to tail off, private sector commissioning may provide some more opportunities and could even offer less prescriptive and more open possibilities for enterprising artists as building work and development cranks up again in the capital.

Meanwhile, for artists working in London’s public spaces here are a couple of strategies to consider.  It could be worth your while to develop some self-initiated transitory and performance based projects that may attract small pots of public funding, and/or to find ways to work more directly with curators and galleries interested in developing relationships with audiences in a wider context.  These are methods which artists can use to influence an appetite for  more durational and durable approaches which are conducive to supporting their  practice, may generate income in the future and can assist longer term relationships with particular localities and audiences in the city for anyone who has a practice base concerned with exploring these ideas.

Although less capital funding is available for London’s public spaces and art projects, this moment still provides an opportunity for artists to define new relationships, approaches and ways of generating income beyond those prescribed by a classical model of commissioning.

© Louise Trodden, 2012

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