System Failure

Past Project 2015

Six conversations about the art world’s responsibilities and relationships between artists, galleries, funders, regeneration, education, and families.

The art world is a large, complex and interdependent system: individual freelancers, institutions, artist-led groups, national funders and students must all grapple with financial pressures, unclear career progression, low status and increasing pressure from Government.

Without artists the art world could not exist – but they often endure a highly precarious working environment, modest pay, exploitative opportunities and an impossible work/life balance. Artists are evicted from studios and temporary galleries in newly desirable urban areas to enable gentrification, with our cities becoming increasingly expensive and unaffordable. Organisations retain the bulk of their public funding but reduce artist fees as philanthropic income, officially encouraged to replace falling Government funds, fails to materialise. Art education inadequately prepares graduates for the evolving work environment that they will enter, with financial and business skills denigrated but increasingly vital for freelance careers.  And irregular income makes planning or starting a family challenging for a majority of artists.

Six stimulating and provocative conversations between art world professionals, including artists, curators, consultants, gallery directors, academics and researchers from November – December 2015 explored core problems in the structure of the art world, and seek to address its contemporary system failure. As well as diagnosing the problems, we aimed to suggest alternative ways that the art world might begin to function, in order to improve the status and earning power of visual artists.

Speakers included:


We presented System Failure at Block 336, an artist-run project space and studios founded in October 2011. Located in Brixton, Block 336 hosts one of the largest, non-institutional and architecturally unique spaces in London. The organisation promotes engagement and critical discussion of contemporary art, with an emphasis on collaboration and cross-practice dialogue.