Pop quiz, hot shot.

photoIn July, I was nominated for a prestigious arts bursary. In December, I found out I didn’t get it.

The aim of the bursary was “to respond to the compelling visions of outstanding individuals working in the role of cultural entrepreneur and offer transformative support to pursue the visions proposed.” I was knocked for six when I heard I’d been nominated and totally bewildered at the prospect of applying.

The application deadline was October. Team Effort! had only just started and I had no idea what my “vision” was, let alone how to articulate it in a compelling way. Team Effort! felt like the big “transformative” project that they were talking about, and I didn’t know where to start in trying to imagine another one so soon after this one had started.

I decided to apply to use the fund to support me over three years to answer a series of questions that Team Effort! has kicked up and have been brewing in my brain lately and see what kind of physical manifestation might arise from the answers I found. In short, I applied to take the ideas and ethos that built Team Effort! and interrogate them, build on them and hopefully create something more robust and long-lasting.

I didn’t get it, but I feel utterly humbled to have been nominated for it at such an early stage in my career. Realistically, I think the nomination came a few years too early for me, and I think the panel could sense that.

As is always the way though, I got an enormous amount out of the rigorous thinking and careful articulation that goes into putting an application together. For this reason, and even though it feels utterly terrifying to show people a failed bursary application, I want to share a bit of it here on this blog. This is partly to inspire a conversation, partly to share my feelings about the creative ecology as it stands, and partly for me to look back on throughout the year and see if I still feel the same.

This was the central question behind the application and, it turns out, behind everything I’m working on and thinking about at the moment. It feels important to me, and I think that finding a smart, multi-faceted set of answers will create greater trust and less insecurity between artists and producers.

How do we empower early-career artists to develop their practice, build a support network and take the risks that enable them to reach their full creative potential?

From my experience working as a producer and in setting up a pilot artist development project over the last twelve months, I have developed the following hypotheses, which I believe are crucial to addressing this central question. These are:

• That the physical space that artists inhabit, and the context in which their work is shared either with their peers or with the public must be informal, safe, honest and generous.

• That if there exists a producer who is committed to focussing purely on artist development, rather than on creating a product for public consumption, those artists will become more confident and the long-term effects on their professional practice and public work will be innumerable.

• That if that producer identifies ways to support artists from different disciplines to share with and learn from each other in a meaningful, sustainable way, those artists will become more eclectic, their practices will become more robust and they will be able to continually reinvigorate the ways in which they make work.

I’m going to New York for ten days on Friday in a deliberate attempt to seek out work, spaces and people who I think are ahead of me in terms of addressing this question, so I’ll see how I feel about things when I get back. In the meantime, here’s to a 2014 with a few answers and a whole heap more questions.

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