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on purpose, act II

i just finished my masters' degree and, as part of it, spent time reflecting on the 5 projects i did over the 8 weeks prior to handing in my thesis. one thing i didn't go into in that document, but something which was a vital aspect of doing a masters course was the level of professional development.

in australia, there are a variety of ways that artists can further their careers without sleeping with the men at the top.

big arts grants are just one of them. having not actually receive one (yet, ahem), i'm still riding on the ideal that they provide a financial (and maybe critical) base from which artists can create better works - ones that mr illogical from the mx might actually like, or even better, hate. i don't think australia is very good at handling its public arts money, in that it's still a bit of a gamble - on both sides of the fence.

in my limited experience, professional development is most beneficial when it is an inherent aspect of the projects and opportunities we're given.

one of the reasons i did my masters was to give myself the opprtunity to burn out really focus on my work for an extended period of time with access to technical know-how, resources, networks and critique. it wasn't perfect, but it was definitely a concentrated development on my professional practice and one that i could not have done on my own. public money (as well as a huge chunk of my own, thanks very much) well spent? i think so.


even better than doing my masters was the experience i had at electrofringe. they gold starred on a whole range of professional development areas (at least for me, personally) and i would encourage loads of government, cultural and funding groups/strategies to take a little from them.

gold star #1. selection process.
firstly, the process to be validated selected was simple - an application via email with an image or 2. none of this crazy '25 page thesis; 10 images - either still or video, but never both; calculated CV and proof that you're a sure-fire ROI'. phew!

gold star #2 accommodation.
then, once selected, i had my accommodation organised for me. not only did this save on stress and anxiety, but the importance of having a little base was taken into account - i had somewhere to sleep, eat, organise my shit (so to speak). it sounds basic, but having this level of support was vital to being able to focus on the work and not on stupid day-to-day garbage.

gold star #3 artist fee.
i was paid to be part of the festival. not a lot, but you know what - that's ok at the moment. the gesture is there and i'm sure artists with a lot more experience got paid a lot more, appropriately. the fact of the matter is that, as an artist, my presence was valued financially too and i wasn't just expected to do work for the old 'exposure/CV/fun of it' deal. ironically, this was one festival that i would have happily done that for, but don't tell them that. :D

gold star #4 programming
it was awesome - i had enough performances and/or time to get out of the work what i wanted/needed to, with enough time to see a few other works, make those connections and have some down time. they tried to make my trip to newcastle as worthwhile as possible, including giving a presentation.

gold star #5 networks (accommodation, part 2)
at every opportunity, daniel and somaya introduced us to other electrofringe artists. partly so they could rush off and do other things, but also because they knew that the level of conversation, chit chat, meetings and greetings that can be had - from a purely social to the quasi-american psycho styles - are incredibly valuable. to humans and to artists alike. heh.

plus, with the accommodation, they chucked a mixed bunch of artists all in the same apartment together and left us to our own devices. it could well have been a disaster in other apartments, but i had a lovely time in ours and learnt loads from talking to that bunch of strangers. it also gave us an instant audience. i made sure i went to the works of my room mates if i could and they regularly asked how the cone was going - chatting in the street when we passed.

and the best thing? it was all with the spirit of generosity, guidance, experience and flexibility. not box-ticking, or conservative risk management. because i felt supported and connected and valued, i was able to feel at ease about developing my work (which helps make better work). i could also reciprocate - help out where i could, chat to people and enjoy myself. nothing kills the buzz quicker than being overwrought.


and, dare i say it, i'm not really sure an arts grant could have quite given me that experience. i don't really want to give our illogical friend a reason to say 'i told you so' because i think that divesting funds to artists in helpful ways is fucking vital, but perhaps it's time to reassess the tradition of arts grant hoop-jumping and boring 'where's my money ralph?' economic rationalism that goes with it.

and, as i mentioned, this is just my perspective and i'm not expecting that others' experiences are the same. but then again, it's my blog, so you probably figured that bit out already.

UPDATE: marcus westbury has just written a valid and slightly depressing article on how the australia council (the federal arts funding body) are missing out on opportunities that they really could have pioneered. here's hoping that the ABC goes into arts funding soon, otherwise half of us will die starving or overseas.

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