[-empyre-] Art, Funding and Politics

Bill Balaskas bill.balaskas at gmail.com
Wed Nov 23 10:38:34 EST 2011

Although the discussion around the case of Greece has produced a very
interesting range of arguments, I would like to refer in this post not to
my experiences from Greece, but rather to my experiences from my current
home, the UK. Despite the fact that the country has been considerably hit
by the global economic crisis, the situation in the UK is – for now at
least – in no way comparable to the one in Greece. Nevertheless, I believe
that for both Greece and the UK profound ideological choices have been
revealed with regard to art funding through the conditions produced by the
crisis. In support of this argument, I would like to refer to the specific
case of a British organization that commissioned me to produce a new video
project, just over a year ago.

In July of 2010 I graduated from the Royal College of Art and soon after my
graduation I made an application for a new series of video commissions
organized and funded by APEngine. APEngine is the online platform of
Animate Projects, the leading organization in the UK dedicated to the
production and promotion of experimental animation. Animate Projects has
funded over the years numerous experimental films and videos by both
emerging and established artists, including projects by Palm d’ Or winner
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, as well as works by artists Ben Rivers, Hiraki
Sawa and Edwina Ashton, amongst others. The fact that just two months after
my graduation I was selected as one of the artists that were funded through
the “Rough Machines” commissions’ scheme was a fact of great significance
to me. It allowed me to make work that I enjoy making and it gave me a very
important confidence boost in the first hard period after leaving the
protective “cocoon” of the Royal College of Art. Also, it was an
encouraging sign within the economic crisis; a sign that experimental
practices in art could, after all, survive.

However, despite the organization’s crucial role in the development of
animation in the UK, in early 2011 the new British government announced its
plans to cut all funding that supported Animate Projects. The Arts Council
assessment of Animate Projects’ application stated that, although Animate
Projects has had a strong artistic record and had been regarded as a
strategically important organization, “[…] it would not be fair or
consistent to fund activity of this nature through Grants for the arts.”
This is despite the fact that Animate Projects have been funded through
Grants for the arts since 2007. Since the announcement made by the Arts
Council, Animate Projects has become a charity, they have been making
applications to various trusts and they have got a brochure on its way for
“corporate” approaches. So, what does all that mean for Animate Projects?
And what does it say about the way that arts are currently funded and –
probably – will be funded in the foreseeable future in the UK and, perhaps,

In order to provide an answer to those questions, I think that a crucial
hint might be found within the assessment that the Arts Council made about
Animate Projects; in particular, I consider truly revealing the report’s
reference to the *nature* of Animate Projects’ activities. What, exactly,
is this nature, which makes it impossible for the Arts Council to continue
funding Animate Projects? Well, first of all, Animate Projects’ films and
videos are experimental, both in their conception and execution. In short,
they exemplify artistic freedom in all its aspects. Secondly, Animate
Projects is, to a significant extent, a “digital” organization, producing
and disseminating content freely through the web. And last, but not least,
Animate Projects is a small and flexible organization, which has been
independent of large-scale corporate funding. Although I believe that quite
a clear picture is starting to emerge from the realization of those three
facts, one could claim that it is not, after all, the nature of Animate
Projects that makes its funding so difficult, but, rather, the harsh
reality of the global economic recession. Nevertheless, as Gary Thomas, the
director of Animate Projects has shrewdly pointed out to me, at the same
time with the decision to cut all support from Animate Projects, other
London-based organizations secured important increases in their budgets.
But, then again, the work of those organizations was not of exactly the
same *nature* or scale. Thus, The Serpentine Gallery gets an increase from
11/12 to 12/13 of £302,000, the Whitechapel Gallery goes up £329,000 and
South London Gallery goes up £300,000. And, at the same time, “digital”
organizations other than Animate Projects, like Picture This and ArtSway,
receive assessments of their work that reflect “obstacles” to their
survival similar to the ones described within the Animate Projects’ report…

What I believe that the case of Animate Projects illuminates, is the fact
that we now face a very serious danger, both as artists and as members of
the audience: with the excuse of the economic crisis, governments and
funding bodies around the world have a unique opportunity to exert more
control over the channels through which artworks are created and exhibited,
more control over what is said and what remains unsaid, more control over
what becomes the norm and what stays in the margins. At a time of crisis,
the last thing that the people who are responsible for it would like to see
is people thinking differently and acting differently. Yet, that is exactly
what we should do in order to truly exit a crisis that is predominantly
moral, rather than economic.

Bill Balaskas
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