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Artist development at Castlefield Gallery: policy change through the counterpublic? [Report]

de Mynn, Rebecca (2016) Artist development at Castlefield Gallery: policy change through the counterpublic? [Report].

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Abstract

This report presents the findings of research interrogating artist development activity at Castlefield Gallery. It seeks to understand what artist development practices at Castlefield Gallery consist of, and to use this to generate an understanding of the internal dynamics of the small-scale contemporary visual arts sphere. Data was collected using interviews, feedback sessions, and conversations with artists, staff, and policymakers, and time spent at Castlefield Gallery and their associated offsite events. The findings reveal that artist development at Castlefield Gallery has a threefold constitution. First, it is offered on demand when artists determine they need it. Second, it is achieved by making multiple channels of possibility available to artists, i.e. through nurturing an environment, skills and knowledge (including professional development), showcasing opportunities, and resources that feed a practical output (such as space, funding, opening up new avenues in the work, or emotional resources), or a combination of all these. Third, artist development activities can be framed as counterpublic practices, and the evaluation of their effectiveness as an act of agonism. To consider this as an act of agonism is to frame policymakers and Castlefield Gallery as adversaries; i.e. as “somebody whose ideas we combat but whose right to defend those ideas we do not put into question”. In the context of metrics, the relationship between Castlefield Gallery and policymakers is grounded on essential differences that cannot be overcome; they are each the “us”, and the other the “them”.The report points to the unsuitability of government-led metrics when applied in the context of small-scale contemporary visual arts organisations. It contends that the policymakers’ aims through data collection are often about achieving accountability for public money. As such, the metrics used by governing bodies can end up instrumentalising artwork, translating it into the general public’s positive experience. Despite unpicking the difficulties around metrics, previous studies have not considered whether focussing on the tensions that surround their use may be a way forward for the sector. I consider whether it would be productive for small-scale contemporary visual arts organisations to embrace and use this difference. The report concludes by proposing a bold thought experiment: that the small-scale contemporary visual arts sphere work together as a counterpublic. Using the creative tension present in the difference between the data collection ambitions of small-scale contemporary visual arts sphere and those of policymakers, I ask whether this could be used to forge new approaches to data collection more suited to the needs of the sphere. Rather than attempt to form a consensus on value through government-led applications of metrics, the sector could be supported to generate their own, autonomous of governmental bodies. It is proposed that the role of policymakers should be to allow the sector space to do so.

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