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N Touch
Monday 23 October 2017
Commentary

The ‘M’ word

“Are there any lending agencies who have developed a loan product specifically for artistes?”

The question from my colleague was intriguing. I had a fairly good idea the answer was “no”, but contemplating the question further, I wondered why this was so.

The “m” word – money – is a pervasive reality for all artistes. It is at the core of how much we can pay our performers or whether we will be able to take up the invitation to showcase our work in another country. It is why we do jobs we dislike, waiting to engage in our creative pursuits once we leave the corporate space. Further, it takes money to raise money, a conundrum that stops many projects from ever being realised, or cause them to be done not quite the way we intended.

As one writer muses, “to engage in any form of capitalism is surely a betrayal of what art is, right?” There is certainly a lingering belief that artists need not be paid for their creativity, or that if they are paid, it must be for a discounted fee, regardless of the accepted market rate. There is still little appreciation of the countless hours of rehearsal, sacrifice and years of experience that contribute to the ‘effortless’ performance.

But how does the artist respond to the pressures of the other ‘m’ word – market. One visual artist expressed the view that the image of the artist working alone in a studio is a romanticised idea that no longer fits with current global reality. For her, the artist needs to socialise, be seen and expose their work to potential buyers or corporate sponsors.

Listening to her, I cringed somewhat, but admittedly at one level she is right. All artists, upcoming or established, want to be able to live through their art. Certainly educational opportunities for those who wish to pursue their passions as dancers, actors or fashion designers have increased over the years. But what happens after? What are the choices beyond teaching? If the artist is to pursue entrepreneurship, what structures exist to facilitate this transition?

Investing in the arts is very much a decision made by individual organisations, driven by their corporate priorities. Sometimes, it is based on the reputation of the artist, so the more successful the artist, the more corporate support they attract. For example, Jackie Hinkson, noted visual artist launched his new book this week, with no less than the Prime Minister as feature speaker. The event, held to celebrate 50 years of work, was made possible through the sponsorship of BPTT. “We like to associate with greatness”, declared the BPTT representative in explaining their support for Mr. Hinkson. At the other end of the spectrum, are those business people who associate with great artistic talent, and use their ability to manipulate market forces to create business success for themselves. They dominate the advertising and sponsorship, but worse, their presence distorts the philosophical space traditionally held by the artist.

These business interests do not struggle with debates about capitalism versus pure art, as they encroach on the space occupied by artists like our traditional Carnival Characters and other indigenous artforms.

As we continue to grapple with developing alternative sources of national income, serious state attention must be given to the arts, in every sphere. At first, I struggled to understand why the 2018 budget singled out music, fashion and film, but then saw that focus will be placed on those areas deemed ‘export ready’. It seems that in the battle between capitalism and art, one word will always the deciding factor – the ‘m’ word.

Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN.

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