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Life Change

In ‘Life change’, David Butler discusses shifts in government policy that increasingly recognise the role of artists in contributing to ‘social inclusion’ initiatives. He welcomes a response to the ways support to artists is driven by social policy. Specifically:

Can art really change people’s lives?
How might this happen?
Is public benefit a realistic – or even desirable – function or aspiration for art and artists?
Does institutional commissioning of socially engaged practice undermine any potential for radicalism?B+B Reply:

We are B+B, a curatorial partnership between Sarah Carrington and Sophie Hope. Through dialogue, discussions and exchange, we investigate the role of the artist in sites of social change. The arts are increasingly seen as having a positive power for change and the artist’s role as a catalyst is central to this process. This is enacted through increasingly stringent government policy which promotes the arts as crucial to social inclusion strategies. This is by no means a new phenomenon and the arts have long been associated with social good in Britain. What is particular to recent debates is the specificity with which funding guidelines have identified areas of concern and obliged organisations and individuals to work within them.

This is seen by many to have bred an atmosphere in which artists are expected to serve as community-super-heroes, landing in deprived areas and creating projects which will empower, connect and ultimately change a context. This has inevitably created fear and resentment among artists that practice is compromised by heavily politicised frameworks and that they are expected to bear unrealistic responsibilities.

As B+B, we create spaces for discussion and debate to address these very problematics and to investigate ways in which artists are negotiating these frameworks. Amidst the funding jargon and do-gooding expectations, a lot of interesting work is going on and much of it is not adequately represented in a wider context. This process risks a dilution of critical attention to artists who have chosen to wok in these contexts and who manage to determine and maintain a self-critical position within them.

These artists are responding to diverse political and artistic legacies and it is important that their artistic and political positions are recognised and supported as they negotiate the complex and over-crowded terrains of jnregeneration, social inclusion, education, corporate social responsibility and audience development. It is fundamental that structures are prepared to support and represent the incidents and accidents that define process-led work and that artist’s are given space enough to question and establish their role without being expected to problem-solve. Their work is about the asking and planting of questions rather than the answering and solving of them.

‘What I’m interested in is doing something that is on the borderline between critical and ironic and fantastic and surrealistic.’ (Anna Best)

© Sarah Carrington and Sophie Hope.
First published in [a-n] ARTISTS INFORMATION COMPANY, February 2003.


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