Sunday, May 24, 2015

This Thing Called Artist Development

On the 22nd of May I was invited to speak at an event, irreverantly titled 'This thing called artist development', at the Ovalhouse Theatre in London. Artist development, as the title suggests, can be a strange and elusive idea. It is clear, on one hand, that it exists - that historically, an artist's career can be traced back along some sort of line. The audience included artists, funding bodies, and independent producers.

This is an interesting organisational idea, and may exhibit the best kind of 'throw people together in a room and see what happens' mentality. The structure of the day was fairly loose, and consisted of some morning provocations (of which I was a part) followed by the all-important lunch. Some community hall style discussions on various topics allowed a more conversational dialogue-driven form, and the subsequent artistic interventions abstracted the concepts into a form in which everyone was in many ways much more comfortable. Finally, we were invited to speak into a fossil about what the day meant to us.

It would be fair to say that I am not convinced about the state of UK theatre at the moment. From where I sit there are many problems, most of which are deeply embedded in economics - not least the City of London which is doing its best to price itself out of any kind of artistic lifestyle - and unlikely to change at any time soon. The day was clearly an attempt to generate new ideas and concepts, as well as to promote the Ovalhouse as a space for developing artists, and to bring in new collaborators who might contribute to the community. Within this context, it's a nice event, in that it gives people a chance to step back and discuss what they are doing, where it's all heading, and to try to steer the conversation in a certain direction.

So why this nagging feeling? Well, I suppose there were a few little red flags that went up for me - a couple too many artists taking the opportunity to promote their work, a couple too many discussions focused on support and finance without examining larger questions of 'to what end?' And some sort of odd feeling of being excluded from this family, one that I have experienced in the theatre before in as much as I am a problematic concept in certain contexts. And I assume I'm not the only one. Am I used to the intellectual rigour of Eastern Europe and Berlin? Too used? Or is there something oddly complacent about these contexts, one that is likely to continue repeating the same mistakes in different ways, the cultural arm of a larger project that will never exactly reveal itself?

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