Promo or New Show?
Edinburgh Festival is always a hectic time of year and this year I am really grateful for the many ways I have been busy as they encompass all of the strands of my practice as a dancer, theatre maker, collaborator and micro-activist.
In terms of micro-activism, I feel privileged to have been invited to contribute to several panel discussions, one of which involved speaking in the Scottish Parliament, and have developed the confidence to turn up to some of the many spaces in which the work of artists is discussed but often there are few, if any, artists present.
The absence of artists in these spaces is a longer discussion for another day but as I return to the laborious process of trying to fundraise to support a platforms for other artists and early stage ideas, I am thinking about money. More specifically, I am thinking about the cost of the events where the work of artists in discussed, often in the absence of artists.
To set a context, I think it is important that policy and researched centred events take place. I believe that everyone connected to the ecology of the arts, whether they are invested in it or not, should come together for many reasons; understanding each others working process, placing our practice in a wider societal context, to celebrate what the arts has and can achieve. I also believe in the power of conversation, predominantly asking questions and letting ourselves sit in the discomfort of recognising what we have failed to address. I understand the need to foster international collaboration by providing perks for the delegates that visit Scotland.
Therefore, I am in no way arguing that these events should not happen.
However, this August I have witnessed the scale at which these events take place and I am disappointed at how short sighted and self aggrandising they can be. A free glass of wine, cup of tea or tasty treat is brilliant. It encourages people to stay and have more intimate conversations, it gives the anxious amongst us some easy small talk to engage with a stranger and for most people eating or drinking is a really enjoyable way to warm up/ cool down/ relax. If you can get Edinburgh Gin (mine is a Plum and Vanilla, no mixer if you are offering) to sponsor your event so that everyone is indulging in some local produce without digging into the event budget - even better!
Business cards or postcards with essential information are really useful.
If it is a longer event, a great DJ is a huge plus because you are paying (you better be paying) an artist to encourage everyone to indulge in music and dancing whilst showcasing their skills to potential programmers.
Promotional pens are handy, they don't cost a lot per person and at least will be used again.
What is disappointing is being gifted with bag loads of merchandise that is unlikely to be used again and costs the equivalent of an artistic commission. It is short sighted at best and contributes to the ongoing commercialisation of the arts at a time when working class artists are being rightly vocal about the everyday struggles they face and their ongoing erasure from the arts sector as a result of financial instability.
One of the events I attended recently offered each of the 400 delegate a branded messenger bag, pen, notebook, Gaelic CD and various catalogues printed on high quality paper that had already been sent to the delegates prior to the event in downloadable PDF format.
A quick search for the cheapest cost messenger bags of which these were not - they had multiple internal pockets and fancy fasteners on the front with an optional shoulder strap or carry handle - prices them in at £11.50 +VAT per bag with branding. This is a total of £4600 +VAT, not mentioning the cost of the pen, print or Gaelic CD which, in fairness, feels like a valid spend to promote the artists involved even if I do have questions about whether the tracks would be better distributed on a USB.
My last commission was £3000.
Many of the independent artists I know make between £10,000 and £15,000 per year.
£4600 is a solid commission to research new work or in some cases a third of an artist's salary. Would this money not be better spent on a commission that could be showcased at the event, providing an amazing platform for the work and the artist? Or, could the event have an Associate Artist each year and use this money to pay for their time as they research or develop new work?
Perhaps it is a utopian idea or I have missed the point but as an artist I would whole heartedly sacrifice my messenger bag of goodies to see another artist supported, if only partially. It would also be an excellent way of re-addressing the power balance that is so often askew in these environments. We can only discuss the power of the arts because artists keep making powerful work. Perhaps celebrating and supporting this would be enough of a takeaway for any delegate?