ARIs: What's Next for Artist Led Action?

(L-R) Hayley Pigram (Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative), Olivia Koh (recess), Robbie Handcock (play_station), Liam James (Sawtooth and Constance), Justine Youssef (NAVA and Pari) at Studio 65, Hobart. Photo by Lucy Parakhina.

The second iteration of HOBIENNALE (HB19) united twenty-one artist-led organisations and cooperatives across Australia and New Zealand in the presentation of exhibitions, performances, workshops and discussions across nipaluna (Hobart). The festival continued critical conversations between representatives of artist-run initiatives about the challenges, strengths and opportunities relative to their practices.

This year NAVA was invited to pick up the threads of an ongoing discussion hosted at HOBIENNALE in 2017 which explored the future of artist-run initiatives, shifting models and how NAVA’s Fair Pay for Artist’s campaign fits in the context of these spaces. 

The conversation at HB19 saw Hayley Pigram (Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative), Liam James (Sawtooth, Constance), Robbie Handcock (play_station) and Olivia Koh (recess) ignite conversations around the concerns of their respective organisations and direct the discussion towards generating direct actions that the arts sector can take to better support the validity and sustainability of artist led organisations and cooperatives. 

Shifts in leadership roles to accommodate those with varying abilities and capacities, the impacts of voluntary management and labour, and certain guidelines or case studies for artists beginning the task of forming an organisation or cooperative were discussed. The edited transcript below details these conversations which will assist NAVA in developing the Code of Practice to better advocate for artist-run initiatives and set a measure of best practice relative to these initiatives.

Edited Transcript

Robbie Handcock: 

The role of ARIs in the broader art sector is been something I'm thinking about a lot, and looking over the last three years of how play_station has been run, and the people who have showed and engaged with us over that time. Three years is enough time to be able to see what those people's careers have done since then. Being able to be a place for emerging artists and giving those opportunities for a lot of people, which is a first solo or a first exhibition in a group show. 

Which is super important and it's been really great to be able to see the trajectory of those careers going forward, and to see the artists participating in larger institutions, or going in whichever way the artist careers might take them. And the significance of these kinds of small, quite often ad hoc spaces, to be able to provide that for young artists is super beneficial. Despite so many struggles of running a space. So many struggles to do with money and to do with time, and to do with facilitators. Also having to run these spaces just on the smell of an oily rag, the benefits to individuals I think is really, really great. 

We have people from other arts institutions and people with high standing in arts, come to our openings on a regular basis. And that's super cool to see people who are established arts practitioners or curators, et cetera, coming to see what's happening in the emerging arts scene, coming to see what's happening, what's next. Coming to see artists straight out of university, and to be able to provide a platform for them to be viewed is super important. And there's, I don't know, I think one of the struggles we have is, in terms of us trying to access funding bodies, or trying to access the support that we need as articulating that importance, in the way that the box ticking needs to be done. Yeah. 

Liam James: 

I think all those things are true and the historical things that ARIs have been doing. It's been this narrative upwards. But I think we're looking at a time, where I think that model is shifting and we're not any more just that stepping stone, it's an alternative model outside of the other models. We are seeing artists of all generations and all career levels exhibiting in ARIs because of the freedom, the ethical leadership and the best practices that the organisations do and have. 

And I think that's what's really going to define the ARIs going forward, because the most beautiful thing is the independence. 

Hayley Pigram: 

As Aboriginal artists, Boomalli is specific in our members have to be New South Wales Aboriginal artists. And so the reason for that is because they're very underrepresented, not only as artists, but as Aboriginal artists in the world because the Aboriginal art world in of itself is very separate to the mainstream art. There's a whole different market for it. There's a whole different situation for it. And it has its own economy, that I'm sure a lot of people are very well aware that it's not a very nice place to be for artists, and it can be very open to people being taken advantage of. 

But what also happens is that, artists who don't fit traditional norms, who aren't Northern Territory, Western Australia, or Queensland  aren't seen as valuable. Their stories aren't seen as traditional Western desert dot paintings and therefore they have no value. So places like Boomalli who accept artists who are contemporary Indigenous artists, allow them a place to tell their stories, allow them a place to put their art on the walls, and allow an audience to see a diverse Aboriginal art world, when they'd be presented so often with this is what Aboriginal art is. 

And so for our members and other artists who want to, and other people who want to come in and see that kind of art, it is a whole new world. And it's not available in Aboriginal art galleries. It's often not available in many other places. And so, it often offers a unique experience. And it also offers our members and our artists a place where they cannot even get in the door in other galleries. They can't get in the door in regular galleries, because they won't represent Aboriginal artists. They can't get in the door in Aboriginal galleries, because they're not producing work that they want to see. 

So the ARI that I represent is allowing them simply a place for their voice to be heard, where otherwise it just wouldn't be heard at all. 

Justine Youssef:

NAVA is advocating for pay rates, but artists’ led spaces are more often than not volunteer run. But while most artist led organisations unequivocally support the concept of artist's fees and paid labour, payment of these fees are uniquely tied to the capacity and circumstances of each organisation. 

My questions are, what are the potential impacts of voluntary management? What would an ideal set of working hours and expectations for voluntary management look like? And how can the artist leading these spaces be better supported?

Hayley Pigram:
Boomalli's been running for over 30 years. That's a long time. And part of the reason it's been running for over 30 years is that within just, I think it was two or three years of it running they had paid employees. They had, I think it was just one paid employee, but, and even to this day, we still have volunteer workers. We have now two full-time workers. We have a worker who does like part-time on the weekends. We have people who we pay to come in and help when we're doing a show.
We have a lot of paid employees. And like there's lots of reasons we're able to afford that, because it sounds like heaven to a lot of places that are just beginning. And I'm aware of that we're in a very good financial position. And I'm not saying that the flow of things like that, like all the things that we have, because that's been hard one, it's not like an easy thing that just come about through luck. But I think when you rely solely on volunteer labor force, labours become, like volunteers become burnt out. And it's not because you don't appreciate your volunteers, but it's because when you pay someone to do a job, that they're getting more than just appreciation out of it.
They're getting their livelihood out of it and they will come back every day, nine to five. When a volunteer is doing it as much as they love to do it, they still need to earn a livelihood. They still need to do their own things. And so, maybe you need to spread your volunteer labour out across multiple, multiple people. And even then volunteers we've learned very, very quickly are not always reliable as paid people. So you need to do your best. We do our best by making sure members pay fees every year and also all sales have a commission. Commission varies and members pay a smaller commission than nonmembers if they sell things in our gallery.

Like everyone else applies for every grant that's going, but they're not always a reliable source of income. But yeah, I'm a fan of volunteer labour, but like everyone else it's not a consistent way to run the workforce or run a business, which is essentially what we're trying to do here.

Olivia Koh:
Yeah, through personal experience I also just say that volunteering as an art student at a commercial gallery didn't give me anything and it didn't. I felt, “Oh, I'm spending so much time, I'm doing so much free labor. And so why would I do this for an organisation that has money?” And when they weren't sort of reciprocating, giving me any kind of cultural knowledge or technical, they weren't like giving me any skills or yeah. So I think volunteering is great, but it needs to be acknowledged that people are giving their precious time, and energies towards things and that, it'd be great to learn from that and to get something from it.
And it doesn't really super apply to Recess because we're an online space. But we haven't ever been successful with funding. We've only been open since 2016 and we just, speaking of voluntary labour, like we do it. We're supported to put on screening sometimes, but a lot of it just comes from the labour of people that are or might be employed in other jobs.

Robbie Handcock:

Play_station is run basically on an entirely volunteer basis. All six of our facilitators, like we don't have any paid positions in terms of our board members and facilitators. A lot of things come out of pocket, but the main source of income for sustaining the gallery is from studio spaces, that's how we fund ourselves. We have studios at the back end. We rent out studios for artists and that pays for our baseline costs of rent, internet, power. We're constantly seeking funding like most other young spaces are. But we're, like for this year, for the first time we offer artists studio space.
We pay our artists to exhibit, and we have secured funding to pay our designer who does all our posters and social media for the exhibitions, as well as sometimes for our performance events and things like that. But we also rely on volunteers for minding the gallery, for the gallery to be open, because the rest of us all have full-time day jobs that most of us actually can't do any kind of gallery minding except for the weekend. So we rely on volunteers quite a lot. I think maybe the difference is when you're also a volunteer, working with volunteers is a different kind of relationship there. It's not just saying, “Hey, give us time or give us …” Like, I think just by its very nature, we're appreciative of the time of labour that people bring to us, because we're doing the exact same thing. I like to think of it, that it's a bit more of a level playing ground, it's less of a sort of power dynamic. And like heaps of our volunteers are uni students as well and are excited about the shows that we show. And so it's really like energising to us as well to see enthusiasm from our volunteers to be invested in the space. And play_station in the past and planning to again as well had had exhibitions, exhibitions of work by volunteers who are artists. That's a small thing to give back to be like, “Here is an exhibition time and space for you to be able to showcase your work that you might not have had otherwise.” We're also doing a show of work from studio artists. So, that's just like one of yes, small things to be able to give back. But, we're constantly trying to look to other ways of being more sustainable, and not having to rely on volunteer labour. But yeah, again, I think for most of us looking to find alternative to volunteer labour is for everyone else who volunteers. I think like ourselves as the people who do a lot of the ground work. We're looking to support the people, other people first in a lot of ways.

Liam James:

I think it's a difficult thing when we look at volunteer management at the top tier, in ARIs which are making the big decisions, taking on the big workloads and how that volunteer structure works, rather than the volunteer structure within the volunteers that do the vast stuff, and the volunteers see on the weekends. But the volunteers that make up the board, if it's a … I guess, I've worked with two organisations heavily, Constance down here in Hobart and Sawtooth in Launceston. Both had been running under different names for about 20 years. Both have been funded and unfunded. And during that time, both have had complete volunteer staff, and at times have had paid positions. 

So I'm currently in a part-time paid position with a lot of volunteer hours on top of course. And it's really great to be able to dedicate, actually dedicate my time in full to both organisations. But then when, and I think I was like, yes, let's progress in this way, let's progress this way, this is really great. But then it also loads on a lot of problems with workload, because when you have a board and a paid staff member that board moves from being a functional working community board, and turns to being a governance board.

And then the responsibility of the entire organisation shifts from being something like Constance, where we run with a team of 8 to 10 board members, who take across an entire year's worth of programming amongst each other, and work in this really beautiful flat line management way, to just having one person carrying an entire organisation. So it's difficult to how we played out. And like I think that the short answer is that, we give every organisation with one paid position, because I think that that is actually going to lead to more burn out than flat line management structures.
We really need to be having different models, where we're getting organisations to have the structures around it before those positions go to funding, because I think that that will lead to more collapse of ARI's. It might be a little bit devil's advocate, but yeah, it's a difficult, it's a difficult space there.

Justine Youssef:
Yeah, completely. Hayley you touched upon this model of membership and membership fees that help to contribute to paid positions and things like that. This question kind of touches on how ARIs might be able to disrupt voluntary models of management, and to stop relying on voluntary forms of labor to run their spaces and to pay the rent, and to just keep gallery fees down.

Do you have any other methods that you've heard of, or would you like to share any other models of yeah, of government structures of kind of structures that ARI's have used in the past? We'll share a little bit more about what the money looks like.

Hayley Pigram:
I only know really what we do, because I haven't really investigated too many others, but we have what I consider a relatively reasonable fee because I can't remember how much it is. So I think it's under $50 a year. Maybe $22. I always forget because I pay it two years at a time. 

Basically, our fees are very reasonable, because artists don't have a lot of money. By paying that fee, our members are entitled to quite a few things. You know like I said, you're entitled to a discount on the commission you pay when you sell your art. Everyone pays a commission if they sell artwork through Boomalli, whether you're a member or nonmember. I believe it's 10% higher for non-members, which can be quite significant if you're selling high priced works. And so for $22, you're getting quite a bargain. You're also entitled to use all sorts of the services. Our staff members, can help you with all sorts of things, including anything you want to do with your art practice, even if it has nothing to do with Boomalli. And that's a benefit that comes with membership. 

There's also workshops going to skill share, workshops that get put on about copyright issues, which is a big fear, for all artists, particularly Aboriginal artists. So we have those about, usually once a year. We have all sorts of different things. I think when it comes to financially stabilising the centre, there's a lot of different things you put into place. Membership fees have been, I think a contentious one for a while, but they do get paid and that helps keep the lights on and it's not a big thing to pay membership fees. I wasn't aware it was not common. But I think that when you think about it, 20 bucks a year is not really that much money. And in terms of an organisation, everyone paying 20 bucks actually adds up to a decent amount of money and can help pay off some bills.

Olivia Koh:
Yeah, I think that's a really interesting idea that you you've put forward Hayley about, not donations, membership. That's something maybe that I would think about in the future with Recess. We do have fees, but they're just they're paid between us three. They're like for Vimeo membership because we have videos. But like the model is not necessarily an ARI model that we run with. Recess is online. So, it's hopefully accessible, and doesn't need to pay rent and things like that. I think this model might disrupt those kinds of ARI problems I guess. 

If we have a screening, we usually go to somewhere where they have the facilities that they can lend us and a space. But I guess we're just trying to deal with the reality of like what a lot of artists are dealing with, which is not getting paid to show their work. And luckily for us, a lot of artists want to show their work without pay, and even create new works and we try and give them support technically through promotion, and discussing their work with them, like edits if they want to. And we try to be really flexible. Most of the artists that have shown with us have been late by a month by showing their work. But we try and just be understanding about that and organise something else by showing existing works.

Justine Youssef:
And you match writers and artists together, which is really cool.

Olivia Koh:
Yes. Our writers nearly always respond to a video artists work, and that provides them with engagement with their work and maybe they can use that text in exhibition, or maybe it's publicity for that writer or just like a challenge. And a lot of, we've noticed that a lot of the artists that have showed work with us, have used that work in future exhibitions. So, that's nice because it means that the library is like continue to pay off in a way.

Robbie Handcock:
I mentioned before that we have studio artists who hire studios at our gallery that covers like a lot of our base costs. But yeah, it's something that I've got quite curious about, which I didn't realise was quite common here is, the model of paying to show in ARIs as an artist. That is quite uncommon in New Zealand. And I've been trying to talk to people since I've been here about why that might be. And I know play_station started as a pay to show space, which wasn't for long.

I know as an artist as well, as soon as it costs me money, I'm weary, like I do not want to participate. It costs enough to produce your own work. And the, yeah, just like not even in terms of labour, but just in terms of covering your material and base costs is enough for us. 

I don't know, I'm not like super aware of how you're run. But that's the other thing I was thinking of, you see Sawtooth has been around for what, 20 years and that's I think the progression in New Zealand for ARIs is like, you hit a certain market and you secure your funding, you secure your government funding and then you're a public gallery kind of thing. And that's the model that it goes. 
And yeah, that's sort of interesting to me to be like, “Okay, how do you maintain this model of operation without sort of developing or becoming a public gallery?” Because I think that's the thing as well as of like, wanting to secure your funding and have security as the space, have security as a gallery, but then how much being big mindful of, “Okay, what kind of controls do I give up as someone participating here?” We have quite a bit of freedom in terms of how we run our space. We put a call out for proposals. We invite people to participate. We ask people to curate shows. We have a separate, we have two performance facilitators who put on monthly events and it's, because sometimes it can be really last minute, and that freedom is great to just be like, “This person pulled out. I know someone who's keen,” and to go through my five board members at various times to be able to get tick off on what you do. And I know like a Firstdraft is quite uncommon here, in terms of an ARI that actually does provide quite substantial fees, for here is from what I understand.

Justine Youssef:
So Firstdraft I think it was one of the first few spaces that kind of began paying artists a fee. Because it's one of the longest standing ARIs, it does have that relationship with funding bodies. Yeah, I think it's about the time frame it's been running for and the relationships it's built and the funding it has been able to access.

Robbie Handcock:

How long or longer progress did that switch happen?

Justine Youssef:
It's only recently. Maybe three years.

Robbie Handcock:
I think this thing on organisational stability is really, really important. I can't talk about New Zealand, I'm sorry guys, but I can talk about Australia's policy language in the last 10 to 15 years. And there was this big push of growth. At every organisation it was an ARI, it was like if you want to receive funding, you have to have studios, you have to have six galleries, you've got to do more, more, more. And what happened there is it spreads. It means that you've got to do all these huge things to try and get anything.
I don't think any ARI organisation that I know wants to charge rent. It's the way to start out and then you get stuck in it. We've got ARIs  in this festival... how long have been in this space? 26 years that have been running and is still having the ongoing problems of sometimes funding, sometimes not. These are never ending issues. I think that we've got to the point now where that's kind of receding that demand for growth, because I think they realise that you can't keep asking for growth but give less money. And so instead there's these horrible words like excellence and success, but they're actually allowing us to have a bit more freedom to go back. And I think this is where this push in the ARI sector, the last three years towards artist's payments, getting rid of those structural models that are exclusive has been able to grow out of that shift in funding language.
And I think that's really exciting. I think we're not anywhere near the amount of funding we need as a sector to be able to be stable. And I think it's where we look up what we do and how we shift. And I think what we do, and now we've got a space to do that is we do less, we do a whole lot less and we do that less really well. And we did that less in a really inclusive way and in a really open way. And I think that's where we'll be able to really move forward together collectively to be the leader in the whole sector that we are.

Justine Youssef:
Next question kind of like feeds into that. So how can we shift organisational models, and I guess organisational roles and leadership roles in ARI's to accommodate people of varying abilities, to avoid exclusivity and like equalism in these leadership roles? So for example, at Firstdraft we're looking at having a role for a director that might accommodate people with different accessibility needs, then accommodate people with disability, things like that.

Olivia Koh:

I have to say that Recess isn't sort of based on a kind of board, so we don't operate in a way that other ARI might approach. We don't do call outs for proposals, we actually don't do that just because, I don't necessarily believe in that model because I think that you can be exclusive in the way that there's criteria. And also just because we're just starting out, so there was less interest. It's more just based on I guess like interpersonal. So I'm not saying that doesn't come with prejudices. It absolutely it's just based on people that we know, asking them to show their work or people we don't know, approaching them as well.

But yeah, I'm just going to be honest, we're just kind of upfront about exclusivity and inclusivity. And that's something that we changed, like as we show more. But also hopefully the space is accessible in terms of like, it's not a physical gallery space, so people with access to them hopefully can get it and in terms of time, time, access and things like that. But yeah, we have a lot of things to discuss, as we continue with showing people of different backgrounds and cultures and abilities.

Hayley Pigram:
I would say Boomalli's a relatively diverse group, other than membership is average. Our oldest member is a 91 year old woman. And I believe I youngest member is a teenager. And across that group we have possibly every mental health concern you could name, and possibly almost every physical disability you could name, possibly. And I would say when we all come together, it's a bit of a circus, but in the best possible way. On our board, our 91 year old lady is still on the board. She tends to come and go on the board just because of the rules of the board. And she is also one of our oldest members.  
She is a founding member and she's a personal inspiration to me, just because she's a lovely but tough old penny. And she has recently started to lose her eyesight and she's still continuing to make her art, which is why she's a very personal inspiration to me. But she's also shown me that, you can take on a leadership role no matter what you're facing. But the leaders that we have at Boomalli spending everything. We have a very successful and probably one of our most popular shows every year, Mardi Gras Exhibition that happens every February, and it is public blow out.
And it's hard to say how that's all called out, whether it's just the way Boomalli runs or whether it's just uniquely Aboriginal community way of leadership and acceptance. Because to say that it's all happy families would be any exaggeration. There's still the usual squabbles and arguments and not everyone is friends and lovely. But the reasons people I know are happy and lovely, has absolutely nothing to do with whether someone is disabled or a homosexual or has all these other problems. It has a lot to do with personalities and whether someone looked at something funny, or whether someone's art got to be on that wall, it's on that wall and all these other concerns.

Robbie Handcock:

We do a call for proposals either yearly or twice yearly. And we have a larger panel for our proposal board just for that. And it is to account for whatever it might be lacking to account for just increasing diversity and opinion and view. When it comes to decision making in that regard, you try and cover your blind spots as much as possible. And yeah, personally I've been there. There are things that I value in terms of accessibility. I've in the last year or so have been, have started writing for other people and for other artists and that's, the tactic I have used is, solid, plain English writing about art, like how do we get more people engaged? How do we get more people enjoying art in the same way that I enjoy art, without having to have three, two year master's degree, blah, blah, blah? And there's also just a lot of like leadership by demonstration. You show people who are underrepresented, who are underrepresented and more people feel comfortable approaching your gallery. You show people who you approach people and give them that space, because sometimes they're not going to respond to a call out. Sometimes they're not going to, you look at spaces and you say, “That's not for me. That's not where I belong.” And you do some, you seek out, you seek out what is lacking in terms of representation. I think that's important as, because I think the role of the ARI is to respond to what emerging artists need in a lot of ways. It's not an institution or it's not like a tastemaker. It's a facilitator role to allow people to come through I think.

Liam James:

We, were at the Fairplay symposium at the Wheeler Center early this year. And at that, the story was told about the management structural shift with Art Access Australia, and where for the first time someone with a disability was put into the CEO role within that organisation. And that was really an inspiring narrative to hear in the way that, you can't just dump someone in order to restructure, change that top model and that the person who was in that position, spend a year of making that with the new CEO, and then stepped down to the role, step of out of the role, because they knew that this organisation should be led by someone with a disability. And I think it's amazing. 
That story is really amazing. But I think when we turn our narrative around to look at artist run initiatives, it's not as simple a narrative because we're looking … I've had this conversation a lot of times this week with people, when we look at volunteer labour and how volunteer labour is you know, we burn out, blah, blah, blah, we're poor, blah, blah, blah. But it's also this gift that we have. We have this ability to be able to deliver it because of all these things, all these freedoms, fiscal, social freedoms that we have. And so then, when we have a management structure that focuses on the ability to function highly within this kind of terrible structure that we're currently in, that the idea of shifting in the way that Art Access Australia did within the ARI sector, does it feel safe to me? I don't think there's the safety nets in place. There's not the care structures in place yet to be able to make our organisations safe enough to be able to have that management structure change. I think it's important that we do, I don't know how we do that. I don't have the answer, but I think that we're not in a position to be able to do it which is really sad.

Audience:
We're based in Alice Springs where it's, it's a really complex cultural landscape and obviously like a huge population, a huge percentage of Indigenous population. And we get a lot of criticism from the community like, “Why didn't you have any Indigenous people in this space?” And it always comes up exactly like this is what you're saying Liam is like, we're so lucky to be able to do this and that's not really possible. So then we've started thinking about, “Okay, what do we need to do to encourage people to have a voice here?” And then we thought, “Okay, well maybe we actually just need to have a budget for an Indigenous advisory committee,” specifically inform the board and our curatorial committee. And then that's like a way that we can have that without saying, “Hey, can you give all this extra time for free when you already have to feed all these people?” And it's like really difficult situations. We haven't actually gotten the money yet, but we're waiting on a grant at the moment and making steps, but I think for us it was a really great, it's like seems so obvious, but it just took a while to get there. And I think we're really excited about that. I think it could work for others, in terms of access and increasing diversity.

Robbie Handcock:
Just to add to that, looking at where your artists are coming from as well. I imagine like for us a lot of emerging artists come from universities. And if there is a lack in access to us because then there's going to be a lack of representation of artists coming out of that I think. That is a conversation that should be engaged as well of, what are the barriers of people accessing education? Which is a step before coming out of like what ARIs you're dealing with. And then like, ARIs you should deal with it as well.

Olivia Koh:

I think that's valid, but I also think that what you're talking about raises a big question of what is art, and what does it mean to be an artist? And like what's the difference between art and cultural expression? And I think that ARIs in general need to take a bit of a broader look at what the assumptions and definitions around what art looks like is, and can expand to just like cultural practice actually. 

Liam James:
I think this also comes into a really like boring thing of where we as ARIs advertise our call outs, because we advertise them in art guide and all these places. And these communities that we want are not, we need to make the time and effort to go to our local community newsletters, and make sure there's our show invites in that because I know that's, but then it goes back to our time and all these problems. But, that's how if we want to have these wider conversation that we really need to be directly talking to all our communities, not just our educated university communities that a lot of us are from.

Hayley Pigram:
In addition to that, I think that it would be important to consider the expectations around both artists and the people who work for ARIs as well. Stuff around how, what does documentation of the work need to look like if you don't have access to the brandest, newest, latest equipment to document it. What standard of writing? Are we expecting university educated people style writing? Is that necessary to create a really good artwork? What is the standard for those kind of things when you're looking at applications, if you're going to have an application process? And I think the same with people who are working at ARIs. I mean this raises kind of questions around, is professionalism what we're looking for or is it more about integrity and transparency? Is professionalism about answering emails on time or is it about being thoughtful with your programming and making space, if an artist needs an extra week to install or something, because of the access requirements, programming differently so that they can have that time.

Olivia Koh:

In relation to that like because we're like a fairly new organisation of like the last three years, just now it's been a concern for me that we're not representing people of different cultures on the site for example. And these are the things that need to be made really transparent in ARIs. And it's really hard when you start something and you want to include different people's work and then you come to a definition of like diversity and then it's like, “Whoa, we have totally different views of what that means.” Taste is one thing, but then talking about like, what do you think like gender equality means? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to me? What do you perceive this as fulfilling is really challenging. And I think that's where, for me it's really hard to say like an ARI is like, it's not incorporated. So when you say like a board, what kind of … It's not a corporation that has like a diversity officer, and a point or even like a manifesto. I was talking with my friend about like creating something in writing, so you're all on the same page. There are just like huge problems that come up with certain spaces I think from my experience. And what I see in Melbourne is a lot of exclusivity as well. 

Robbie Handcock:
I'm really glad that we're all really angry and that we realise we've got heaps and heaps of work to do, but I just want to get us a little pat on the back as a sector as well from the Countess Report that came out. And from my memory, the ARI sector was the only sector that kept thinking about representation of non-binary artists, the only sector. Every other sector was male or female only boxes. So I think we are leading the way. We've got a long way to go but we're doing good stuff.

Audience:
Is that still connected and kind of what you were saying about making spaces accessible for people of I guess, different capacities to have these organisation roles? Is it about our capacity to care for these people, it's connected to funding?

Justine Youssef:

Yes, all super connected. I'll just share a little about kind of what you mentioned about application processes and about who to go out and whose voices are heard. So I'm part of the crew who just opened up a space in Southwest Sydney in Parramatta called PARI. And we've just been having massive discussions about disrupting the application process model, and kind of writing exhibition pullouts in different languages and kind of avoiding, like Sydney has a massive culture of like hip hop and like just different like rock groups and stuff, and just inviting different musicians to come through, and MC like exhibition openings and things like that to bring people who are on the ground in. We've only been open for a couple of months. Yeah. And it already feels like just, they live around the corner. They still feel a bit weird about walking into a gallery space. So, we're trying to program shows that relate to people on the ground, program shows that people around the space and really just like, yeah, shift the language that we use, and shift the voices who shown and shifts the artists that we work with. So yeah, about kind of like the definition of working with different cultural practitioners I think is definitely been a conversation.

Hayley Pigram:

My only other additional support is then like within that community spaces that do, are practicing differently or experimenting with different practices is to perceive them with the same kind of status, as one that might have much more institutional practices. I think that needs to happen as well.

Justine Youssef:

Yeah, for sure. All right, so this one is, this question speaks to what tools or guides might be useful to share with artists, who will be getting the task of forming ARI led space or an organisation. And what tools or guides might benefit artists who are wishing to sustain their practices and sustain their initiatives? If you have any resources you would like to share or ideas of 

Robbie Handcock:

Paperwork, all the paperwork, all the policies, all the stuff that's really boring. Every single ARI has to write them themselves. If we collated them all into one place and they could just download them and adjust them, it'd be heaps good. 

Audience: 
I'll have one of those.

Hayley Pigram:

I think we've had a similar thought about the type of software that you would need to download it. I think no one even knows what they need and what they should be paying me for. And like, so if you're like, “Oh, do I need this package? Do I need that? What do I need? What should I be paying for?" So maybe some system of getting like a discount or some system of going, “This is the package you're going to need and gives you a 10% discount.” Like something just to make it a little bit more streamlined. I think because a lot of people first coming into the situation, haven't ever tried to, essentially what you're doing is starting off a business. It's a whole situation because she's like, “Okay, here you go. Here's your deep end.” 

Justine Youssef:
In the performing arts, students are taught about business practices, that doesn't tend to happen in the visual arts. 

Liam James:
Yeah, I've had a few conversations, was like back in New Zealand with people who've gone to one of the big university art schools as opposed to one of the smaller poly techs, and the kind of just like practical industry. So you get into poly tech associated with your visual arts degree or whatever, they teach you how to read a contract or how to do your taxes, just like basic shit. My little gripe I guess is, how to write a proposal … Because maybe proposal writing is technical writing. It's point A to point B kind of situation, not a big sort of like academic piece or something, to like subvert the format or whatever you're trying to get a show is like writing a CV. And a lot of that kind of seems to skip out of academic institutions. Practical shift from universities would be good.

Justine Youssef:

This question ties into the last in, what ways can ARIs support each other? So one such example could be like the sharing of course the publicists or things like this ?

Liam James:

We've done that with a Wellington artist run space with some of our paperwork stuff. They had studios before we did and so they were generous and helping and sharing some of their templates for what they use for the tenancy contracts. And it just, saving you two hours of like Googling how to do something is like two hours labour. That's generous. 

Olivia Koh:

There's just so much paperwork in being an artist.

Liam James:

There's all the not for profit kind of governance, structural work stuff too. That's really great. It's not very always applicable to the arts, but- yeah, and they're really boring. Those kinds of like tutorial models, but rather than being 15 minutes long when they're like to my time span of two minutes and having, yeah, open resources, how we work together is really interesting. This came up in the talk yesterday as well about like collectivisation, utilisation, what does that look like? Is that something that'll ever happen? Obviously the work, add all that up to the book that was launched yesterday shows what collective knowledge can do, and what collective research does.
And I think there's functional daily models of like, that you can I think say in this festivals are one of the things that you can see that every local organisation has laid out every projected to each other, every utility to each other, every extension cord is taking, tied with a different name on it in the side that you're in. And so those kind of things are really good. 

And then there's the next level of government sharing. And then there's the next step of like, how do we have a social voice together? And I think that's with NAVA. And it's not part of our role that we see ourselves as independent organisations, but we are a sector and we need to realise that and we need to all be talking attentive, even though we're doing completely different things and organisations might have different end goals, and ethics values of representation is that, if we want to be respected, if we want to be funded, that we need to be working with NAVA and together to have our voice as big as the institutions to see how our space, yeah.

Justine Youssef:
NAVA is revising the Code of Practice. I mentioned this when we first sat chatting, NAVA is developing content for the Code that speaks to ARIs, and how we can support the validity and things like that. So we're hoping to develop guides and case studies and things like that for people.

Audience:

Templates?

Justine Youssef:
Templates. If you want to contribute to developing the templates, definitely come talk to me after this. But yeah, it's something that is kind of coming into the works right now. This is kind of, yeah, this conversation is almost like … I mean it's an ongoing conversation, I think kind of directing this chat towards direct action that we can take, like developing these templates is prefacing these changes that we're hoping to develop at NAVA. 

So I'll fit one more question in and I'm going to ask everyone here. So this feeds into what you mentioned earlier as well. In order to be successful or sustain operations, there's an expectation that ARIs need to grow, keep developing, getting bigger, more professionalised and sustainable. How can we shift the conversation towards valuing what we have, developing our purpose and objectives rather than measuring success and competitiveness through traditional paths of growth?

Liam James:

I think it's important to stop doing and stop doing what we've been told we have to do. I think Constance is a beautiful model where it was like, we're sick of charging artists rent. What's the shortest answer? Let's close down the building. We want to pay artists. We can't afford to do 12 shows a year, we'll do five shows a year. We don't want to rent. We'll work with the council, we'll work with private people, we'll work it out. And I think it's not, it's actually quite simple. It's just a bit scary.

Arts Tas have been pretty spectacular in their turnaround in the last three years of how they're appreciating artists' fees is now a sentiment, that has to be outlined in all applications. And if they're not outlined where the money's coming from or if it's not even part of the conversation, that application isn't looked at. And that should be a baseline to every application, to every conversation is where's the money coming from to pay artists or we're not paying artists and this is why. 

Hayley Pigram:

But then NAVA is also advocating for any government funding that's given out to be allocated using their fee structures. So I think that's also something for individuals to be aware of when they're being contracted especially by not only ARI's, but anyone who's received that funding.

Liam James:

Chapter seven, I'm on it like every three days. I think it's so important.

Hayley Pigram:
But I also think what's so exciting about ARIs is their non-capitalist kind of modalities, and celebrating that as well, like celebrating that capacity of being outside of that capitalist growth paradigm. I don't know.

Justine Youssef:
Yeah, completely.

Robbie Handcock:
I think ARIs also support a larger group of creative professionals who are artists. I think for a lot of people that is career development for people who want to work in like us, administration, curatorship, a lot of like affiliated career paths which are like very valid, and ARI is a great way of like gaining experience. I don't know maybe there's … If you don't want your ARI grow then you need new blood coming through. I can't imagine many people wanting to spend 20 years doing the same thing where they're, I don't know running, without changing things or whatever.
Or you make it easier for new ARIs to pop up, and take that space that, like one that might have outgrown showing smaller, smaller or like younger artists, more emerging practices if they are getting bigger than there needs to be something else to come in like cradle what's happening there.

Olivia Koh:

Yeah. Just speaking back to rates, I guess it's about knowing your limits. Like we started as an online platform and lately it would be doing shows and I feel like getting back into that model of stretching ourselves a bit physically, yeah, maybe it's good to think about what different models can you be and what you're committed to, and what you can manage with your time and with your resources.

Hayley Pigram:
Well, I guess you have to set your goals. Like exponential growth is not possible over 30 years. It's just not. But things change over that 30 years, the organisation has changed along. I've only been a member for five years, and in that time there has been growth within Boomalli, but it's not the same sort of growth you would have seen when it was in its first few years of conception. So it's smaller growth now, because it's been around longer. It's a much bigger organisation. It has a lot more members. It has a lot more staff, a lot more volunteers. So we pick different goals. But they are small goals in the overall history of the organisation. Now that we have become more developed and more entrenched, when it comes to big O long term goals, they're the sorts of things that, like you were saying. So exponential growth just doesn't start to seem as important as small growth over a longer period of time. And those smaller changes are actually more important, especially when they can be more viable.

Audience: 

When we're talking about diversity, what's the responsibility of ARIs to be accessible and diverse on a really broad spectrum? 

Liam James: 

I think that that is again in the way that all the models are so different. It's an organisational, internal structural decision. You need to, you as in your committee, your board or whatever that structure is, needs to define what is most important for you, who you want to represent and what are your end goals. Inclusivity is always a conversation that needs to be on top of everything that had been organisation does. I think that conversations of inclusivity are around organisational ethics more than anything else. 

Olivia Koh: 

But also defining what terminology means and recognising where words come from and talking about inclusivity, diversity these are all governmental, like hot words. I don't know what we'd call it, but I think it's a responsibility of the individuals running the organisation or the body or whatever. And also not just the work of Indigenous or Aboriginal people or just the work of people of colour or yeah, gender non-binary people to do that work, and to not expect that that is going to come out of minority voices or those definitions or something. They need to be brought up. 

Liam James: 

It always should be the other way round. That workload shouldn't be on those communities that have already suffered, that have already been excluded. It's on the majority organisation, the mass to do that work to bring everyone together. 

Audience: 

How do you think about these conversations in relation to place? I'm just interested in how the topic of who's involved, how does that actually relate to the way that your organisation thinks about itself, actually what land its on and what the place is and the socio-economics of your area? Sometimes there's a disconnect. 

Liam James: 

I think that's super important, because I think we've talked about the idea of like ARIs being part of communities, entrenched in communities that often we don't have to have the burden of being a statewide organisation, we're suburb based, we're city based. And I think you've got to always remember those things. And I think that that's shift again that for my current organisation within the Northern North of Tasmania, arts education, arts literacy is extremely low. 

And so one of the first things I've done is really shifted how we use language around shows. I'll send artist statement back and be like, “No, this is … You've written 800 words. No one's going to read more than 20 words. If you need that, then we work through how it is, but let's shift this language. Let's shift these things.” Let's shift how we directly relate to the community we're in. We're starting to think more and more about like, what does an educational program look like? What does public programming actually mean and who is it for? And without talking about our responsibility, educating families and bringing those things in. And it shifts who we are as an organisation and reshapes our ethics. 

Audience: 

How do you do that without feeling at some time self-conscious and like an art missionary? 

Liam James: 

I always I'm self-conscious. There's a level of elitist and judgment that comes with that and that comes out of my privilege, and that this is the city that I'm from. I grew up in the Northern suburbs, which is the broad neighbourhoods up that way. I wasn't exposed to art. I wasn't taken to museums. I didn't have that conversation, but then I have this privilege of growing through these things that have allowed me to come back to that space and be like, “How do I re-engage with this?” 

And then there are like simple things I can do. We're moving the location of the gallery next year, rather than being in the centre of the city, we're moving out into the Northern suburbs where there are communities, there are working class families, there are students, there are migrant communities. These are the communities that I want to engage with, they're not in the city. So why would I think they would come into the city to see what we're doing? If I want them to be part of my organisation, I need to go to them. And it's the same thing about how we use language, how we approach all our structures in every way if that's what we want to do. But that's only my ethical values that I bring into the organisation I'm currently with. The organisation doesn't have to have those ethical values. And it doesn't mean your organisation isn't a good organisation if it doesn't, it's just what I've chosen to put forward.

Next Steps

NAVA will publish an ARI admin pack in 2020 in collaboration with existing artist run initiatives and networks across Australia. We will also soon release a survey to inform the development of content for the Code of Practice which will further unpack the issues raised in this conversation and other ARI focussed forums NAVA has facilitated or been involved with over the past few years.

For more information or to contribute, please contact nava@visualarts.net.au. 

ARIs: What's Next for Artist Led Action?