At a recent meeting of the artists in Dumfries and Galloway, where there has recently been another atrocity in the mismanagement of the arts, a gentleman used this apparently well known proverb and I genuinely had to stifle my inappropriate laughter! Yet, a truer word has never been spoken.
In my short artistic career I have seen many situations in which arts organisations have been closed or individuals have been removed from key positions in what can only be described as a haphazard manner with potentially devastating effects.
I don't wish to dwell on the politics of any individual circumstance but recent events in Dumfries and Galloway have brought the complete misunderstanding of the management of the arts to light once again.
D&G Arts Association was in many respects the key link in Dumfries and Galloway between artists, the council and funders. I do not wish to comment on their successes or failures at this time because the decision has been made to liquidate the company as stated on their website:
The directors have decided to cease all trading activities of dgArts from 30th September 2011, due to the company's financial position. They are taking advice and are in the process of commencing the procedure to wind up the company.
You will be contacted by the company over the next few weeks with details of a meeting to appoint a liquidator.
Patricia J Smith on behalf of the Directors.
My great concern, having spoken with artists and various representatives in the area is the manner in which an arts association has so quickly been liquidated, in turn not only leaving staff jobless at short notice but leaving all of the projects they had been working on and towards in turmoil. Therefore, directly impacting on the artists in the region and those who would have been visiting the region to support these projects.
Dumfries and Galloway is a creative region, in spite of not truly advertising this at present, it is a cultural hub especially in terms of Visual Art and Craft. DGAA played a fundamental role in building some of the great things that contribute to developing the creativity and creative reputation of the region. As we all know, as artists, it is from prior investments that new projects evolve through weeks - if not months - of painstaking discussions.
We often rely on the promise of our investors until things are tied into a contract, usually not far in advance of the project start date by which point much of the research and development for the project has already taken place. Or, has indeed occupied our minds and usually marked out a chunk of our diary (the money maker) in order to ensure that when funding decisions are made we are available to complete our side of the deal.
Business minds don't get this, or if they do their procedures do not reflect this. When losing an individual or an association such as DGAA you do not only lose the knowledge these associations have built of their sector and region. You vitally lose contact with the artists of the area and more importantly you lose the hooks upon which many of these artists had already hung their future plans.
It takes years to become a recognised and valued competitor in the arts sector. I use the word competitor as sadly we all have to be to earn our crust and, although I do agree that we each as artists are responsible for finding our niche in the commercial sector from where we can support ourselves, we have to compete on a regular basis for limited funding.
However, the years we spend building a reputation are quite blatantly thrown away when liquidators or committees overturn the networks that have taken so long to forge by simply deciding something/ someone is no longer viable in their eyes.
How many people are from an arts background who make these decisions? And by background I mean, who has honestly struggled to achieve what they are intrinsically inspired to create whilst paying the bills? Current systems do not assure me greatly that any of these people are.
What I find more alarming, and what is possibly at the root cause of these atrocities still taking place, is that we as artists are also reflective of 'committee decisions' lacking effect.
Especially in regions such as D&G, but inclusive of even inner city arts, we are so secluded in our work through scheduling, location, inspiration and trying to fit a life in occasionally. This in itself gives the business minded a distinct advantage as by the time we organise ourselves enough to meet to discuss lobbying for what we know is artistically best we have missed the boat.
However, even if we do manage to get together (such as a truly impressive number of artists did in D&G on Monday of this week - sincerely hats off to such a spread out population of artists getting together in one room and more so applause to the individuals who got us all there: you know who you are!) we are not particularly good at getting anything done! Sorry, but it's kind of true.
We talk a good game, we are likeminded in many respects but without the administration to carry our thoughts forward in a succinct manner to our ''superiors'' we may as well not meet at all.
A committee of artists is equally as difficult as any committee, more so in fact because we are all trying so hard to balance our general career that lobbying is just another thing on the to do list.
How do we overcome this?
In an ideal world there would be a dedicated arts enthusiast who would take the administrative strain allowing us all to input our feelings but who would then have the passion, time and business acumen to create strategy and impact. However, if these individuals existed would we not all have voluntary managers who, often as we do, were involved and worked with us without the promise of a pay cheque?
Perhaps a union? A union that understands us BUT as freelance artists would we really strike?
Firstly, as a performer, choreographer or tutor I can list twenty names off the top of my head who would jump right into my shoes leaving me on a picket line skint, soaked (I'm in Scotland) and in doubt of my future.
Secondly, I hate to have to say it but would anyone really care if we all stopped creating? Many of our 'audiences' don't miss our work per se but only notice the obviousness of its distinct effects after the event; in a parallel to the Black Swan Theory (hence, the name of my company, so named BEFORE that bizarre movie).
As per usual I don't have an answer. However, I openly call out to anybody with one because if we don't find one soon this kind of thing is going to continue leaving too many casualties to count including lost projects, lost artists and lost development of our arts sector.