Eating Thinking Making Paying

A response to Joshua Sofaer’s Arthole project, by Gary Carter

The rise to prominence (or, the acceptance) of Live Art, and the way some of its thinking has influenced and infiltrated adjacent artistic practices, might be considered a ‘Live Art effect’. The popularity and expansion of the sector presents ongoing challenges to the public, to funding structures and building-based institutions, and to individual admirers and collectors. These we might generalise as challenges of understanding (including access, accessibility, comprehension and quality debates), challenges of investment and return (including the place of the sector in the context of more traditional definitions of cultural production, and ultimately therefore of funding), and challenges of relationship (curatorial challenges, patronage issues, presentational issues and specific market (buying/selling) issues). These challenges become more acute as the ‘culture market’ struggles to integrate, co-opt and commodify Live Art as its effect spreads.

LADA and Joshua Sofaer’s project, the Arthole Artist’s Award, is the raising of a substantial amount of money from a single donor to fund an open-ended award to a single artist on an annual basis. This kind of open-ended award in professional development has fallen out of fashion and favour with funders in the current climate, as it is not an outcome-based investment, and is therefore not measurable. It is entirely appropriate as the kind of investment a development agency “working … to create the conditions in which diversity, innovation and risk can thrive” should make, and in line with LADA’s historical initiatives of this kind, one of which was transformative for Sofaer himself.   

But the beauty, or perhaps, the elegant joy of the series, is the way in which the need to fundraise for a bursary for Live Art is transformed by Sofaer into a Live Art project, into an ongoing series of works that raises all these challenges of understanding, measurement and return, and of relationshipand that examines the ways Live Art relates to the greater market for cultural production. Not only does the Arthole Artist’s Award make a contribution to the development of the sector, not only does it conform to the prevailing political expectation of fundraising from the private sector to make up for declining state funding, but it does so in a way which explicates the political and artistic assumptions and problems attendant on such expectations, and (magically) it does it by making a work, or a series of works, of Live Art, giving life to Live Art’s ability to identify a certain set of societal fractures, and to open them up to exploration in performance frames.

Most non-state funding initiatives for cultural products sell access, association, or privilege to individuals or organisations who see some benefit in the transaction.   Money, in this context, gets individuals closer to the artwork than admission price does. In some cases it gets individuals all the way to lasting association with the artwork, and in some cases it gets individuals all the way to the physical presence of the artist herself. But this kind of programme is always associated with producers or producing houses – production organisations and venues – whether or not associated with the work of one artist. This is because these organisations have levels of access, or circles of privilege, they can ‘sell off’ for money, and because they tend to have high cultural status which lends what marketeers sometimes call a ‘halo’ to those publicly associated with the work or the institution behind it. Patronage and sponsorship are either, and perhaps simultaneously, forms of elite, public starfucking, and/or of surreptitious and probably pointless advertising – even while ‘well-meaning’ and beneficial. For LADA, as a development agency, selling or at least brokering these kinds of private sector/cultural sector relationships is impossible, since there is neither product, nor house. For the members of the Live Art constituency, such relationships are politically problematic.    

By centering the experience around a private, intimate dinner between artist and prospective donor, catered by a chef, Arthole plays with the issues around the “money for access, money for status” dynamic in private sector arts and culture sponsorship. It grants the most intimate kind of access (intimacy with the artist herself), in a setting of middle-class privilege (the chef-cooked meal), and the most rarified of collector’s privilege (a work made ‘for you’) – but without any possible claim by the donor to public status or ownership as a result. It asks the prospective donor a problematic but entirely appropriate series of questions about value, about status, about arts funding. It plays to the vanity of the donor while criticising you for it; it explicates the position of Live Art by making you part of it, and it reveals the vulnerability of the artist to economic forces in a completely personal way.

Banner image credit:

Photo: The Arthole Cockle Medal for Live Art Philanthropy

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