Art and the City - The first post

3:31pm Friday 20th November 2009

By Laurence Hill - Art and the City

The introduction: I thought there should be an arts blog on the Argus website but then hit a problem. What does arts blog mean? It’s such a huge subject. For me it has to be about visual arts because if I’m qualified to write about anything, that’s it. I hope that by writing the blog I’ll be able to encourage people to get out to see exhibitions more, to discover places they may not have heard of. I’m pretty sure that all of the galleries in Brighton other than the Museum are free, so for no money and with just a little time you can experience something unique. And that’s fantastic.

The bit about me: My name’s Laurence Hill and I’m the development manager at Fabrica, a contemporary art gallery in The Lanes in Brighton. This blog will inevitably refer to Fabrica quite often, though I should stick in the standard disclaimer and say that everything that I write is my personal opinion and does not reflect any official view from the gallery. I’ve lived and worked in Brighton for six and a half years most of that time at Fabrica and my focus is broadly audience development. I’m particularly interested in (or slightly obsessed with) the use of social media by arts organisations. I’m not an art critic or an art historian so I won’t be using any difficult language, I’ll just be talking about stuff in a way that I can understand. If you have any questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear them. I may from time to time recommend stuff and if I do it’ll be because I like it or think it’s interesting rather than a critical comment on its artistic merit.

The first post: So then it comes to that difficult first post, what do you write as an introduction to the blog? I decided to go broad brush and start with ‘The state of the arts’. People often ask me how the recession is affecting us at the gallery and honestly I have to say not much. We’ve constantly had to fundraise to meet the shortfall in our funding and learned to deliver complex projects in economical ways, so honestly the recession hasn’t made a lot of difference. I’m crossing things here that those words don’t come back to bite me. All this is not to say that these aren’t troubled times for the arts. The behemoth that is the 2012 Olympics is sucking up a lot of funding and that’s likely to get worse as the costs inevitably spiral. The Arts Council is troubled and going through a massive restructuring. For commercial galleries the recession is clearly more of an issue as disposable income dries up. We more than likely face a change of government next year, which may bring fresh turmoil and further cuts to the budget for the arts. This all adds up to a period of change, a period of uncertainty. For me it’s a moot point whether this is necessarily a bad thing. Doesn’t great work often arise from periods of uncertainty? Might this not prove to be an exciting time?

In fact there’s another change coming that I think will be both very exciting and profound. That is the way that social media will change the arts. This is a big subject and one that I’ll undoubtedly return to because I’m fascinated by it but I’ll leave it now with a couple of questions. What happens when your audience is no longer silent, when they have the opportunity to have a dialogue not only with you but also with each other? How will that change your relationship with them? How will it change your organisation and the work that you do? These are questions that arts organisations are going to have to face sooner rather than later but the challenges ahead and the opportunities they offer are fantastic, I think.

The conclusion: Anyway, it strikes me that Brighton is a pretty good microcosm of the art world in general. We’ve got galleries large and small, commercial and publicly funded, a museum, an art school, a lot of artists, studio groups etc. What better place to track the state of the arts as it goes through a period of change and hopefully excitement and what better way to do it.

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