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Reflections on the Platform Alumni Network Meeting by Peter Driver

16th May 2018

A group of Platform Alumni met for a network meeting at Turner Contemporary, Margate on 24 April. We were joined by Clare Warren, Programme Co-ordinator at Turner Contemporary, and artist Jonathan Parsons (who mentors the Platform Graduate Award winners).

CVAN South East Manager Oliver Sumner trailed the new CVAN South East website, and told us about how CVAN nationally was consulting on how it can help artists and support their practices through CVAN’s links to art schools, galleries and studio complexes. We returned to this theme in the panel discussion later in the day.

Clare Warren spoke to us about Turner Contemporary, now in its seventh year, and its changing programme of international art exhibitions. We were taken on a tour of the show, Journeys with The Waste Land (which ended on 7 May). The exhibition, which was inspired by T S Eliot’s seminal work of modernist poetry The Waste Land, had been curated as a truly participative project with over 100 local volunteers over a three year period. It included an astounding cast of British and international artists.

Clare also spoke about the contemporary art scene in Margate. A programme of off-site events linked to the current exhibition had brought new audiences to the growing number of galleries, studios and project spaces around the town. They were working with the local tourist board and businesses in the town to help create a sustainable creative community in Margate.

After the tour, Platform alumnus Marion Piper and Claire Orme, and artist mentor Jonathan Parsons each gave presentations about their practices with an emphasis on artist support and development.

Marion Piper spoke about her experiences of online conversations through social media that had eventually led to studio visits, exhibition opportunities and residencies. She advised to look out for people whose work or approach resonates with your own and to make meaningful connections with them. For example, she had brought together a group of such people for a crit day at her studios, which had led to new connections and invitations to participate in shows. Marion had recently set up a new communal studio space at Work Hall, High Wycombe.

DIY became a theme for the day. Marion had used the opportunity of a cat-sitting break in Paris to create her own mini residency. #diyresidencyparis2018mp

Claire Orme now manages the LIMBO project space in Margate. She spoke of her experiences after graduating and the projects she had created while in unpromising internships and uninspiring jobs. With another artist she met in one of those jobs they set up a company called Brains & Lip, supporting emerging female artists, putting on several shows over the last few years. Since moving to Margate, Claire had continued to make and take opportunities for herself and other artists. The connections with Turner Contemporary had enabled her to attract a wider range of artists to collaborate. She had organised networking events, a show in a hairdressers and had turned her flat into a gallery, inviting artists to show with her in short shows with evening performances. Through all this activity, run on a shoestring and supported by working, Claire was building her reputation as a curator and artist, leading to LIMBO inviting her to curate their project space.

Jonathan Parsons talked about support networks and his experiences of practicing as an artist for the last 26 years. He took us on a whistle-stop tour of his career to date: from solo shows offered through friends and connections from art school, to his current project installing large-scale work in the Surrey hills. A two-week workshop/residency at Braziers Park, Oxon with 35 international artists had led to lasting professional relationships and opportunities and also enabled Jonathan to open opportunities for other artists. He advised to carry on making and documenting work.

A panel discussion, with everyone participating, had the room buzzing with useful ideas and insights. The issues covered the changing nature of the art economy, how to make opportunities for others, and ourselves and what role CVAN and other agencies can have in supporting artists.

Highlights from the discussion included:

The art economy
• The economy of contemporary art has changed dramatically in the last 20 years
• There are hardly any commercial galleries showing work by entry-level artists and those for mid-level emerging artists are struggling to survive
• There’s a chasm between the high-end/blue-chip galleries and the DIY artist-led project spaces, pop-up galleries and self-organised shows
• The big galleries were seen as the gatekeepers but now with social media, everything is visible – the whole gamut
• There is a hugely expanded and rich ecology of creative output where artists are finding their own ways of being sustainably engaged in art making.

Keeping going
• The presence of official funding changes relationships – the process is time-consuming and can distract from the artists original intentions. Without funding, artists are free to do what they want and find their own ways of making it happen
• Paying artists is important when you have the opportunity to do so
• Use social media sociably – conversations can lead to things happening with other artists, writers, curators – but it takes time (about three years) to build
• Connections on social media can lead to connections in real life – keep in touch with contacts and see where it goes
• Keep in touch with people from Uni and group shows – you never know when this might lead to opportunities
• Build conversations and relationships with artists and curators you meet and enjoy working with
• Email artists, curators and gallerists by name, rather than generic emails
• Arrange coach trips for artists and curators to your events/exhibitions that are outside of London
• Support your friends in their work
• Why do we make work? Considering both the internal and the external self. A thought about experience and quality of life – how we live.

Support from CVAN and elsewhere
• Mapping what is out there. It would be good to have something for the whole region similar to the South East Coast Art Map
• CVAN lists events and opportunities that are sent to it but doesn’t attempt and isn’t resourced to be comprehensive
• Sites like a-n, Axis, CVAN, ArtQuest all provide lots of information and opportunities. (Time to read it all though!) A go-to place for information on opportunities, residencies, exhibitions, galleries, project spaces and studios would be very helpful
• We could use the Platform Facebook page as a place to spark ideas and exchange information – create online crits? Organise meet-ups in the pub?
• There’s more to supporting artists than giving them a studio…
• Supporting network in Dartford DAN – you need to have links where you are working or living
• Alternative art schools initiated by artists
• Blue Monkey Network at Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne as an example of an artist network working in partnership with a local arts organisation
• Short term studio hire opportunities – could you sublet your space to other artists/timeshare?
• Could we curate Platform Alumni group shows at Platform galleries?
• Bursaries for artists to visit international art fairs.

Peter Driver, May 2018

Image: Marion Piper, Claire Orme, Jonathan Parsons.

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