As many of you know, in 2017 I began developing an idea for a touring exhibition bringing British and Croatian Naïve* artists together. Working with the Croatian curator and art historian, Elizabeta Wagner, I made a visit to Zagreb last June to develop the idea further. As a result of that visit, the project shifted course to include Outsider** as well as Naïve artists.
This shift came about as many of the issues contemporary naïve artists face are common to outsider artists, and vice versa.
From working in isolation, to not having the self-promotional skills demanded by the arts world today, I believe that naïve and outsider artists in Britain, in Croatia, and across both cultures, could benefit from sharing experiences, pooling resources, and building mutually supportive networks regardless of the many different aesthetics present in their work.
On this basis, I secured conceptual and/or in-kind support for the project from Outside In (a UK charity supporting outsider artists), the Croatian Association of Artists and Art Critics (HULULK) based in Vugrovec, and the Croatian Museum of Contemporary Art (MSU) in Zagreb. The latter two, thanks in very large part to Elizabeta's involvement and her continued efforts to keep everyone informed.
To fund our activities and costs related to the project, I made an application to the Artists International Development Fund, co-funded by Arts Council England and the British Council just before Christmas. And, as reported in my last newsletter, the funding decision was expected in February.
Despite support from everyone I spoke to along the way, my funding application was not successful.
Anyone who has done any fundraising in the arts will know that this is not only a familiar ending, but the more likely one. As such, I had spent almost as much time thinking about what I would do if the funding didn't come through, as I had on planning what would happen if it did. And, then, when the decision was known, discussed the various next-step options with Elizabeta.
While it wasn't an easy decision, it was a straight forwardly practical one. For now at least, we are putting the project on hold.
The hardest part of making the decision was notifying the Croatian Museum of Contemporary Art. They are a national level institution that I would dearly love to work with and their offer not only supported the concept of our project, but provided a venue for it. Their participation, alongside the support of HULULK, has given me a huge boost of self-confidence and for that I am enormously grateful.
So, it goes without saying, that the reasons I leaned towards pausing the project have nothing to do with them - and everything to do with the power play between time and money.
Primarily my time and Elizabeta's time - so far unpaid and scavenged away from other obligations: from income generating paid work to passion projects long ignored. And it isn't about us making more time or doing it for the love of it; but a recognition that we have a finite amount of time in which to get everything done and income matters. Even if it was a small drop in the ocean, the significance of our cross-cultural work bringing in any income would have been no small thing. Especially if you consider that any small amount of public funding is more likely to result in further funding later on ...
Of course, we could just look for new fundraising opportunities now to get the ball rolling. Fundraising opportunities are endless after all. I know this. I am continuously and forever finding new ones.
But the reality of fundraising is this: it is a constant search for the 'right' opportunities and hundreds of (wo)man hours to pull the final application together. It is half a dozen (often paid for) mentor hours and/or advisor meetings to ensure the application is as strong as possible. It is dozens of hours of online research into costs and budgetary calculations. There is the writing, the rewriting, the editing, the networking, the seeking of and confirming of partners. That's once you know exactly what you want to do, who you want to ask, and what you want to ask for. And with every application the submission must be tweaked to meet the possible patron's own objectives. So that while you might recycle bids, they will always require hours of attention to make them 'just right.' Which brings us straight back to ... you guessed it ... time and money.
Neither of which I am particularly rich in at the moment.
On the plus side, I have learned so very much so far! And this whole process has given me a much wider network than I could ever have imagined: people and organisations I find fascinating, doing interesting work that will engage my attention for a long time to come. And if, out of that network, patrons emerge, or other funding sources are found, (and if other obligations haven't taken over), then Elizabeta and I will return to the project with renewed energy and slightly fewer concerns about the imbalances between time and money spent.
I realise that pausing this project now, and failing to take advantage of the opportunities offered by MSU so far, may disappoint some who have spent their time promoting this project and vouching for my seriousness. My gratitude for their confidence in me knows no bounds, and even the whisper of the possibility that I might be disappointing them causes me a terrible sadness. But I am not giving up on the project, simply shifting my focus away from those parts of it which would cost me more than I can afford just now.
Focussing my time instead on learning as much as I can, here on my own ground soil, pursuing those bits of the project and my practice which pique my interest most, incurring neither air miles nor air fares.
First up, I will get back to painting - and with two new series waiting in the wings, I won't be bored anytime soon.
Also, this week I will start volunteering as an archivist at Outside In. Getting my head around the outsider art, artists, and reviews they've collected since their founding and putting them into library order for future users.
I'll also be attending the European Outsider Art Association conference hosted by Outside In at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester come May.
Further to those activities I'll continue my visits to the British Library, researching naïve art, artists, and criticism of the last century or so. I've got my notebook ready and hope to share some of those findings here or on my Research blog.
And, in an effort to reconcile my incomings and outgoings, I'll be running new workshops, adding new products to the online shop, and exhibiting at the Claremont Hotel as part of Brighton's annual Artists Open Houses & Festival offering.
As ever, it will be a balancing act, but I'm open to whatever the future holds.
"Archangel Michael" by Miroslav Županičić
taken in June 2017 at the HULULK Gallery in Vugrovec, Croatia
Definitions & Background
*Naïve art is any form of visual art created by a person lacking formal art education or training. When this aesthetic is emulated by a trained artist, the result is sometimes called primitivism, pseudo-naïve, or faux naïve. Unlike folk art, naïve art does not necessarily evince a distinct cultural context or tradition.
Naïve art is often seen as outsider art. While this was true before the twentieth century, there are now academies and established cultural aesthetics for naïve art. Naïve art is now a fully recognized art genre, represented in art galleries worldwide.
See also my page on Naïve Art here
**Outsider art is art by self taught or naïve artists, typically, having little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.
The term outsider art was coined in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: "raw art" or "rough art") describing art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Early identified examples include art made by psychiatric patients and children.
Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category; an annual Outsider Art Fair has been held in New York since 1993 and there are at least two regularly published journals dedicated to the subject.
The term "Outsider Art" morphed into something bigger than [Art Brut], and is more of an umbrella term for different styles and creators working outside of the mainstream art world for various reasons.
This particular project aimed to bring artists from both naïve and outsider traditions in Croatia together to discuss practical ways of supporting each other and to better understand the issues important to them when exhibiting their work. Alongside these activities, UK based activities would seek to open up similar conversations and links between British naïve and outsider artists. Through enabling often isolated artists to look beyond the differences in their aesthetic, towards the common issues they face, this project sought to initiate an international network for naïve and outsider artists alike, leading towards cooperative projects, mentorships/ residencies, and an internationally touring exhibition. Given time and funding, this may all still come to pass ;)