So we got a phone call from Art Council England this morning…

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well after a number of slightly annoying e.mails from them yesterday, we just got a phone call from Art Council England for which we say thank you. Clearly they are now trying to reach our a little more than they have done over the last nine years of Cultivate, clearly the blogs and the social media has rattled something, it does nothing to help the situation right now, it doesn’t do what we were told the Emergency funding was for, we still have bills to pay and no prospect of ever getting back to physical spaces once this Covid thing is all over – it was tough enough already before Covid, we have somehow managed to keep it all going for nine years with no support or no formal response from the Arts Council, we’ve kept it going against all the odds and with the support of a great family artists, we’ve supported ourselves, but  during this emergency we really did need some help from those we believed were there to do just that. and dare I suggest it, we needed it far far more than some of those the Art Council have handed out emergency funding to   It was a polite conversation, a long one, I won’t use names, that’s not really fair on the very nice polite concerned person who was decent enough to make the call, I thank her for taking the time.

So we had a polite phone call, I was told they could see “how wonderful we are and what a brilliant thing Cultivate is” and yes, they agreed, what we do is exactly what they are all about and they’re so so sorry they can’t let us have a tiny little bit of the Emergency funding and that we just don’t fit their criteria!  I almost want to say it was patronising conversation, and that being told they “fully understand how frustrating it all is” didn’t really help much. (we gave the keys to the space we had to close early back to the owner yesterday, he was reasonable but we still had a bill to pay, we had ot pay the debt yesterday)

I did during the telephone conversation question some of the people and places they were funding (without naming names), I did ask the person from Art Council England  why they don’t check on the closed-door spaces they do constantly fund and she in turn politely explained the people and spaces they do consider worth funding are required to write reports about what they are going, but no, no one ever goes and actually checks on places like the closed-door sign-less gallery up the road that they fund again and again – let me say that again, they don’t actually go to see if they’re actually doing what they say they are doing, it does seem rather easy to get away with just talking it and never actually walking it  I suggested to her that that really wasn’t good enough and that maybe they should actually go and see what is done with the funding, that maybe someone just walk around these spaces and have a look – staggered that they don’t do that and blah blah blah…

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I saw it First, I want It Worse, Columbia Road, September 2018 – Emma Harvey’s Riot Grrrl Paintings.

So I’m told that the Art Coucil  “really like what we do at Cultivate, they like all the ethos, especially the stance on submission fees, they like what we do and say, and that ir “it is sad to see” it all going down – they like it all, including our on-line shows, I’m told that we really should be funded in terms of the time put in to those on-line shows – hey, we were asking for emergency support in terms of the physical shows we had to close without warning, the on-line shows cost us little besides lots and lots of of time. I was told in terms of the on-line shows  “how wonderful they are especially at this time with all that’s happening and it must have taken up a lot of time”, and that I should apply for funding in the future if ever we even so anoher on-line show – but no, they’re sorry, we don’t fit their criteria right now, we didn’t fit the criteria and they’re sorry if I find them aloof and well I really should try applying again. .

I did ask her why they couldn’t give us any of the emergency funding when we were clearly very directly affected by the lockdown  and why were galleries that don’t open and weren’t really that affected are who are regularly funded were given emergerncy funding, clearly once you get on that Art Council gravy train you can really take the piss.

It was polite, it wasn’t a shouting match, no point in that, she was very nice but it was very very frustrating and no, I didn’t really get any real answers, just sympathy and “we understand” and “it i very sad” and “you’ve clearly done some brilliant things” – I listened to her trying to explain what the Arts Council is about and how they reallt are about inclusion and no they aren’t aloof and they love what we’ve been doing and that the Art Council England “#Let’sCreate” campaign that s coming up is about the things we are saying, which in turn lead to me saying well we’ve been doing rather than just saying all  that “Let’s Create” stuff for nine years of Cultivate and before that with Organ and more, and that the evidence in terms of artists and spaces they were actually funding during the covid emergency just didn’t back up what she was saying about creativity ans inclusion.

But hey, they did tell me I should apply again as an artist and as Cultivate (by the way I see Cultivate as part of who and what I am as an Artist, so does Emma, they aren’t two separate things, Cultivate is an artistic statement made by us as artists), so yeah right,  waste more hours and days applying yet again! Really? What is the point?

She did say that someone from their London office will call next week to set something up and that they really want me to apply again in the future even if we only ever do run Cultivate on-line from now on – Cultivater is about ope ndoors and physical spaces that engage with the passing public, on-line art shows don’t really cut it.  We left it with me saying yes to what I expect with be a politely pointless meeting at some point, a meeting that I don’t expect will ever amount to anything,  I said that I saw very little point in ever applying again.

I’ve heard all this before from the Art Council, they’ve been along and made themselves known at our openings in the past, they’ve told us how wonderful we are while they drink our drink on an opening night, I’ve tried following up all the blowing smoke up our arses that they’ve done in the past and never ever has it got us anywhere – and when for once we really really did need the Art Council, when we really did need them, they’ve told us we’re wonderful but no, unlike the shut-door gallery up te road, we don’t fit their criteria….

I genuinely thank the person who called me today, it was brave of her, it was nice of her, she was very reasonable, sympathetic, she was sorry, and no she wasn’t aloof but hey, that’s not how I see the organisation as a whole. I still think the Arts Council isn’t really fit for purpose, that it is aloof, that it is elistisf.  I can’t believe they don’t check on the spaces they waste funding on,  I do think that right now they should be jumping through hoops to keep things with track records like ours alive rather than funding that self-indulgent shut-door space down the road  where they go out of their way to keep the general public away from their always closed space.  I don’t want ot hear that “you feel my pain”, that you’re sorry to see us have to close” and no, I have no faith in the Art Council.  I’m very (very) cynical about who they do fund and extra cynical about their “#Let’sCreate” branding, we shall see what comes of the promised follow up phone call or the meeting with their London people, watch this space, it was good of her to call, I thank her, inded she rold me she was once an artists and she wished she has come across Cultivate earlier, I invited her to come be part of the next on-line show, I hope she does submit something. But I am still very (very) angry about the Arts Council and who they are actually funding during this crisis.

And so, there’s no realistic prospect, even when the lockdown is lifted, of us actually putting on any more physical shows – we will try but I’m not hopeful.  Right now, while I’m personally locked down and frankly finding it hard to paint, I shall get on with another on-line show, I did say yesterday on social media that we’ll do it all again on-line “Great stuff” said one artist “It’s so good to have some kind of purpose atm! So many things have been cancelled or put on hold and knowing that there’s something that we can be involved in like the online shows makes a big difference to the way things are! Thanks!

So yes, we’ll be back in a moment with details of the next on-line show, we’re seeing it now as a third in a trilogy of on-line shows during lockdown, we’ll be back in a moment once we’ve had the debate about what the show will be called this time (it is always quite a debate, especailly now we can’t do it in a pub), come back in an hour or two, we shall carry on walking it rather than just talking if we possibly can. I won’t say f&^%K the art Council again even if deep down I still feel like saying it. I thank the person who called me and spoke for an age this morning,  it was good of her, I still don’t feel the Art Council is for the likes of us… on with our mouthy punk rock ways then, on with trying to actually engage, on with trying to see art s as a positive force for good, let’s really create, let’s walk it  rather than just talking it…  we’ve always had to do it ourselves…

Sean Worrall.

DONATE – We srtists bring all this art, all these shows both on-line and in physical spaces for free, it does take up a lot of time, hours and hours of time. we do love doing it, we’d like to think what we do is of value. If you should, unlike Arts Council England, feel like actually supporting Cultivate and making a small donation to help keep all this flowing that would be delightful, thank you.

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(Far from the) Turmoil  – An art show curated by Cultivate Gallery and hosted on the Organ pages – An eighth cultivated on-line art show, 41 artists, 200 plus pieces, art gathered with good intent, art from all over the world, view the show and run the slide show here

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