Inclusion, engagement, open calls, open doors, what is the policy? Can we do more? Let’s Create? Blackout Tuesday?

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Yesterday someone politely asked if we had a policy in terms of who gets to take part in Cultivate shows, I think the person was asking (on #BlackoutTuesday) about the skin colour of the artists who actually take part in our shows, about the ethnic background of our artists. Generally, in terms of open calls the art does all the talking, we don’t ask people who they are, where they’re from, about their gender, their skin colour, their beliefs or anything else, people submit their art, most of the time their name gives us a big clue in terms of gender, but not always, for example we had someone called Sam in the most recent on-line show, is Sam a she or a he? Who knows, and we have no idea what colour Sam’s skin is? It really isn’t an issue unless the artist is making some kind of point about gender or race or place of origin via their art, unless the artist is making a point as part of their art, it really really doesn’t matter. In terms of the on-line shows we don’t get to meet the new artists taking part for the first time so unless they have a photo of themselves on their websites or they’re painting portraits of themselves we simply don’t know and we really don’t need to know, why would we? When we invite someone to take part in a physical show most of the time the same applies, we see the art either on line or at another gallery, we generally don’t meet the artist until they deliver their art, we don’t know how old their are, how tall they are, what colour they are, we simply don’t ask those questions in terms of the submission process.

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#BlackoutTuesday

When we do have a physical show on we are very much about community, about a metaphorical open door as well as a very physical one, about welcoming people in whoever they are, about breaking down barriers between art, people and community – this is something the Art Council failed to grasp when they insisted we didn’t fit their criteria for emergency funding recently while the aloof un-engaging shut-door gallery up the road, the one where they refuse to have a sign outside or to engage with anyone outside the art bubble in anyway, was considered worth supporting – ,when we have physical shows on, the strict rule is that the door is ALWAYS open – rain, shine, snow, whatever, THE DOOR MUST BE WIDE OPEN and anyone can come in and talk to us about art (or anything else). We’re constantly told by locals that they feel intimidated by most galleries, that they feel welcome at Cultivate shows – engagement is a big big part of what we’re about and anyone can submit to one of our open calls. We couldn’t give you an accurate a breakdown in terms of who gets in simple because we don’t always know, I would guess most group shows have had more females than males but it isn’t by design, the same would apply in terms of solo shows, we’ve had people from all over the globe in our on-lines shows. Our physical shows are dominated by artists based in London but London is a very very cosmopolitan city, we have welcomed people from all kinds of backgrounds, Cultivate shows are open to everyone, all we require is exciting art that we can feel positive about, we are picky about the actual art but that is the only thing we are (very) picky about. I would hope it goes without saying that anything of a racist or sexist nature just doesn’t get in. I’m rather proud of our open policy in terms of community in terms of opening up the gallery to everyone, in terms of who has taken part. Could we do more? We’re open to suggestions, I suspect most of us could do more. Can we get more people of a non-white background involved (I was stuck by something Linton Kwesi Johnson said about black being about everyone who was non-white), I like to think we are very open to everyone but could we do more?

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This week we have been going through lots (and lots) of submissions, most of the time it is a really enjoyable process, we genuinely enjoy searching through people’s websites, discovering artists new to us, it can be really exciting. We do have this policy of never every even thinking about charging artists just to submit an e.mail to an open call process but hey, sometimes it can be rather thankless and we do get close to saying at least let’s fund ourselves a little, not that we ever ever would but god damn hell people, come on! I mean if you refuse to read the rather clear and obvious details of the open call and then fire off all kinds of questions and demands when we tell you we really weren’t looking for video art or photograph, I mean it was clearly stated! I do sometime almost think we should charge people who waste our time and then tell us when they try to engage us in an e.mail debate about why we said no that they couldn’t be bothered to read the details of the open call because there were too many words! (It is tempting to just tell to them go bother one of those shut-door galleries the Art Council happily fund again and again but hey, let’s no go there again, I am still angry about that and no, I have no plan to shut up about it, not while the head of the Art Council tweets out his annoying self-congratulating spin every day and the people up the road get away with hiding behind they’re always locked door and refusing to engage with any of us). It is tempting to just not answer people who obviously haven’t bothered to read the detail , so far this morning of the first four submissions I’ve looked at in terms of the forthcoming Reason show, three of the submissions have been from photographers, two of whom then want to debate our “bias against photography”, and the fourth was from someone who’s only hint of a website is a Facebook page full of photos of him and his mates at parties, clearly he hadn’t read the open call either! Surely it would be reasonable to expect an artist to actually bother to spend a minute reading the details of the open call before submitting their work? Clearly not, Why should we bother with you if you can’t be bothered?

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Nothing is Square Pt.2, Cultivate at Shipton Street Gallery, London E2 – the art, March 2020 – Liz Griffiths, Emma Harvey

And oh and the irony of the artist so recently funded by the Art Council as part of the Covid 19 Emergency Fund telling us how she “doesn’t know what she’d do without Cultivate being there for her” as she submitted yet more of her work? Maybe you’d like to go tell that to Art Council that? I must say the more I see in terms of who has been funded while we apparently “don’t fir the criteria” the angrier I get about it all. I suspect a lot of artists are going to miss the physical outlet that was a Cultivate show, but then I rather suspect (well I damn well know!) we got hit harder than most of the artists and galleries who are receiving emergency funding and and who did “fit the criteria”. If we ever do get back to running physical shows I should make damn sure we don’t manage to do it in a self-sufficient way, actually, if we had ever paid ourselves then we’d be nowhere near self- sufficient, Hey, maybe one or two of you artists who have featured in our shows and want to feature in them again, maybe while you’re busy sucking up and kissing Art Council arse on your social media outlets, while you’re celebrating t he funding you got that allows you to keep making art you then submit to our shows you might consider making a donation to Cultivate from all that funding you got? Then again maybe not, I wouldn’t want to feel obliged to include you in the future. I have had to stop following all Art Council social media feeds now, it does make my blood boil just a little to much during the present situation we find ourselves in.

So today, we’re getting on with the third on-line show during these times of lockdown, we’re wondering about the tokenism of that black square posted yesterday, we’re questioning ourselves. Looks like there’s a full in-box of submissions to go through, exciting, what are we going to find?  The Art Council seem to think we should reapply for funding, thast we might get soemthing next time, which bit of “emergency” didn’t they get? We needed help last month, not a maybe if you fill in another mile of forms on the off chance of pressing the right buttons at some middle class talking shop organisation, nah, eenough of them, on with walking it, yes we have “borrowed” Art Council London’s current branding, let’s create. (SW)

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3 thoughts on “Inclusion, engagement, open calls, open doors, what is the policy? Can we do more? Let’s Create? Blackout Tuesday?

  1. Well said Sean! It’s always really refreshing to read your emails/posts and it’s so good to know that you remain true to your(and many others’) principles especially in these weird and extreme times! Thanks again for all you do and the values you continue to hold true to!

  2. Pingback: ORGAN THING: Sean Scully, Blackout Wednesday, art as a force for good… | THE ORGAN

  3. Pingback: Reality? I can’t Breathe? Art as a force for good? Art can’t change anything, not directly, but… – Sean Worrall

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