Rant 85: Homegrown talent: who cares?

Rant 85: Homegrown talent: who cares? Allistair Burt, The Small World Experiment, 2005

Axisweb Director Sheila McGregor responds to Landing Place: the local in the international, engage International Conference, by asking if UK galleries are doing their bit to support local artists?

Let me first of all declare my internationalist credentials. I voted for membership of the European Union, dislike nationalism (including the Scottish variety) and enjoy travel to art exhibitions and events in other countries.

But am I alone in groaning when I receive yet another gallery press release or marketing blurb beginning with the now clichéd sentence, “This is the first UK solo show by [substitute name of foreign artist]?”

Who is this addressed to? And what is it designed to prove? Clearly it’s aimed at a professional peer group rather than the average interested audience member, and what it demonstrates is membership of an élite curatorial club of art professionals who roam the world in search of new talent.

Of course artistic production has always been subject to international influence and exchange. My complaint here is about a creeping imbalance in exhibition programming, the promotion of ‘international’ as inherently good and the demotion of ‘local’ or even ‘national’ as implicitly a bit second-rate.

It would be interesting to analyse the amount of Arts Council England funding allocated to the big NPOs (National Portfolio Organisations) that supports UK artists as opposed to work imported from other countries. 

More and more, it seems to me, the task of nurturing home-grown artists falls to small artist-led initiatives and project spaces, the very organisations that are under threat as public funding for the arts diminishes.

At the risk of appearing unfashionably parochial, I believe the internationalism of the art world has unintended consequences for the health of our own visual arts ecology. Artists need the developmental opportunities that larger art institutions can provide.

But that’s not going to happen without a paradigm shift in the model of curating that dominates galleries in the UK today. 

Contributed by Sheila McGregor
Sheila is the Director of Axisweb.

Sheila McGregor's staff profile on Axisweb

The views expressed in The Rant are those of Sheila McGregor and forum contributors and unless specifically stated are not those of Axisweb. See our terms and conditions


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