Art in Liverpool issue #23, August 2021 – Editorial

This is the first issue we’ve printed since the start of the pandemic. I don’t really know where to start on explaining why, but I’ll give it a go because the parallels between our experience and that of our friends and colleagues working in the arts over the last year have been pretty similar. It’s important to share the reality of that time.

First though, I want to say to new readers. We’re printing more this month, and hopefully every month going forward. If you’ve not come across Art in Liverpool before, we’ve been going as a website since 2004, and started printing in 2018. The point of this newspaper is to give monthly updates on everything happening in Merseyside’s art world, to anyone who has even the slightest interest in it.

Back on track. In February 2020 we knew something was happening, and we were clearly headed for a lockdown. In March it happened, so we cancelled our print run, knowing nowhere was going to be open to pick the paper up from. We considered postal news, but our budget didn’t stretch. We considered online pushes, but there were so many cancelled exhibitions that there was very little to write about.

Then, in April, it was decided that both Independents Biennial (our core production project) and Liverpool Biennial were being postponed. Not only that, but funding that was as yet undecided was being moved into another Arts Council Budget, so we had no control over our funding for the next twelve months.

That in combination with the postponement, meant shifting a four year programme back, and relying on the hope of emergency funding. We were lucky enough to get our emergency grant, but others weren’t. The knock on effect of postponement was that the artists confirmed for Independents Biennial didn’t have their commission. They did get it in full in March 2021, but the events leading to that meant that Art in Liverpool and all the artists and freelancers we worked with, bar two, had a big chunk of income taken away for a full year.

By July 2020 we’d gotten used to not printing a paper, and fairly used to having limited news to share, other than digital festivals.

In September we thought there was a chance to print again, galleries briefly opened up and we started publishing weekly email newsletters again. But then lockdown 2 hit us. So that went on hold.

I’ve been told not to put this out there, but I think it’s important. This newspaper is paid for by the advertisers – most of which are partners on other projects, and galleries we’re humbled to work with every day – but a year out means we’re about £16,000 down, even with Independents Biennial. And that’s not factoring in other projects we were hoping to have launched by now which have been either postponed or cancelled altogether.

If we’re £16,000 down (which is about 1/3 of our turnover to put that in context) and still managed a full biennial, I’m incredibly worried for other organisations, especially those without buildings or who work from home. Organisations who are set up as limited companies, or C.I.C.s whose directors have been either ineligible for support, or unable to take advantage of furlough. Those who have “fallen through the net”.

The net we keep getting comforted by has missed so many, and still feels bitter, given it was created for a purpose it wasn’t fit for.

With all that said, there is a slim chance that July 2021 marks the end of lockdowns, if not the danger of infection, so it’s financially possible to be an artist, and run projects again.

There is a sense of starting again with a clean slate. Not by choice, but still a fresh start is a useful prospect for many. But if that start isn’t met with a fresh start from funders, local authorities, and major sector support organisations, we will end up back where we were; with artists earning £6k a year, studios existing without heating and core funding being a dream rather than a goal.

There’s an opportunity for change, but it will take effort rather than time to achieve. I’m hopeful, because I know there are people in high place with a desire to skew funding in favour of artists, but for now, we’re where we were.

I can’t quite tell if that was a rant, or if it was useful. But if we stop talking about the financial strain of the small organisations who represent most of the sector, it will be forgotten.