The relationships between culture and horticulture are fairly fluid, but the way the worlds operate has always been closely tied.
RHS Chelsea Flower show last month, miles from Liverpool, while spectacular, hosted the same perpetual problem that underlies the exhibition programmes in almost all our galleries: a means to an end.
The theme that Chelsea lit up this year was ecological preservation – through, carbon reduction, plastic waste, rising temperatures (and their impact on how, and what, we plant), and the necessity for organic gardening. It’s admirable, and Chelsea makes an impact on the gardening world. They say jump, we say how high. But. Their gardens last a few days, then, despite the efforts of most designers, are dumped, or mulched. Or, in the best case scenario, get lifted piece by piece on to the back of lorries, and carted off around the country, having already been carted up and down motorways to get there.
It’s hard to believe wholeheartedly in something, when the person telling you it uses contradictory methods to tell you it in the first place.
The parallels with gallery programmes might not be direct, but any conversation about bringing local artists into programmes inevitably starts with boards containing few, or no, local artists. Events expecting to teach funding methods and sustainability to small independent arts organisations and collectives are typically initiated by the collectives, rather than the ones with the wisdom to impart.
And in many ways that’s fine, because it’s the responsibility of ourselves to build our own careers, not the responsibility of those who’ve already built their own. It’s the presentation of it all though. The creation of support, which has taken desperation to create.
I owe a great deal to Arts Council England, and their support over the years to Art in Liverpool, and their more recent support in times of crisis. But there are simple changes (whose main challenges are administrative rather than financial) which could have created real resilience for artists in worse positions than Art in Liverpool. More flexible criteria, less ambitious annual turnovers, a blind eye turned here or there to funding history.
There are reasons it didn’t happen, but it’s another moment where the resilience of the sector is presented to us, without real transparency over the way we achieved it.
There are less direct hypocrisies from the art world, than the gardening world, but it all circles back to ensuring that the means we take to whatever end, matches the impact of the end result. The journey taken to support local artists, and ensure the resilience of our industry doesn’t need to start at the top.
And, in case it didn’t come through, I still very much love both of those worlds.