April 24, 2024


I Fall For Art

Reviving Art’s Inclusivity: Challenging the Dominance of Privilege

Within the art realm, there’s a disconcerting pattern—wealthy heirs, socialites, and the privileged elite often dominate the spotlight, reshaping the narrative of cultural epicenters. Yet, this narrative clashes with the harsh reality of escalating rents, the weight of staggering educational expenses, and an entrenched culture of exclusivity. All these factors conspire to tip the scales of success, leaving the art world heavily skewed in favor of those already endowed with wealth. Recent data, released in December 2022 by the Office of National Statistics, paints a grim picture, revealing that the proportion of working-class creatives in the UK had halved between the 1970s and the 2010s.

In this disconcerting landscape, a rising generation of artists, curators, and gallery owners, all without the privilege of silver spoons, is making its mark on the British art scene. Nine of them have come forward to offer a more authentic perspective on their journey into the art industry, sharing the formidable obstacles they’ve confronted. In the year 2023, they question why discussions about class and socio-economic divisions remain alarmingly taboo.

Larry Achiampong: Art as a Vehicle of Resonance

Larry Achiampong, renowned for his public commissions, including a 2022 project that reimagined the London Underground roundel in pan-African colors, finds immense pride in his work, particularly “Wayfinder” (2022). This feature-length film delves into the depths of themes close to Achiampong’s heart—belonging, displacement, race, class, home, and heritage, all set in an undefined future amid a pandemic.

Hailing from London’s East End, Achiampong, a young Black father at 24, reflects on the hardships of those early years. He laments that his background often led to his art being dismissed. He highlights the stark contrast between those with monetary privilege, who can make bold decisions with their art, and those like him, who must navigate a far tougher path.

Achiampong’s primary concern today is the soaring inaccessibility of art education. He observes that the rules of the game have shifted drastically, making art school an unattainable dream for many aspiring artists. He emphasizes that those with extreme privileges hold the power to reshape the art world, a challenge he believes should be directed squarely at the ivory towers where these power structures reside.

Ellie Pennick: Guts Gallery and Challenging Norms

Ellie Pennick, founder of Guts Gallery in 2020, originally aspired to create art rather than deal in it. However, financial constraints and limited access to influential circles led her down a different path. She initiated shows in the function room of a pub she resided in, evolving Guts into an online and nomadic platform.

Pennick acknowledges that the lack of financial resources and limited access to influential circles posed significant challenges in sustaining her gallery. Nonetheless, her working-class background has fueled her unwavering determination to champion emerging artists. She notes that the art market’s link to showcasing social status and affluence challenges the notion that art is solely about aesthetic appreciation.

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Georg Wilson: A Journey Rooted in Passion

Georg Wilson’s artistic journey began with an early passion for art, which led her to study art history at university, partly in the hope of securing employment. While pursuing her studies, Wilson painted during nights and weekends, dreaming of a career as an artist. However, maintaining a studio in London emerged as a daunting and stressful endeavor. Space constraints and exorbitant costs often left her evicted from studios or priced out of others.

Collaborative projects have offered Wilson the most rewarding experiences. She emphasizes the importance of broad access to art education in maintaining a diverse artistic landscape. In her view, the government’s continual cuts to arts in schools limit access to art education, resulting in a cultural landscape that is both confined and uninspiring.

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Woodsy Bransfield: From Trauma to Art

Woodsy Bransfield, a British artist, was drawn to art from an early age. Influenced by his uncle’s artistic aspirations, Bransfield was captivated by the notion of “art school.” Tragically, his uncle’s life was cut short through an act of violence when Bransfield was just eight years old. This incident had a profound impact on him, awakening his awareness of the struggles faced by communities like his—issues ranging from addiction and alcoholism to crime, violence, and incarceration.

Bransfield’s experiences led him to understand the stark disparities in how cases are handled, depending on one’s socio-economic standing. He underscores that art remains an existential pursuit for many, driving them to toil away, often against formidable odds.

Andy Wicks: Navigating the Financial Maze

Andy Wicks, the founder of Castor gallery, shares his journey of pursuing art as both an artist and a gallerist. For years, he balanced his role as a freelance gallery technician and fabricator while pursuing his artistic ambitions. His gallery endeavors kicked off when he secured a free one-year lease on a small café/bar basement in front of Goldsmiths, University of London.

Wicks recalls that his greatest challenge has always been financial. He took a significant leap of faith, leaving his initial space at the end of 2016, despite selling little in the first two to three years. He reflects on the art world’s slow pace of change, characterized by closed systems. He urges the celebration and nurturing of creativity while preserving degrees that may be considered “low value.”

Yates Norton: Curating for Inclusivity

Yates Norton, a curator at London’s Roberts Institute of Art, shares insights into the art world’s privilege issue. Norton suggests that “socio-economic status” may be a more pertinent term than “class,” given its varied historical connotations. Norton emphasizes that stories of triumph over adversity should be celebrated but acknowledges that these stories are just one facet of the daily efforts of many individuals, whose acts of agency often remain uncelebrated.

Norton advocates for a shift in values within the art world, balancing the focus on heroic individuals with a broader concern for building sustainable and inclusive conditions for creating and sharing art.

Maria Fusco: Language and Art as an Outlet

Maria Fusco, an art critic and writer, found her power in language through unconventional means—watching television and listening to her mother’s skillful cursing. Growing up in North Belfast during the turbulent times of The Troubles, Fusco’s obstacles included poverty and violence. Her impactful work, “History of the Present,” an opera-film co-created with artist Margaret Salmon, explores the legacies of The Troubles, amplifying the voices of working-class women.

Fusco believes in celebrating stories of resilience and exclusion but recognizes the need for a broader shift in values within the art world. She advocates for a focus on building sustainable and inclusive conditions for artistic expression.

Olivia Sterling: Navigating the Pandemic and Beyond

Olivia Sterling, a 2020 MA graduate from the Royal College of Art, faced unique challenges during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. She recalls the initial support she received from galleries and fellow artists, which was instrumental in her early career. Sterling’s work addresses centuries of violence driven by white supremacy in a humorous, cartoonish style.

Sterling highlights the art world’s opaqueness and the need for more financial transparency. She urges galleries and collectors to offer more free and flexible residencies, asserting that financial support can empower artists to create their best work.

Bella Bonner-Evans: Forging a Path on Her Terms

Bella Bonner-Evans, now working as a co-curator and head of sales at Studio West gallery, reflects on her journey in an art world often characterized by elitism and exclusivity. After graduating from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2021, she faced numerous rejections while seeking her first gallery job. Bonner-Evans discovered firsthand the prevalence of nepotism in the industry, compelling her to be inventive and resilient.

In Bonner-Evans’s view, the art world’s reluctance to discuss class arises from its inherent design to cater to the privileged few, with little regard for those from working-class backgrounds or limited capital. She calls for more inclusivity and financial transparency within the industry.

These voices, representing diverse experiences and challenges, collectively call for a reevaluation of the art world’s norms and an earnest commitment to inclusivity, transparency, and support for emerging artists and creatives from all backgrounds.