Monday, 16 November 2009

Art in whose community ?

A very rainy Saturday afternoon saw us visiting the annual 'open studios' event at the Chocolate Factory. This is a labyrinth of small studios converted from the once derelict Bassetts' (as in Liquorice All Sorts) factory in Wood Green N22. It can be found by following the laughable-to-anyone-who-knows-the-area road signs to the "Cultural Quarter". Paris' Left Bank it is not.

I really want to like the event and the thinking behind the arts centre. Fuck knows this part of North London could do with a bit of culture other than the Wetherspoon's pubs and the multiplex cinemas. And doubtless the intention behind the organisation that runs The Chocolate Factory, Collage Arts, formerly Haringey Arts Council, was to address this.

Sadly though, from what I saw on Saturday, as is so often the case with subsidised support for the arts, it seems to be the middle classes who have benefited most.

80% of the work I saw, with some honourable exceptions, ranged from the entirely predictable to the downright crap. Quite a bit of it looked like something from an 'A' level art student's portfolio - and if the artist had come from the local community that is probably where it would have stayed.

But most of the artists were a million miles away from the local community - in fact there was a general air of middle class smugness about the studios: From the mulled wine being handed out, to all those piercing home counties accents, or the restaurant with fish and chips and aioli for a tenner.

Damian Hurst was in the papers this weekend, amongst some other staggeringly arrogant things he had to say about conceptual genius (such as his own ?) versus merely learnt technique (such as Rembrandt !), he did hit on something when he went on to say that success in art was primarily down to self-belief and persistence.

These are two values which are apparently particularly strong amongst the chattering classes, facilitated by the cushion of family money - and encouraged by a well-meaning community arts organisation.