Auditing Phil

Phil* is a young visual artist who has recently graduated from art school. They have experience exhibiting at commercial, artist-run and university art spaces and in a curated festival, and received a development grant from a major arts funding body.

For Phil, if funding is available, training and skills development is valuable for an art practice, making the artist “more open to having an output for [their] ideas”. It is also worth investing in the right relationships and connections in terms of thinking about the future.

*Names have been changed

(Reblogged from thebryonykimmings)

Obligations in Contemporary Theatre and Performance Practices - a postgraduate and early career researcher conference at the University of Exeter, 31 January, 2014


Artists Independent Auditing Creating Value was borne from curiosity around how those involved in the arts might quantify what they do through measurable outcomes.

Independent/artist/auditor Megan Garrett-Jones gave a ‘lecture performance’ at the University of Exeter Obligations in Contemporary Theatre and Performance Practices Conference in response to this article: ‘Arts Funding, Austerity and The Big Society’. Co-published by the Arts Council England and ‘21st Century Enlightenment’ organisation RSA, the paper attempts to show how the arts sector may bolster the “rich story” of how they create value, the necessity of this being to increase resilience against economic austerity and linked Big Society policies. We are in a position of being asked; how can the arts justify their demand for public funding? Authors of this article, John Knell and Matthew Taylor, write,“If the arts wish to make a serious case about their value, they will have to become more serious about measurement” (pg. 21). Arts organisations have long been wisening to their potential for social instrumentalisation, and simultaneously embracing relevant auditing frameworks for assessment such as Social Return On Investment (SROI). SROI converts difficult-to-measure social (and environmental) benefits of activities into monetary terms. Chief Executive of the SROI Network Jeremy Nicholls makes some interesting points about how a standardised language of returns can help a ‘public’ more effectively commission change and address the big problems of our time.*

So should all art produce explicit social returns? Surely this would be the end of art as a unique field. For Knell and Taylor projects may also be measured for artistic instrumentalisation,but even art for art’s sake can be evaluated. Again they suggest the helpfulness of systems that translate the value gained by those involved into a monetary figure such as Willingness to Pay (WTP) and Contingent Value (CV) (pg. 19).

We might find this at odds with the way art might seek to exist alternatively to the weight of market forces, to even challenge the state of austerity or Big Society (that art critic Claire Bishop has described as a “thinly veiled opportunistic mask: asking wageless volunteers to pick up where the government cuts back, meanwhile privatising services crucial to education, welfare and culture”), and generally with the way that artists work. Nonetheless, Taylor and Knell provide a provocation that’s hard to resist: “if political discourse invites questions about individual wellbeing and good society, surely artists should have the confidence to engage” (pg. 27). They also allow that establishing value is something to be resolved only through practice.

The implications of art conforming to a systematised economic approach aside, one embarking on a process of evaluation may soon stumble upon a ‘crisis in measurement’, particularly upon a cursory reading of contemporary debates within social sciences. Data is variably unstable, dirty, dehumanising, performative, exploding in its excess, and irretrievably entangled with its processes of collection and interpretation. From such debates we can take that valuation is an action: “understood in the sense of a process, a form of mediation, of something that happens in practice, something that is done to something else” (Fabien Muniesa, 2012, 32). Also, we may be unnerved at processes of research creating value out of life itself. For Ana Gross, part of such a process is the anonymisation of subjects, understood as erasing attachment, “facilitating new appropriations and reconfigurations of vital emissions aiding in the process of making the vital emissions more thing-like and thus more amenable to ownership” (2012, 120) or exchange, we might add.

Megan Garrett-Jones stages a performance as part of this presentation with the duel aims of taking the forms or measurement as poetic form, and allowing the discussion of value to come from the voices of arts practitioners themselves.

Knell, Matthew and Taylor, John, Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society: remaking the case for the arts? 2011, RSA pamphlets, here
Muniesa, Fabien ‘A flank movement in the understanding of valuation’ from The Sociological Review: Measure and Value, ed Adkins and Lury, 2012 here
Gross, Anna ‘The economy of social data: exploring research ethics as device’ from The Sociological Review: Measure and Value, ed Adkins and Lury, 2012 here

* Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for converting social benefits into a monetary symbol if it means being able to interject into the single track, economy-is-all mentality of some of those in power.

The identity of my interviewees have been obscured for the purpose of anonymity and consent. The categories they represent are a visual artist who works solo at a stage of reevaluating her practice, whom I shall call Ms Black, a producer and curator at a contemporary community-based arts charity, whom I shall call Molly, and a performer working largely in collaboration who has had the development of her most recent project funded by a grant from the Arts Council England whom I shall call P.

Ms Black perceives investment in sacrifice, things forgone for the sake of being an artist: proximity to family, stability, attachment to a home, relationships.

For Molly, valuation is a process of translation, dialogue across the various vested interests, or beneficiaries, as she prefers avoiding the word stakeholder, which she says is at times shorthand for funder.  

P hesitates to say that investment in her practice is a productive use of resources, but she thinks that it is a good use of resources.

Originally performed as part of  a presentation for the University of Exeter ‘Obligations in Contemporary Theatre and Performance Practices’ Conference, Jan 2014.

There are two principal ways in which reflective human beings try, by placing their lives in a larger context, to give sense to those live. The first is by telling the story of their contribution to a community. This community may be the actual historic one in which they live, or another actual one, distant in time or place, or a quite imaginary one, consisting perhaps of a dozen heroes and heroines selected from history or fiction or both.

Rorty, Richard. “Solidarity or Objectivity?.” In Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers Volume 1, 21-34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. pg 21

Of course all communities require a degree of imagination - to imagine a combined past and a combined future. Solidarity is not just imagination though, it is work. It is labouring together.

The other way, by the way, of giving sense to one’s life, is in relation to a “non-human reality” (ibid), for Rorty this second way is a push towards objectivity (absolutes as in Truth or progress), whereas the first is for solidarity.

the institutionalisation of artistic research [is addressed by substantial criticism] as being complicit with new modes of production within cognitive capitalism: commodified education, creative and affective industries, administrative aesthetics, and so on. Both perspectives agree on one point: artistic research is at present being constituted as a more or less normative, academic discipline.

A discipline is of course disciplinarian; it normalises, generalises and regulates; it rehearses a set of responses, and in this case, trains people to function in an environment of symbolic labor, permanent design and streamlined creativity.

Hito Steyerl, Aesthetics of Resistance? Artistic Research as Discipline and Conflict, from mahkuzine 8, winter 2010.

The value created by artistic practices might be described as ‘surplus’; to the requirements of survival and in a Marxist sense, an output surplus to the input of material, tools and labour. In the latter, labour represents a commodity to be bought by the capitialist. Surplus is what allows for the accumulation of wealth by the capitalist. What does it it mean to generate surplus value? Can surplus value escape the logic of capitalist production?

the continual clashes with practices that strive for very different goals and obey very different rules is also precisely the condition that makes it possible for art in public space to have a different existence than the exciting but commonplace life of art in the gallery and exhibition practice. […] The possibility of misunderstanding is the principal power of works of art in the public domain, precisely because they are situated on that intersection of practices.
Jeroen Boomgard (art historian and critic), ‘The Art of Publics: Fielding Misunderstanding’, Open 2012/No. 24/Politics of Things, 16
download article
TED pushes the philosophy that there is value in ideas, but not value in delivering them. What’s wrong with paying for speakers?
Frank Swain, Freelance science writer and speaker.