The Artquest Almanack is an online publication that brings together articles, interviews, research and projects commissioned by Artquest around a unifying, annual theme. It contextualises the art world with activity outside of the arts, helping us better understand where we fit as part of wider debates, while creating new opportunities for artists. We bring together our own research with that of peer organisations, both inside and outside the arts, building new insights about an artist’s place in the world, adding value to existing effort, and removing duplication in the sector.
Like all almanack compilers, we will learn from the past in order to predict the future. We want to know what the wider currents and policies are that will affect how we all live and work together. And, again like all almanacks, we will read the runes – our own data collection, project insights, partner organisations, our Advisory Group, critical friends and chance encounters – to build a picture of what’s on the way. Alongside creating new knowledge into artists and their place in the world, the Almanack also provides an ongoing source of research and reading, adding to the suite of resources by a-n, CultureLAB, The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA), CultureCase, and NETWORK at the QMUL Centre for the Creative and Cultural Economy.
Each year, Artquest works with hundreds of visual artists in one-to-one advice sessions and through peer mentoring groups. We also commission artists on research residencies, internships, mentoring and awards, as well as employing dozens of artists, curators, writers and other arts workers to deliver our programme. Via our online services we hear from hundreds more who answer a series of optional questions when they get in touch, ask for advice, or apply for opportunities from some of our partners: a completely anonymous source of data unparalleled in the art world that helps us better understand how artists work. Sometimes what we learn from this data flies in the face of received wisdom about, painting a picture more complex than funders and governments – and we – could imagine.
Our annual themes are selected by reflecting on the responses we get from artists to questions we’re asked, conversations with partners, and the wider political and social currents facing the world. The arts cannot be considered independently: artists need homes for their families supported by precarious careers; galleries and studios, particularly in London, are threatened by urban regeneration; funding is a political choice based on low levels of public support; recession leaves empty premises in town centres which artists are adept at turning into temporary studios and galleries; a climate crisis of our own making threatens our survival. It’s vital that artists better understand the complex web of interaction of politics, economics and public opinion on which their livelihoods, exhibitions and studios depend. Our Almanack is an experiment to help in this aim.
For our first year we used Space as a theme to reflect on the spaces that artists use to make work and live, with an eye on London as both a site of acute hardship and opportunity. Our first commissions were articles on international approaches artists have to space, social embeddedness and how artists use domestic spaces, a case study of the business model of an affordable studio group, and how the spaces available to make work changes artistic practice. Further policy changes that affect artists and the wider community add to this picture alongside a reading list of key research and reports on this topic.
Looking back on 2019, our forthcoming Almanack collection includes articles, transcripts and research around Work – the attitudes and values artists hold along with the practical implications and strategies they use to find and make opportunities.
Over the next few years, we’re planning almanacks on Equity (2020) and Success (2021) – if you have interests you think might be useful, get in touch or leave a comment to add your voice to the debate. You won’t agree with everything we say – and we welcome disagreement and dissent.