The Artquest Almanack is an annual online publication that brings together articles, interviews, research and projects commissioned by Artquest around a unifying 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 finding 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 artists place in the world and adding value to existing effort while 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 a variety of runes – 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, updated 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. Since 2017 we’ve been asking a series of optional questions whenever artists 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 in the wider world. Sometimes what we learn from this data flies in the face of received wisdom about how artists work, painting a picture more complex than funders and governments – and even we – could imagine.
Our annual themes are selected by reflecting on the responses we get from artists to these questions, the conversations we have 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. 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 this first Almanack we’re reflecting on our projects in 2018 around Space – the spaces that artists use to make work and live, with an eye on London as both a site of acute hardship and opportunity. Such spaces are not only art-related – the galleries and vacant shops where artists show their work, and the studios they need to think, make, store and play – but also the wider situations in which they live, learn and teach. Our inaugural edition includes 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. Key insights from our data collection are also presented to illustrate and problematise how we think about ourselves, our attitudes, and what we need.
Over the next few years, we’re planning almanacks on Work (2019), 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.