Art Futures

Articles that look into the future, predict trends and propose strategies are rarely found in art journals - in the world of business it's a thriving industry and for many a matter of survival. In 'Art Futures' we speculate on what form the art world might take in the new millennium and what kind of role artists might play. As everybody knows, there is only one thing certain about predictions, they rarely come true. So a word of warning: no responsibility is accepted for any inaccuracy or error or any action taken or not taken in reliance on the contents of this article.

It's 2009 and the gallery system has been absorbed into the many consortium type structures that have emerged over the last few years. This has brought about a complete reconfiguration of the art world - with new terms and occupations (prosumers, culture-brokers, corpoculture, provisional consortiums, pro-am circuits, starists, and culturepreneurs) and new economies. These operate on many levels, from grass roots hobbyists to the professional international art stars (or starists). Signs of this new professionalism can be traced back to the late 1990s when the art world was drawn into the creative industries of fashion, design, architecture, and music. Art as a distinct and separate autonomous 'world' was no longer perceived as sustainable or necessary. While many artists, cultural commentators and public institutions were 'blurring boundaries', promoting 'the everyday' and 'accessing broader audiences', the business community was busy assessing the economic potential of cross sector activities and partnerships. It was the convergence of these sectors (principally business and culture) that changed the role of public institutions, the education system, and other institutions associated with art.

Companies have now moved on from the contentious sponsorship and collaborative models to an integrated partnership strategy. As predicted, the economic clout of big business is now greater than the ability of governments to enforce regulations. With rapidly increasing power and influence, many businesses have used corpocultural partnerships to appear more open, accessible, attractive, and mainstream and thus attempt to stem the increasing flow of criticism. This strategy is often referred as Total Role in Society (TRS), where companies develop cultural missions in order to build up an ethical public image. It was TRS that shaped the many mergers and take-overs in the creative industries that led to the close synergy between banks, auction houses, advertising companies, and galleries. Perhaps most insidiously it also opened up public institutions and the education sector as sites for further corporate influence. In the modern economy entrepreneurship is considered the key factor in education. Culture, meanwhile, is now packaged and sold to a range of clients and is serviced by a hybrid professional - the culturepreneur.

During the initial period of European economic convergence and the introduction of the Euro, Berlin was heavily promoted as the European International Art Centre and 'it location' for doing business. With the UK outside the European Union and it's cultural policies looking increasingly outdated and in conflict with European cultural and economic integration, Berlin temporarily became the symbolic cultural capital of Euroland. With no economic and strategic interest in promoting national identity, artists based in Berlin (like most companies) were primarily defined as pan-European. These new European artists (nEas) were the cultural paragon of a fully integrated European Union, defined by location rather than nationality. The nEas were linked to centres servicing the global interests of business clusters, the European parliament and regional governments. This move to redefine cultural difference was also behind the reorientation - after economic and cultural integration - of formerly national cultural institutions, which are now supported and subsidised through multi-national corporations and the Central European parliament.

The more successful nEas (the Champions' League) were not rooted to any particular location (or gallery) and were able to follow capital wherever it went, tapping into local networks, setting up partnerships and identifying trends for a variety of clients. Their bridging role, between communities working on the cutting edge of culture and business, provided the knowledge, information, and association vital to companies requiring local association for competitive global strategies. An information gap appeared and they were early beneficiaries of a new economy.

Some nEas dispensed with the artist tag altogether and started trading information services as culture-brokers. Artists were not the only group in this category - it included many other members of the creative communities that made up the thriving inner-city cultural centres. During this period the terms artist, curator, critic and gallerist came under increasing pressure as they no longer reflected the activities and professional occupations of individuals working in these areas. For culture-brokers art production was simply part of the package. The music, drug, fashion, design, club, and political scenes could be brought together and mixed and matched in a range of formats, from exhibitions and websites to corporate parties and annual reports. As a result, art criticism became just one of many competing discourses and the least effective tool for unravelling the complex structures that culture-brokers inhabited.

Many galleries found it impossible to represent the range of activities that culture brokers were engaged in (whose points of contact and exchange could be achieved elsewhere). In addition to which the client base for most galleries no longer provided the principle source of revenue or for that matter, focus for culture-brokers. In this climate a split developed between those galleries that aligned themselves to provisional consortiums and those that continued on a traditional role of representing artists within the pro-am circuit.

The range of settings you find in the pro-am artworld are broad and complementary: from night classes in draughty community halls through to the glittering and glamorous openings of prestigious museum shows. In the former 'prosumers' (producer/consumers) are encouraged to exercise their creativity. In the latter the 'beautiful people', including pop stars, writers, aristocrats, royalty, architects and journalists, network furiously. The pro-am circuit embraces the wide consumer base necessary to keep the arts industry growing. In 2009 this system is underpinned by the retail, merchandising and marketing sectors and while starists continue to work the media, public institutions service the prosumer markets.

At the turn of the century many public institutions, with their fixed programmes, budgets and deadlines, were beginning to look vulnerable and unable to respond to the pace of change and expectations of their audience, clients and sponsors. In a broad and still largely inaccessible area like culture, where many clients are uncertain and lack knowledge, where gauging the pace of change can be a matter of survival, culturepreneurs emerged to trade access to social networks and capitalise on programming lacunae in both the public and private sectors. As much a product of the drive to professionalise entrepreneurialism as they were of converging sectors, culturepreneurs helped created the new information supplier economies. Their key skills were communications based and included the ability to process large amounts of information and think strategically. They discovered that knowledge was tradable. As players in the image business they were also well aware of the value of product differentiation and branding across a range of formats and media.

Having dispensed with older models of artistic practice these pioneers achieved sustainable professional status through either the one person consultancy or the registered limited company. Fully branded, logo'd up and with their Certificates of Incorporation proudly displayed these companies set about establishing themselves in the emerging markets (not least of which was intellectual property). Culturepreneurs also managed the temporary link ups between a number of sectors to exploit the cross-promotional and marketing potential of cultural presentations. These provisional consortiums brought together business and customers through communication in the media. Opportunities were to be had by those who changed the rules of the game rather than those that persevered with outmoded practises.

Culturepreneurs and the new companies operated as chameleon organisations speeding ahead of bureaucratic dinosaurs and providing the economic and legal framework absent from older 'independent' artist run spaces and gallery system. 'Artist run' was never anything more than a testing ground for the gallery system and a euphemism for 'no money' collaborations with the business sector. The systematic withdrawal of public funding, sponsorship and media interest helped cause the collapse of this area. It was not so much that artists, galleries, curators, and commentators disappeared, the system that had come to define their professional and economic relationships collapsed and in some cases converged with other sectors.

Of course these changes have not occurred without their being some casualties - the demise of the avant-garde perhaps being the most significant. Rumours of the death of the avant-garde have haunted art criticism since the 1960s, but it was not until the turn of the century that its demise was confirmed. With the confirmation of the destruction of an idealised autonomous public culture (fully incorporated as it is with corporate culture, or the corpoculture, of the business world) the avant-garde ceased to have a function. Critical autonomy now lies within the economic structures and cross-sector games played by culturepreneurs - these are the principle battlegrounds of the future.

Anthony Davies and Simon Ford [4 January 1999]

  Previously published in Art Monthly. (223), February 1999, pp 9-11.