Work is Dead! Long Live Work!

Today I turn 52. I actually thought for most of last year that I was heading for 53 until my wife informed me the other week that I had inflated my age by a year. 

Claire Angel Bonner performing music specially selected from opera’s of the 19th Century for BasementArtsProject at a FREE community gig at St Luke’s Cares Charity Shop.

Despite my advancing years, I still cling naively to the belief that some things must sit outside of our accepted economic system, and that other ways must be found to ensure that everybody can afford to live. After all, the system that we have lived under for a long time now has never seemed to work. Innovation, a concept recently trumpeted by our current Prime Minister, relies on financial independence. 

How do you transpose that culture [Start-Ups] from places like Silicon Valley across the world where people are unafraid to give up the security of a regular pay cheque to go and start something and be comfortable with failure? […] You’ve got to be comfortable failing and knowing that that’s just part of the process.
Rishi Sunak talking to Elon Musk about encouraging people to give up job security in order to take risks. (October 2023)

This statement assumes that only those with independent wealth have the ability to innovate, which is of course not true. It seems that many of our policy makers and leading lights of commerce are philistines, believing that knowledge and wisdom are taught, never change, and the parrot fashion regurgitation at age 16 of said knowledge as though it were unassailable fact, determine whether we have anything to offer in later life or are heading for the scrap heap.

The reason for this belief in their own wisdom comes from privilege. Our Prime Minister’s comments betray his lack of understanding of the situation for the majority people, not just in this country but around the world. To be comfortable with failure as part of a process you have to have comfort to fall back on. For many this comfort extends as far as being able to ensure a hot meal each day. Comfortable failure is not possible in these circumstances so we are forced to rely on the innovation of those who do not really have the capability to innovate.

Employment: the writing on the wall

Today also marks an anniversary other than my fifty-second trip around the sun, and that is twelve months since giving up my job of nearly nineteen years. As if to pre-empt Sunak’s speech by a number of months I proved a point with an act of economic self-harm from which I am still trying to recover. For nineteen years working in a local gallery in Leeds City Centre I suffered the indignity of being asked on occasion, as did those around me, “is this what you do all day?”. This question invariably came from the well-heeled patrons of the art scene who I felt should really know better. Of course my answer was yes, and if I didn’t you would not be able to visit this building and relax with art because it could not open”. 

My decision to leave was driven by a desire to work, as an artist/curator/director/project manager within my own community here run South Leeds. Twelve months down the line and twenty-one unsuccessful funding applications later I have not managed to earn a single penny to keep going. The savings made from working have run out and the money to keep going still eludes me, yet the evidence of what people involved in the arts at ground zero do is there to be seen.

Tunstall Road land with the detritus of inner city living at its heart.

A once despoiled piece of land is now entering its third year of being a clean and tidy pocket park  with a somewhat magnificent sculpture by artist/sculptor Keith Ackerman at its heart. Along with Keith and John Barber who acted as a technician on the project we ran a year of stone carving workshops with members of the passing public who helped us create their own stone benches for the park. Over the last two years we have also held two concerts on the land, enjoyed for free by audiences that booked and people who were passing or waiting for the bus on Tunstall Road.

Installing Jacob’s Ladder

Inside our venue here at BasementArtsProject (28 Back Burton Terrace – just one street up from Jacob’s Ladder) we have had one of the busiest years since pre-covid times, with ten projects involving many talented artists, seven here in South Leeds, one at Blank_ Gallery at Leeds City College, another in Athens, Greece and another at Paradise Works in Manchester. The youngest exhibitor was 10 year old James Tortice, who raised £550 for autism and ADHD charities. Across the rest of the year the age range went from recent graduates in their early twenties to artists in their fifties and sixties. The glue that binds these people together is the desire to make art accessible to everyone. They, like me would be appalled at the prospect of being asked “is this what you do all day?”. 

10 year old James planning where to hang work for his charity sale.

It is important to remember that many of the people who dictate how we spend our time for the majority of our lives will not get out of bed without large financial recompense, all the while expecting that we should for a pittance. The message from BasementArtsProject and all of those that have worked with us since 2011 is that art of a high standard is, or should be, accessible to all and can lead to the development of skills that folks may not have realised that they had a penchant for or interest in. These skills do not stop at art,  they are transferable to other areas of life, but it is through creativity that such things develop. Creativity is fulfilment, money is survival.

March 2023: Leeds Arts University undergraduate Loane Bobillier installing her first solo show at Basement – with technical assistance from sister Lila

As I sit here typing this whilst having a birthday coffee and donut from the Karpaty Bakery, also based here in Beeston only two minutes from ‘The Basement’, I wait on a decision from Arts Council England regarding a funding application that will keep our lights on for another year. I have my fingers and toes crossed as this is all that I really want in life – to keep putting art out there for people to love or loathe, but at least be able to access so that they can decide for themselves.

Leeds’ smallest gallery. It may not look like one – but it is

I can also report at this point that Leeds City Council has agreed to light ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ at night.  I hope that we can have this up and running by the onset of winter this year. Big thank you to Cllr Paul Wray who has supported our projects over the years. We will make sure that you are all invited to our grand switch on.

Bruce Davies | 30 March 2024

Tunstall Road land with ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ at its heart. (Winter 2022)

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