Arts after Covid: Lara Thoms on a collaborative vision for the future

At the height of the pandemic in Australia, as existing systems were tested and many faltered, Performing Lines hosted a series of visioning sessions with a small group of leading independent practitioners.

An artist-led initiative supported by the City of Sydney, this group of “interdependent artists” assembled online to take a snapshot of where we find ourselves as an arts industry, and imagine where we might go.

Facilitated by independent artist and co-director of Aphids, Lara Thoms (Vic), the topics discussed were wide-ranging, tackling wage, race and other systemic inequities, the role of the artist, and the sustainability of the sector and the planet.

The group included: Frances Barrett (NSW), Brian Fuata (NSW), Angela Goh (NSW), Amrita Hepi (Vic), Alex Kelly (Vic) Loren Kronemyer (Tas), Bec Reid (Qld), Anna Tregloan (NSW), and Emma Valente (Vic).

While these discussions are ongoing, Lara provided this excellent and rather poetic wrap-up of some of those conversations and provocations that came out of the sessions.

Images: Bryony Jackson

Some of us are finding strength and hope from working digitally with people outside of the arts.

Some of us have brought together groups of artists to lean on each other and gather beyond the neoliberal expectations of outcomes.

Some of us are using this time to find more rigorous forms of self-advocacy.

We are noticing the soft power of salaried arts workers.

That we were atomized before Covid and now face further isolation.

Every project needs others and we have power to pause, lift up, step up, hold up, lean in on each other.

We are remembering the social function of performance spaces.

We are considering a responsibility to our community vs. our personal mental load.

We are thinking about unions and striking.

We are suspicious of adaptability even though we know we are good at it.
We want talk about what we stand for, not how we adapt.

We don’t want to be part of market-driven demand for flat and one-dimensional screen experiences.
Although we know some artists are finding ways to make this benefit them, some are even finding the fourth dimension.

We want to reduce managerial fuckery

– Stop cutting us with your paper.

The system is sick – curators and presenters can be overworked and lacking a curiosity or investment in our ideas.

Respect and value the intelligence of your audiences.

Pool your commissioning money.

Stop being exclusive, nurture our journeys as you need us to survive.

Curatorial care should not be usurped by the spectacle of festival or presentation.

 

Stop summoning us to your offices.

Be Bold.

Campaign for a UBI.

 

Find a common language.
Give us time to get to know you.

Be transparent.

Don’t assume we are working the same hours as you with the same methodologies.

We want to walk alongside you. We also want to be paid for our time.

 

We want advocacy groups to see the gaps.

To advocate harder for independent artists and precarious workers.

To support those on the edges of form, discipline and working.

To tell organisations to do better.

 

We want to decolonise our working spaces and be led by First Nations voices.

We want you to use our dream contracts and our terms of engagement.

We want to present past works and adjust for new contexts.

We want to see artists in leadership roles and controlling the money.

We want more investment in research and to experiment with mobility.

 

We are looking to Queerer, more feminist shared leadership models.

For community doulas to support us through artistic tensions.

To dissolve borders.

Towards making an organisation a political act.

In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.