Where did you first hear about UpStart, and what was your initial response?
I first heard about UpStart on the social networking site, and my initial response was extremely positive and hopeful.
Who do you think the campaign is having a bigger effect on: politicians or the public?
It’d hard for me to say as I haven’t had any conversations with politicians about the project. I also think it’s worth breaking ‘the public’ down into many publics to answer this question. For instance, it is mostly art publics and people interested in the election campaigns that I have heard talking about UpStart. I think the effect on those working in the arts has been a stimulating one; reminding people that it is always possible to do something to raise issues which are personally important. The viewpoint from people interested in the election campaigns seems to be encouraging, with a general preference to see art instead of candidates’ photographs on the street poles.
UpStart aims to stimulate debate about the arts. Do you think it has been effective so far? If so, what have people been saying/debating about?
I think UpStart has been effective so far in opening conversations about support for the arts. Although the National Campaign for the Arts have also been working hard to raise awareness about the value of the arts in public life, I think the direct action campaign by UpStart offers a more accessible way to get involved. Some of the conversations have been about the relevance of certain art works to the election campaign. However, I think most people agree, no matter what the content of the works, it has been a success in terms of getting artists involved. UpStart offered a platform to artists who otherwise may not have found a way to express their feelings about the government’s support of the arts.
What are the advantages of using public spaces, such as the streets of Dublin, as exhibition platforms over conventional gallery spaces?
I think one of the main advantages of using public spaces as exhibition platforms is that it attracts not only a bigger audience, but a different audience. It can rouse interest in people who would not normally attend exhibitions in galleries or museums, and give more of a sense that art is for everyone. I feel there are great advantages in enhancing public environments and stimulating debate. It can also have an effect by inspiring other people to take to the streets with their own culture jamming ideas.
And are there any disadvantages?
It’s possible that some people may feel alienated if they don’t know what the project is about. And there’s also a question of taste; not everyone likes the same kind of thing, and some people could be offended or angered by overtly political projects.
Some people think public art is more democratic. But can art ever be accessible to the ‘masses’, so to speak, or is it inherently elitist?
I don’t think public art is any more democratic that art in galleries or museums, if anything it could be considered less so, particularly in relation to commissioning processes. We do not get to choose which, if any, publicly funded art works are placed in our local area. I also think we are fortunate in Ireland to have so many museums and galleries which are free of charge, making art less elitist and more accessible to many.
Should art be political? Why/why not?
I think all art is political. In the same way that every choice we make is political. Since ‘the political’ is an ever-present possibility, artistic and cultural practices can never be independent from it. This is why many artists working with political issues avoid the term ‘political art’, as this implies that other art (or ‘real art’) is not political. I also believe that art should tackle politics and political issues as it has the potential to be a neutral space. Obviously, there is a danger of becoming propagandistic when one is working with political themes, but there is also a lot of possibility. Political issues often come down to who is represented and how, and art how has a power in questioning, altering or reinforcing representations. This can allow audiences to see things differently, question their own judgement or at least accept that what we know is not everything.
Can the arts survive without funding?
Perhaps the arts can survive without funding, but what use is surviving when we should be striving for better art and better conditions for artists and arts workers. I believe that many artists will make work whether they are being paid/getting funding or not, but I don’t think this is the point. Nor do I think it is fair to expect artists to work without pay, which seems to be a commonplace assumption – you wouldn’t expect any other professional to do you a freebie, would you? I think critical engagement is important in striving to improve the quality of art and the discourse surrounding it, and I feel it is therefore vital for the Arts Council to also support curators, writers (critics) and other arts workers.
What do you hope people will take away from the UpStart project?
I hope that people will see possibilities for raising awareness in direct action and culture jamming processes. I hope philanthropists (if we have any out there) will realise the importance of projects like UpStart and choose to offer funding and support. I hope that those who have not been supporting the National Campaign for the Arts, for whatever reasons, have found something in UpStart to support instead. And finally, I hope that people who have not considered it before, will think about the value of the arts to public life.