I remember being at a conference a few years ago about arts and creative industries in rural areas. (Creative industries encompassing The Shed and a very impressive women who made bras.) The attendance was a real mixture, but someone found the common thread between the two main constituencies. Artists and farmers may seem very different, they said, but they're alike: both groups feel they are misunderstood and undervalued, both fight horribly amongst themselves, and both are addicted to subsidy whilst thinking they get no support or love from anyone. It was a quip, and got a big laugh – but one that recognised the underlying truth.
An article in The Guardian by Peter Hetherington reminded me of this. It describes the battle hill farmers have to make a living. But also the pleasures and freedoms of ‘being your own boss’, and the value of not being driven by money, but a better balance (and rhythm) of life and work and landscape. The earning figures – from farming – are if anything even lower than those that are quoted for artists. The dilemmas are very similar. The arguments about public subsidy also feel rather familiar.
The discussion of the need to look at the very ‘structure’ of the industry, and the way the individuals and business work also rang bells, as I’ve been re-reading John Knell’s work for MMM recently. The question for artists and small arts businesses is where or how far the ‘countryside guardians’/’guardians of cultural values’ analogy lead us – up a hill or down a dead-end track?