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Redefining the Artistic Relationship: Earth-Care, Human-Care, and Collective Thriving

I've dedicated 25 years to my career as an arts professional, and I'm currently feeling exhausted and disenchanted with the system. Despite the rhetoric surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion, I, even with my privilege, encounter acts of oppression within the art world. The struggles shared by Indigenous people about stolen land and culture, their truths dismissed, and the myriad barriers hindering recognition parallel those faced by settler artists.

This isn't to downplay the impact of colonization on Indigenous communities but to emphasize systemic issues. The arts, certain artists, and institutions are often placed on white pedestals, untouchable and unwilling to acknowledge their role in perpetuating societal divisions through art as a capitalist endeavor rather than a means to understand humanity.

As a performance-based artist engaged in research and community practices, the essence of my work lies in its process. However, the issue arises when others, who witness or participate in my projects, quickly incorporate elements of my ideas into their work without proper acknowledgment.

The narrative rejects the prevailing capitalist notion that every creative idea or project must be owned exclusively, profited from, and that forgetting or overlooking shared influences is an acceptable practice. The perspective presented aligns more with the understanding that artistic ideas evolve through inspiration from other artists and ideas that came before. Rather than claiming sole ownership, the emphasis is on the responsibility of artists to honor their teachers and inspirations and to transparently communicate how these influences shape their work.

The critique extends beyond the individual artist to challenge the broader systemic issues within the art world. It questions the prevailing belief that ownership and profit should be the driving forces, highlighting how this mindset aligns with broader colonization projects. This critical examination underscores the need for a shift in perspective, away from individual ownership and profit-driven motives, toward a more collaborative and transparent approach that acknowledges the interconnected web of artistic influences and ideas.

The acknowledgment of artists as fallible individuals is a crucial aspect often overshadowed by the necessity to project confidence and certainty within the art world. The demand for artistic expression to be bold, assertive, and seemingly flawless perpetuates a culture where admitting mistakes or acknowledging harm done becomes challenging. The pressure to maintain an outward facade of unwavering confidence can lead artists to neglect the impacts of their actions on others and the community at large.

This dynamic is exacerbated by insecurity within the artistic realm. In an environment that often values competitiveness and comparison, artists may feel compelled to present an image of infallibility to establish credibility and recognition. This insecurity-driven need for validation can create a barrier to authentic self-reflection and accountability.

The real issue lies not in the inherent fallibility of artists but in the reluctance or inability to recognize and address harm. Artists who perpetuate a facade of invulnerability out of insecurity contribute to a toxic culture that hinders growth, collaboration, and the overall well-being of the artistic community.

Encouraging vulnerability and humility within the artistic sphere can pave the way for a more empathetic and understanding community. Embracing the acknowledgment of mistakes, learning from them, and openly discussing the challenges faced in the creative process can foster a healthier and more supportive artistic ecosystem. By dismantling the expectation of infallibility, artists can create a space that values authenticity, collaboration, and collective growth, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive and resilient artistic community.

Centuries ago, artists thrived within a society where patrons supported their work and seamlessly integrating the arts into everyday life. However, the contemporary art scene is now dominated by large institutions, prompting artists to seek government funding, thereby creating a palpable disconnect. This shift distances artists from direct community engagement, potentially diminishing the perceived relevance of their work in daily life and contributing to a devaluation of artistic contributions.

In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have demonstrated resilience by providing content that seemingly emerges from thin air, offering solace and reflection to the public. This echoes the expectations placed on Indigenous communities to freely share their knowledge without proper compensation. The parallel underscores a broader struggle for fair recognition and support within the artistic community, as both Indigenous knowledge and artistic contributions face undervaluation.

To revitalize the arts, there is a call to reconnect with the roots of artistic patronage, embracing a renewed relationship between artists and the public. By recognizing the intrinsic value of art in everyday life and fostering direct community engagement, we can ensure that artists receive the appreciation, visibility, and fair compensation their contributions deserve.

The call to redefine our relationships as artists is a plea for a fundamental shift in how we perceive and cultivate opportunities within the artistic realm. The prevalent belief that validation and opportunities must solely come from institutional and granting sources has left the majority of artists grappling with a sense of struggle and exclusion. By reframing this relationship, we have the potential to foster an arts community where artists not only survive but thrive, contributing explicit value to the public.

This redefined relationship envisions an artistic landscape grounded in principles of earth-care and human-care. Returning to the land and actively listening to Indigenous voices becomes a crucial component of this transformation. By prioritizing these values in art-making and community building, we embark on a journey of re-rooting and re-membering, acknowledging the interconnectedness of artistic expression with the broader context of our shared humanity and the environment.

As this shift unfolds, it promises a future where artists break free from institutional constraints. They will choose to honor their inspirations, openly acknowledge past harms, and celebrate with the public in a way that transcends hierarchical structures. This vision anticipates a day when individuals within the artistic community recognize each other's humanity, embracing the complexities of their experiences, and understanding the interdependence necessary for collective thriving. It is a call for a more inclusive, sustainable, and harmonious relationship between artists, their creations, and the communities they serve.




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