Who do you make art for?

Kim V Goldsmith Wild Wetlands sound artist Dubbo

Wild Wetlands, video (Dr Greg Pritchard & Peter Aland) and experimental soundscape (Kim V. Goldsmith), outdoor projection at Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo

Fresh on the back of mounting a new work over the weekend and the subsidence of the pre-show nerves that go with it, I’m pondering a question I’ve been asked, and asked of myself many times over the years: Who do you make art for?

Andrew Frost recently wrote an opinion piece for Art Guide titled Some Questions for Artists. There were some great questions in the mix but he skirted around this question of audiences.

I know some arts administrators and non-art-loving friends say it’s a choice to create art; those driven to create will do it regardless of dollars or audience, so why should they be paid or given special consideration? As artists we’ve probably done ourselves a disservice by saying it’s like an itch you just have to scratch. We’ve led people to believe we’ll create new work anyway.

The sound work I presented this past weekend was part of a collaboration and in the program of Dubbo’s major arts festival, the DREAM Festival. I’d promoted it as such. When you work in media and marketing communications, promotion is second nature. I know many people saw the event information either directly from me or through the Festival’s promotions – in mailbox drops, the media and online via the website and social media. I even directly invited more than 100 people I thought might be vaguely interested. Some said they were coming, some were interested, and others didn’t respond either way.

If our work is communicating ideas about the world we live in, we have to have someone to communicate with.

When the skies cleared ahead of our start time on Saturday night like a sign from the gods, barely a handful of people wandered by over the next hour (who weren’t related to the artists), including those I ran towards on a dark street in the hope of encouraging them to stop by. After weeks of planning, site visits, field trips, promotions and some rain-related Plan Bs, this lack of response to my (our) work leads to some soul-searching.

Was it because the weather had been bad earlier in the day? I’d accounted for that in my promotions and told everyone to bring an umbrella. Was it because of the time of night? A 9pm start is the earliest you can start a projection work during daylight saving, but I understand it might be past your bedtime. Were there too many other things on that night for the art-lovers of the city? The opposite used to be the complaint not that long ago. Do people just really not like digital media arts, preferring to watch Netflix at home? Probably. Do people just not like my work or me? Possibly. Do they think that it won’t matter if they don’t turn up because surely there’ll be other people there? Yep, every time.

The answers don’t really change the consequence. So, what is that? When local artists don’t pull local audiences, after a while they don’t bother showing their work locally. This isn’t the exclusive domain of visual or digital media artists either. I consider that a loss.

Why would you put significant money and time into producing professional quality work to be experienced by only a handful of people? Hobbyists don’t spend the type of time and money that goes into works like this for festivals and big exhibitions (where you expect an audience). Sure, professional artists like to be paid for what we do as fair compensation for what we put into our practice, but we also love an audience. If our work is communicating ideas about the world we live in, we have to have someone to communicate with. I need you. You are part of my work.

So, to the strangers, acquaintances and friends who did turn up on Saturday night a BIG thank you from the bottom of my heart. You won’t be forgotten.

And to answer that other question I get asked all the time: No, there won’t be another screening or performance. You can hear an online version of my sound work on this site, but believe me, you missed the whole 360-degree immersive, outdoor ambient experience. Maybe next time.

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