Art and money have always been uneasy bedfellows. The fact is that without the money and patronage of the private sector, very little art would be free (or cheap) to view by the general public. On balance, it matters more that people can see and engage with art, it is one of the catalysts for social change and awareness but it also matters where that money comes from.
The reality is that much of our public art is funded by corporations who are out of step with the growing ethical and social awareness that our actions on this planet count for more than just profit and that we have a responsibility to future generations to put the planet on a more sustainable footing. However, future generations will not see this ethical discomfort reflected in our mainstream art while companies that would be uncomfortable with that worldview are the dominant sources of funding. That is not to say that art is ignoring these issues, just that the blockbuster exhibitions and high profile events, which rely on significant patronage to occur will not reflect these views. Companies are not funding the arts out of altruism; they want to associate their brands with a positive message, how else could they justify that expenditure to their shareholders?
To some, such as Liberate Tate, Platform and Art not Oil, the fossil fuel industry simply has no place in the arts. Thanks to their persistence, in January this year the Tate was forced to release17 years of historic figures, which showed that BP gave sums of £150,000 to £330,000 between 1990 and 2006, an average of £245,000 a year, and a total of £3.8m. The Tate is just one example of many, but it demonstrates the inextricable links between oil and art with the UK’s most reputable gallery claiming that this support will be ‘reviewed’ in 2016. A thorough picture of this relationship is covered in Mel Evans’ new book Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts.
It will take more than protest and activism however. Public art still needs money. It is unlikely that the State will step in (and that has its own moral dilemmas) so what is the solution to allowing more of the public to see more art which makes us think about the relationship between humans and nature?
One such initiative is Human Nature, which was founded by artist and campaign communications guru,
Charlotte Webster. It’s a collective of artists from street artists to photographers, sculptors and painters all united in exploring our changing relationship to the environment. Their first show was a real success and they are now well on the way to establishing the UK’s first dedicated platform for environmental art. Abundance was the founding ‘funder’ for the project, alongside contributions from other ethical brands and the aim is to make the project self sustaining through a mix of grant and sponsorship money – as well from the sale of the art itself.
Human Nature’s artists span decades of experience, mediums and characters. But they are united in a deep appreciation of the natural world. From one of the UK’s leading landscape photographers, Harry Cory Wright, to secretive street artist Jonesy and sculptor Lesley Hilling, we’re now a growing collective of 25 artists with daily requests to join, attracting attention from the US to Poland and Singapore. Motivated by strong values and an ability to facilitate change, there’s a growing groundswell of artists wanting to be heard in the debate.
Human Nature is on a tour of the UK this year, in Leeds at The Gallery at Munro House from Thursday 23 April – Saturday 2 May; at Centrespace in Bristol 16 – 30 July and in London in October. For more information see www.humannatureshow.com
So there we have it, new finance and new energy funding an emerging new wave of challenging and original art. Maybe we don’t need oil money after all?