Rewilding the arts ecosystem

A discussion paper on multidisciplinarity in the arts in Canada

Author: 

Based on 11 case studies of Canadian artists, collectives, and organizations engaged in multidisciplinary practices, this report identifies “key characteristics of multidisciplinary approaches … to develop and sustain their practices, activities and structures” as well as their key challenges and opportunities.

The report notes that multidisciplinary artists’ “activities include the mixing of artistic disciplines, community- and socially-engaged arts, Aboriginal and culturally diverse arts practices, technology, science, and the blending of for-profit and not-for-profit mandates, among others. These artists, collectives and organizations pose new and continued challenges to funding models that were created in response to different times and based on the Western system of disciplinary specialization. They engage in practices, projects and activities that respond to contemporary society differently, are informed by different cultures and traditions, diverge from disciplinary norms, and/or stand apart somehow from recognized forms of artistic creation, production and dissemination.”

Seven characteristics of multidisciplinary artists’ approaches to their work are identified in the report:

  • “Valuing an approach that is inclusive or multiple in its conception”
  • “Flexible, multi-purpose space or multiple spaces to serve multiple agendas”
  • Employing multiple skills and strategies to organize and sustain their work, including a “need to develop diverse revenue sources”
  • “Experimenting and exploring beyond their own sphere of knowledge, contact, training, or experience”
  • “Adapting to external factors”, which is identified as “key to developing and sustaining practices, activities and structures productively, successfully”
  • “Presenting the unusual”
  • Working with communities to “help make their work and daily survival possible”

Five key challenges of multidisciplinary work are:

  • The burden of “bureaucracy and administration”
  • A “desire for more opportunities and greater recognition and acceptance for their work and the work of other colleagues/peers. Many feel their practices are not well-understood.”
  • The ongoing “struggle to make funding programs 'work' for them”
  • A need for greater access to “flexible spaces for creation, production or presentation”
  • A precarious situation (“wondering how to survive, let alone thrive”)

Opportunities arising from multidisciplinary art include:

  • Positive reception from audiences
  • The openness of galleries and artist-run centres to multidisciplinary work
  • Opportunities to work with new colleagues, share responsibilities, and mentor others
  • The beginnings of wider recognition of their work (e.g., “the larger art world, the mainstream art world is starting to catch on to what we’ve been doing.”)
  • A strong sense of community, especially with like-minded practitioners

The author’s reflection concludes that multidisciplinary artists can be seen as leaders in a “rewilding movement in the arts: Being hardy, resilient, outward-looking, expansive and anti-silos; rejecting inherited systems and disciplinary norms; resisting institutional policies governing use, objectives or outcome; reclaiming lost, under-represented, absent, non-standard or uncommon values and relationships, and creating new ones; guided by curiosity; supported by ingenuity; pioneering frameworks; and (re)generating vitality… all the while embracing uncertain outcomes.”

Summary: 

Based on 11 case studies of Canadian artists, collectives, and organizations engaged in multidisciplinary practices, this report identifies “key characteristics of multidisciplinary approaches … to develop and sustain their practices, activities and structures” as well as their key challenges and opportunities. The report notes that multidisciplinary artists’ “activities include the mixing of artistic disciplines, community- and socially-engaged arts, Aboriginal and culturally diverse arts practices, technology, science, and the blending of for-profit and not-for-profit mandates, among others."