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The Distinct Role of Artist-Run Centres in the Visual Arts Ecology

December 11, 201211 December 2012

Visual arts and heritage organizations

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Based on a literature review, a survey of 85 organizations, in-depth interviews, and an analysis of aggregated financial and statistical information, this report examines the role and place of artist-run centre (ARCs) within the visual arts sector. The report reveals five “characteristics that define and differentiate artist-run centres”:

  • Self-determination.
  • Support for artistic experimentation.
  • Services that typically include support for exhibitions, support for artistic production, professional development, and the advancement of contemporary arts discourse and critical reflection.
  • A membership structure.
  • “A professional entry point for emerging artists, curators and administrators”.

The report also indicates that centres typically work via collaboration and networking and often are grounded in larger social movements. “From the very beginning of their existence, ARCs have had a desire for self-determination, a vast and expanding collaborative network of organizations and individual artists, as well as a grounding in major transformative social movements.” Gender and cultural diversity, as well as inclusive strategies more broadly writ, is also a pivotal element of many centres’ activities.

The survey of organizations shows that the most common elements of centres’ mandates are exhibitions, advancing the contemporary visual arts, artistic experimentation, emerging artistic practices, critical engagement, and emerging artists. The statistical analysis highlights the programming undertaken by the centres in 2010. In particular, “over 4,000 artists exhibited their work in more than 800 exhibitions programmed by ARCs. A similar number of publications were also created in various formats.” Total attendance at centres’ exhibitions was 2.1 million in 2010.

On average, artist-run centres receive 75% of their funding from public sector sources, 12% from earned revenues, and 12% from private sector fundraising. Artistic expenditures account for about one-half of centres’ expenses (51%), following by administration (23%), facility operating expenses (17%), marketing and communications (7%), and fundraising (3%).

A key priority for artist-run centres is obtaining increased financial resources to support their programming, operational needs, growth in the regions, production of critical publications, collaborative activities, artist residencies, and professional development. Another key priority is achieving increased visibility in the community at large.

The report concludes that artist-run centres “play a central role, supporting the production and critical advancement of emergent artistic practices and contributing to the development of the careers of artists and arts administrators”.

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