The Problem with Arts Funding, Joss Whedon, and the Prison of the Imagination

In Joss Whedon’s film, Serenity,  the character River Tam is a psychic. She’s also a trained killer and very probably psychotic. She’s plagued by a memory she can’t quite get to the surface. In one of her many breakdowns she cries out to her brother: “It’s not mine. Its not mine and I shouldn’t have to carry it” Psychologically speaking the relationship between artists and the arts funding model in this country – and I suspect elsewhere – is pretty similar. The funding model with its power structures, bureaucracies and instrumental priorities is not mine, and I shouldn’d have to to carry it. And its driving us insane. In short the funding model does not support imagination and creativity. It defines it and constrains it. From a business point of view, it should be the other way round. In other words the funding model contradicts itself.

The story we tell ourselves is that we need that funding. It will help us develop our work and out career and if we struggle long enough then we will survive. All evidence to the contrary. The very size of the majority of the awards available to most artists only serve to limit the imagination, to fuel compromise, to force us to do damage to our magnificent pictures and dreams.

The movement here and in the UK is to move us toward the patron donor and “commercial” models. However, unless we change the wider environment in terms of legislation, attitudes and market size all this will do is increase uncertainty and dependency

Dependency limits growth and freedom. That is the point of dependency.

Far better to acknowledge the enormity of your dream, the breath of your ambition, build a plan to realise it on your own terms, and accept and manage the personal risk.

Do we need funding. Yes. Everything is funded. Banks, business, investment, health, education, roads. How we fund is the issue.

How we fund at the moment creates limitation: on ambition, on independence, on wealth creation. It is not the only way. Its not ours and we don’t have to carry it.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with Arts Funding, Joss Whedon, and the Prison of the Imagination

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