CULTURE AND PRECARIOUSNESS

It seems that the cultural sector is reluctant to abandon its almost endemic precariousness. Since the crisis made its appearance a decade ago, the blows are still there, though they adopt, it’s true, different forms and produce consequences of very different nature. In turn, culture, as such, is still a sector of economic content, subject to the same avatars as the other areas of activity, and a sphere in which the same patterns of inequality and imbalance perceived in other business fields repeated.

The professionalisation of culture has led to a high degree of specialisation of the profiles, giving light to new lines of activity that a few years ago were completely unknown. In parallel, consumption habits, the way of approaching art and the place that exhibition spaces had traditionally occupied have had to adapt to a change in circumstances. This evolution is motivated not only by the prevailing economic situation, right after the new millennium started, but also by the beginning of a period of transition in which a generational change comes together with a deep social identity crisis. This gap in the sense of belonging and the path towards a dehumanising individualism poses numerous challenges, and more so in an area such as culture, whose reason for being rests with the individual and his development in society. Many of these turning points usually coincide with significant world milestones, such as, without a doubt, the beginning of a new century, a situation that in our case came along with a technological revolution that opens up new ways of exploration but also contributes to deepening the uncertainty of our immediate context.

Campaign "no por amor al arte" launched by Plataforma PAC in 2018

All these changes don’t imply a strengthening of the profession or a revaluation of the work done. Although some slightly hopeful data emerge every year, a joint analysis shows that culture remains a very precarious sector that feeds on the passion of those who want to keep it alive. Paradoxically, there is an exploitation of our culture by tourism. The increasing volume of visitors that come to our country every year is a good indicator that, in addition to the excellent weather and the gastronomic variety, our cultural wealth plays a decisive role in. However, mechanisms to achieve a better distribution of these revenues or systems that serve to put culture in its place are not enhanced.

Other contradictions also coincide: the cultural sector is one of the most demanding in terms of required training and specialisation. 69.3% of cultural workers have higher education, compared to 42.9% of the national average (Yearbook of Cultural Statistics MCD 2018), a circumstance that is not accompanied by higher salary compensation. Likewise, there is a slight increase in employment generation (3.6% of the national total), although the number of single enterprises or self-employed is 64.7% and temporary contracts have increased by 19.4% since 2017. Thus, these data draw a sensitive, poorly resistant and depleted panorama to fight against setbacks.

Guided tour in Cádiz Museum

To make it worse, this sector replicates some of the imbalances seen in other economic areas: 60.9% of workers are men, and the remaining percentage are women. This could be an inner feature without major significance, as we know that in other sectors it happens in reverse; but the gap is noticed because there is a high percentage of artists who decide to establish themselves professionally abroad, where they get stability and better pay. A recent study carried out by Marta Pérez-Ibáñez and Isidro López-Aparicio on the situation of Spanish female artists (“Women artists and job insecurity in Spain. Analysis and comparison based on a global study”, Revista Arte, Individuo y Sociedad, vol. 31 (4), 2019) shows that 60% of them move abroad, of which 75% are under 40 years old. It also highlights the data collected on income, where 46.9% of the artists declare to obtain less than € 8,000 per year.

With all this, it is clear that the cultural sector has to face many future challenges, not only to overcome the difficulties inherent to its economic sensitivity, but also to many other circumstances that require a response more in line with the new times and the course of historical events. We will be here working to contribute to this (r)evolution.

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.