Being on a board is something that only absurdly busy, overachieving types seem to do. The kind of people who are already chief executives of one thing and head up something else seem to be on all manner of them. Hence my foolhardy belief that being a board member of a thing would entail little more than bothering to show up to meetings once in a while and maybe having the odd vote on stuff that other people had to do.
So, over a year ago now I became a board member of a thing. And it turns out there’s a bit more to it than that. It’s been hard work — in the space of the last year we lost one chairman, and then carelessly lost another, and in the darkest times even considered packing the whole thing in. But we’re overseeing something that has a history, and collectively, we decided we could not let that happen on our watch.
I’m one of the people bringing together this year’s Independents Biennial, and I mention it now because after a lot of groundwork, it’s actually starting to feel like a REAL THING that will REALLY HAPPEN. And despite the odd wobble still, it feels good.
What’s the Independents Biennial then, and what’s it got to do with anything, I hear you cry. Oh, yes. When you’re living and breathing a project it’s often easy to forget there’s going to be people out there who haven’t even heard of you. Sometimes you can get ahead a little ahead of yourself.
Here’s the lowdown. The Liverpool Independents Biennial is the fringe event that accompanies the Biennial proper. Where the main event hand-picks artists from across the globe to create high-profile pieces for the mainstream galleries and in public spaces, the Indies stepped in to create opportunities for local artists and smaller galleries to be part of it all as well.
With an international arts festival happening on the doorstep, it makes good sense for everyone else to come together under one banner and showcase the wider offer of Liverpool’s arts scene at the same time, alongside the official event. The Independents is a collective that is every bit as interesting and as valuable as the Biennial itself, a rich and vital strand just as much as Bloomberg New Contemporaries or the John Moores Prize.
Like so many others, the Independents used to be able to rely on Arts Council funding. This has dwindled over the years, and now there’s none. Our main, indeed short of a miracle the only source of funding we have is the registration fee we charge artists and venues.
It’s something the Independents brought in for the last festival in 2010, and it caused some consternation. But now, without being dramatic, it is our lifeline.
What do we do with that money? We promote the Independents, print a brochure, and flyers, and keep our website going. Nobody gets paid. We don’t curate or run to a theme like the Biennial itself, and artists can display whatever kind of work they want, wherever they want, for the run of the festival (September 15 – November 25): a day, a week, a month, whatever it needs to be.
This year, the Independents Biennial site has been developed so all artists involved have their own microsite space to self-upload any information they would like to put up there, even virtual galleries. And artists can maintain their site all year round, not just for the run of their exhibition. This is starting to attract international artists who can’t be in Liverpool for the event too.
Registration for artists is open until the end of July and, in the spirit of Live Aid-era Bob Geldof, we need that fookin’ money. After this deadline, although you will still be able to get involved, you’ll have missed the chance to be in the brochure.
So we’re urging people to get organised and get involved now – yes we need the funds to survive, but that’s almost not the reason why.
Liverpool Biennial is the biggest contemporary visual arts festival in the UK, and the scale and diversity of its fringe, the Independents, is a major addition that really should be something to celebrate and be proud of. Let’s bring it on.
For more information on the Independents Biennial, or to register, visit us at www.independentsbiennial.org
Top image by Tony Knox