I’ve been a community artist of one sort or another for forty years. 2015 was one of my best years practice-wise, thanks to the organisations who gave me opportunities. I was lucky enough to get funding from Luminate Festival of Creative Ageing to develop a project Trading Wisdom which celebrated both the grittily lyrical wisdom of my mum’s generation and also the shops and businesses in Inverkeithing High Street.
I was also commissioned by Starcatchers to consult with early years practitioners about what their dream creative nursery setting and day might look and feel like, and then create a participatory exhibition to communicate findings to policy makers.
Fife Gingerbread also commissioned me to do a creative consultation with children whose parents are participants on their ‘Making it Work’ project, to see what they were getting out of their parent’s involvement.
I couldn’t have been busier, but inspite of this I was facing a financial black hole by Christmas. Austerity means funding has been cut to the bare bone and organisations need to do more and more for less and less. Also, in this climate, one-off pop-up projects are the norm, rather than long term development projects. Freelance artists are very vulnerable in this context. As if to manifest this situation, on the 28th December I fell coming down a hill and smashed my left wrist to smithereens. The worn old boots were implicated. I was shaken to the core. Thanks to Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy for amazing treatment.
In March my friend Diana sent me a miracle cheque through the post to give me ‘breathing space’. Since then, for the last 6 months I’ve felt like a different person. Normally when I get a stash of cash it comes with the overwhelm of having to deliver what’s been promised – a hyperbole of a proposal . I figured I could grant myself a few months sabbatical. I’ve spent time gardening, doing yoga and drawing. I’ve been able to take life, and sadly death, as it comes.
After the trauma of Brexit, I went on an internet hunt to find some solutions rather than problems and found myself revisiting the idea of Citizen’s Income – a basic income for everyone as a right of citizenship. Gradually I realised that I could frame my sabbatical as an experiment in living a citizen’s income.
It brings dignity – I can contemplate having my grand nephew for a holiday without having to ask his mum or grandad to subsidise it. With the help of ‘used on eBay’, I can buy myself boots for all seasons which will help keep me upright and unbroken and support my dodgy knee. I can take my car for an MOT without feeling like chicken licken with the sky about to fall on my head!
I can invest my energy immersively in art projects, using the fee as top-up rather than essential for life – in today’s climate we have simply lost the wherewithal to fund artists work in a sustainable way. For example, I was lucky enough to be involved with Matt Elliot in the redesign of Frozen Charlotte website. I was paid the proper, going rate for 10 half days work. But thanks to my ‘citizen’s income’ I have been able to live with the project for three months, sometimes at the front of my head, sometimes at the back. That’s how artists make their best work, to the benefit of everyone. I went for a walk today and without heeding, this page emerge effortlessly and surprised me.
In the true spirit of artistic experimenting I will also be looking at the problematising of citizen’s income, to get as full a picture as possible.