Finally a conference that is productive, relevant and thought provoking”.
James McDonald, Studio Manager, Arts Project Australia

On Thursday 7 November 2013, Supported Studios: Possibility and Potential was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The first of its kind in Australia, this forum was designed for a deeper level of engagement with the specific subject of supported studios, showcasing the strengths and challenges in creative partnerships and to recognise the need to bring new points of view into the conversation. This dynamic gathering was over subscribed with delegates from NSW, Victoria and South Australia as well as from NSW regional centres such as Wagga Wagga, Kandos and Nambucca.

Some of the key positions discussed were the opportunities for artists and the art world to move beyond the veneer of Outsider Art when curating, collecting and writing about artists from supported studios. This idea was emphasised by MCA Senior Curator, Glenn Barkley’s talk titled the ‘End of Outsider Art’. The threads of this discussion were further illuminated by examples of practice.

A three-part panel discussion themed Building Culture presented examples from artists run initiatives, curators and artists about projects and creative frameworks where artists with and without disability engage, exchange or collaborate in a critical way. In this panel artists and curators discussed the rewards and challenges of such collaborations and the support structures needed to ensure that all players involved understand the intentions and outcomes of such exchanges.

Curator Sarah McEwan’s slow burn project 8 Artists produced by Eastern Riverina Arts, highlighted this. In her presentation Sarah spoke about the role of the curator and the importance of ensuring a framework where artists understand their role and responsibilities in a creative project and for lines of communication to be clear and accessible. For example, regarding the collaborations involved in the creation of 8 Artists, questions re-visited by the curator were: Is there mutual agreement between collaborating artists? How do we know there is mutual agreement? How do we really know there is mutual agreement?

The panel discussion themed Considering Perceptions, highlighted the difficulties for commercial galleries to sell the work of self-taught artists without talking about ‘the back-story’. Evan Hughes from The Hughes Gallery stated: It is almost impossible for me to sell the work of self-taught artists without the back-story. Evan claims that he does not exhibit work with such narratives but the questions almost always comes-up from prospective buyers. This raises the complex issue of disability disclosure within the particular context of supported studios, where the majority of artists have learning disability. What are the potential tensions between artist self-advocacy regarding disability disclosure versus the current commercial drivers for their work?

The afternoon was dedicated to round-table discussions and action planning for delegates to discuss and respond to key questions in relation to capacity building for studios and furthering intersections with broader contemporary arts communities. These contributions will drive the future directions and focus areas of the Supported Studio Network and will be announced in the new year.

Panel Transcripts [Downloadable Word documents below]