CornCCoB reflections (first published 16/4/2013)
I want to sum up my overall reflections from my time in Cornwall carrying out fieldwork on the CornCCoB project.
Most (if not all) of my interviewees talked about Cornwall as having a thriving and vibrant arts scene and community. At least three people suggested that you “shake a tree and a bunch of artists will fall out” (and others – words to that effect). Some talked of Cornwall as being over saturated with artists – so many that it becomes impossible for any of them to make a living from it. Indeed many of the artists I spoke to were involved in many other professional roles in order to bring the cash in to support their lives as artists. This is particularly true of those artists who had made the decision to pursue their own artistic journeys as a priority over creating pieces that would be likely to sell. But back to Cornwall – through my various conversations I understand Cornwall to be a place of many contrasts. On the one hand, thriving, colourful and buzzing with year round cultural events, with a population who are genuinely engaged with arts and culture. On the other, seasonal strains that come with the huge influx of tourists who flock to the coastline of Cornwall particularly in the summer. Due to tourism, generally economically viable (even thriving) on the coast, but deprived in many parts of the centre due to the downfall of the mining industry, leaving little other than the fishing and tourism industries to support the area and resulting in heightened unemployment rates. Yet a strong sense of identity pervades in all areas – be it a very localised identity, or a strong sense of Cornishness that sets the locals apart from other parts of the UK. It’s perhaps also worth mentioning that many of those I spoke with feel that part of this identity comes from the unique geographical isolation brought about by living in a Peninsula – being “stuck down here” and remote from other parts of the UK – certainly not always seen as a bad thing, often seen as a strength.
Despite the strong sense of community (both of place and interest) experienced by most of my interviewees, many spoke of being an artist as being isolating. This is where social networking online has been of value to many of them – allowing them to connect with others for both social and professional reasons (and often a blurry mixture of both). Some use social networking entirely to connect with their audience or potential clients – in order to raise their profile, sell work and raise their own levels of confidence in their work (people are “liking” it!). Others are more interested in connecting with their professional community – to learn of opportunities, build their network, or even to obtain professional critique of their work. One person even suggested that for some artists, too many pedestrian likes on FB of a piece of work may actually lead them to question their own views on that piece. For some them, social networking is a powerful networking, social and marketing tool. For others though it presents problems – some find it hard to pick out the useful information from the chaos, others find it a meaningless form of social interaction, preferring to distance themselves from technology as communication and explore more meaningful forms of connecting. Yet perhaps social networking can make it easier for some to connect and interact – might it be easier to slowly enter a dialogue online than to initiate a conversation face to face at an exhibition opening, for example? I think the take home point is very much that (as with almost everything) it’s really down to the nature of the person in question. It’s not for everyone. Whilst many of those I spoke with are realising the potential and beginning to engage with these tools, others are searching for other ways to engage online or even offline in a culture which is becoming increasingly biased towards social media. One artist feels constant pressure to “join in” with Facebook, but after several attempts concedes that it’s not for her. It’s perhaps also to do with how high your profile already is. Perhaps if you are already successful in a number of prestigious galleries, social networking isn’t as crucial? Perhaps those galleries are even doing social networking on your behalf.
For most of my interviewees, the web is an ongoing learning curve which they feel that they need support or training with. For some this may be with social media strategies – for others it’s web design, or even finding routes to online engagement beyond Facebook and Twitter, which fit better with their own preferences or ways of working. In terms of the roll out of superfast fibre that is taking place in the region, most weren’t quite sure how they might use the additional capacity. Once again it seems to come down to media-based companies (photographers, film makers) as needing the most bandwidth. Perhaps then this is another area that needs consideration – do people need support to realise the value of the extra bandwidth? Or do they simply already have what they need? As a final point, an interesting emergent theme is that of connecting the digital and analogue. This takes different forms for different artists but is something that I will speak more about in due course.