Amateur Performers, Professional Artists And Conflicts Of Interest In The Community
Amateurs by definition are able to produce cultural events more inexpensively than professionals; yet both sorts of performers / promoters are necessary for community cultural (and wider) development. How can these conflicting interests be resolved?
There are inherent tensions in bringing together the ‘community’ and professional artists and performers.
Whilst community engagement is literally bread and butter for some professional arts practitioners (and must be warmly welcomed as such), parallel free / amateur performances may reduce the likelihood of support from audiences for professional performances – which of necessity have much higher overheads. But both are surely needed.
The very activities which give some professional artists a measure of income when they work with amateurs, and which give a first taste of the arts to some members of a community, are also likely to be in direct competition with fully professional performances in that same location / part of town.
Audience time expenditure
It may be worth looking at this issue in terms of time-expenditure on the part of potential audience, and of grant / investment in respect of funders. An example is recitals of classical music by fully professional musicians working in non-conventional locations.
Many more people who are unfamiliar with ‘live’ classical music are willing to give their time to try ‘classical’ concerts if complimentary tickets are available, than if they are asked to pay. And if costs are kept very low, they are likely to want to come again.
This behaviour on the part of audiences may seem unsurprising, yet still funding bodies insist that professionals build large box office income into their bid budgets . Indeed, if the performing group is a ‘business’, it is often not even eligible for grant aid.
Different rules for amateurs?
But the rules are different for amateur / community-led productions. This makes for a very up-hill and unrewarding experience for community-inclined professionals, and is almost a total disincentive to cultural entrepreneurship on the part of these performers.
How can professionals compete against the subsidy available to community groups, especially if they wish to serve the same less-advantaged communities? It’s a challenge, yet public service arts officers still insist they want professionals to work harder at audience-building.
Professional quality, community investment and capacity-building
There are often claims that high quality arts increases the likelihood of inward investment to an area. but this is rarely part of the equation when funding for professional arts groups is considered. How should we build genuine partnerships between the professional cultural community and any given local area?
The issues need to be examined carefully in terms of the micro-economics of expenditure of time (professionals’ and amateurs’) and resources (private and / or public investment). What are the best ways for cultural events ‘in the community” to be supported, managed and presented?
This is an issue of investment in the arts, and in communities. It’s about how long-term sustainable community-embedded arts can be, if the professional practitioners are not supported realistically, and are effectively set in competition ‘against’ much less costly amateur activities.
Aspiration and achievement
The arts offer one of the few examples of ‘visible’ aspirational routes for anyone with talent, but who in a community would aspire to a professional level of skill if it’s quite evident that doing so is not the way to earn a living?
Both are very valuable, but amateur artistic activities are qualitatively different from those of professionals. For the sake of communities and practitioners, the ways in which they are supported need also to be much more clearly differentiated and defined.