marcus westbury

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What’s the difference between enabling and programming?

October 26th, 2013 by marcus

 

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Following on from yesterday’s post where i boldly declared that “interaction with funding bodies actively destroys enabling mechanismsseveral people responded to what i thought was pretty much a throw away point. It was my quick and dirty way to frame the debate. They either asked about or noted that they’d appreciated the explicit distinction i’d made between an “enabler” and “programmer” when it comes to arts policies and arts organisations.

As the comments accumulated, particularly over on Facebook, I realised that this “enabling” v. “programming” distinction is one i’ve used in my head for a while. I’ve probably kind of grazed past it in writing but never really stopped to take the time to articulate it. So, just for fun, this morning i sat down and did a little lazy table that makes a distinction between how i see an enabler differing from a programmer. This list is by no means definitive. It’s not even particularly thought through given i knocked it up an hour ago. Consider it my whiteboard scrawl, not my thesis — but it’s the basis of a discussion i’d be keen to be part of.

I believe we need more enablers or more organisations that behave that way. The overwhelming majority of funding and resources goes towards Programming and that we need to invest a lot more Enabling, but it’s also worth making one additional point:  reality is most organisations do, in fact, have some qualities of both. This isn’t a binary thing but i think if you take this frame in mind you can see where resources cluster in relation to the spectrum.

So with that in mind, should you find this the slightest bit interesting i actually did you all a bloody table…

Enabling Programming
Relationship to the creative practitioner The practitioner is independent and autonomous. The enabler is primarily a service provider who works for the creative practitioner – designed to do things they cannot do themselves. Endeavours to be responsive to their needs and limitations. More likely to “employ”, engage, hire, or direct a creative practitioner. The artist, at some level, is a means of filling the organisation’s need for a program.
Certainty A low degree of certainty, security, and predictability is traded off against the ability to do more things, take more risks, and support more people and experiment with more audiences. A high degree of certainty, security of funding and resources traded off against a more limited capacity for risk, experimentation, and failure.
Assumption about creative practice That it is relatively decentralised. That it comes from a very diverse range of independent practitioners, with a diverse range of qualities, needs, and opportunities and is made for a diversity of audiences. That is relatively centralised. That there are a smaller number of higher quality artists whose works can be channelled, promoted, sold or exposed to a relatively fixed/ predictable series of audiences.
Identity That projects, artists and programs are primarily presented with their identity (and not the brand of the enabling organisation) at the forefront. That this is important in building the capacity of their practice. The programming entity tends to subsume the identity of individual artists, events, programs and initiatives under its “brand” eg the venue, the company, or the festival, etc
Timeliness Accumulates smaller activities and grows them over a longer period of time. Starts with today, tomorrow the next day and builds a cumulative capacity of projects individually and collectively. Plans well ahead and at a larger scale. Does individual activities, sequentially or in parallel but usually for fixed period of time before moving on to a new one.
Audience Seeks to connect an individual project or artist with the appropriate audiences not the organisation’s fixed one. A diversity of audiences to match its portfolio of approaches. Connecting audiences and discovering new ones results from engaging with a breadth of projects. Usually stems from a fixed idea of who the market, the demographic or the audience is. The relationship to the fixed audience (eg. The subscriber, the return visitor) is actually the key value the programming entity holds. The brand positioning of the organisation determines the market and content.
Approach to “quality” More likely to involve a “portfolio of risks” where are a variety of things of different standards, experience, and potential are allowed to co-exist. A spectrum of “qualities” as opposed to fixed idea of quality. Primarily emphasises “quality control” where the bar to entry is high or matches the perceptions of its relatively fixed sense of who its audience, constituencies and stakeholders are.
Risk Focuses on upside risks and opportunities of doing something. Sees the dangers of not doing something are more important than the fear of doing the wrong thing. Is driven more of fear of the dangers of downside risk. Risk averse and afraid of doing the wrong thing.
Genre boundaries Less likely to be defined by boundaries of genres and artforms – more likely to be defined by areas where practical needs intersect (eg. Creative people who need empty space, or legal advice, or some other area of benefit). More likely to be defined by traditional boundaries of genres, artfroms, and areas of practice.
Infrastructure Assumes that a variety of infrastructures are required to achieve a range of ends. Looks for the possibilities within a range of formal and informal, physical and virtual infrastructures – is willing to vary those as required. Often tied to infrastructure – a theatre, a venue, a hall, a gallery, a program that needs to be filled, relationships with services providers (eg. caterers). The logic of filling the fixed infrastructure drives may creative and programming decisions.
Use of resources Seeks to do a lot within the limitations of any available set of resources. Seeks to be adaptable and flexible in response to resource constraints. Seeks to attain the resources required to do things “properly”, “professionally” or to a fixed standard. Reluctant to compromise on “quality” and places more emphasis on seeking appropriate resources than adapting to available ones.
Legitimacy and authority Has a low (but not zero) capacity to confer legitimacy on a project or artist through a relationship Has a high capacity to confer legitimacy or authority on an artist
Financial arrangements Usually not in an position to take a great financial risk of investment in an individual project so must compensate by providing practical support of other kinds Can, in some cases, invest considerable finances in individual shows or projects. Can lead to higher quality outcomes but more risk averse programming or greater consequences of failure.
Allocation of Resources Resources often tend to remain outside the enabler — they flow directly to, or are brokered directly on behalf of the artists and creative projects. They are less likely to pass through the enabler’s books and less likely to be cash. Can be harder to quantify but more efficient. Resources are more likely to pool within the programming organisation in the form of overheads, salaries, facilities and other costs. More likely to be quantifiable and show up on the books of the programming organisation but less likely to be efficiently delivered to the artists.
Uncertainty Embraces uncertainty as fertile ground for possibility. Treats it more as a series of risks to the status quo

Image: Studio Batch (a 3D printing, craft and design studio) which is part of Renew Australia‘s Docklands Spaces program. 

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34 responses so far ↓

  • 1 unsungsongs Oct 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    What’s the difference between an enabling and programming? http://t.co/vHmuMrS1pp

  • 2 21Cphilosopher Oct 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: What’s the difference between an enabling and programming? : Following on from yesterday’s post I made a TABLE! .. http:/…

  • 3 unsungsongs Oct 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    The artist is independent and autonomous v. someone “hired” to fill a program? http://t.co/fT0Cevh7m0 #artspolicy #enablingdebate

  • 4 unsungsongs Oct 26, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    the ability to do more things, take more risks v security of funding and resources http://t.co/fT0Cevh7m0 #artspolicy #enablingdebate

  • 5 unsungsongs Oct 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Creative practice is relatively decentralised v. a small number of artists and audiences http://t.co/fT0Cevh7m0 #artspolicy #enablingdebate

  • 6 Phikl_ Oct 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: What’s the difference between an enabling and programming? http://t.co/vHmuMrS1pp

  • 7 djtrimboli Oct 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: the ability to do more things, take more risks v security of funding and resources http://t.co/fT0Cevh7m0 #artspolicy #ena…

  • 8 pipsterb Oct 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    @unsungsongs agree with proposition but not nec with the detail. Missing some ideology & economics. Wld also like to be in that bigger chat

  • 9 modelmirror Oct 26, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: What’s the difference between an enabling and programming? : Following on from yesterday’s post I made a TABLE! .. http:/…

  • 10 Gin_ev_ra Oct 26, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: What’s the difference between an enabling and programming? : Following on from yesterday’s post I made a TABLE! .. http:/…

  • 11 Gin_ev_ra Oct 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    .@unsungsongs I’m enjoying this series of blog posts, and there’s definitely a place for both enablers & arts programmers

  • 12 modelmirror Oct 26, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    @unsungsongs via @a_small_lab “enabling” v. “programming” for arts http://t.co/RA3KSfKqRe me: reason to enable through llc rather than npo?

  • 13 Leah Fawthrop Oct 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Interesting thought process. I think Hunter Arts Network and Art Bazaar err on the side of Enabler with a smattering of Programming. I think we consciously try to be more on the Enabling side of the equation. It’s a balancing act – but primarily the Artists choose their direction.

  • 14 unsungsongs Oct 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t.co/fT0Cevh7m0

  • 15 wheelercentre Oct 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t…

  • 16 KahneRaja Oct 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t…

  • 17 KahneRaja Oct 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    I like it and so I RT it! @unsungsongs :)

  • 18 AmyTinderbox Oct 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t…

  • 19 DanielSchlusser Oct 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t…

  • 20 Martin Stewart-Weeks Oct 28, 2013 at 12:35 am

    This is great…not half-arsed st all!

    The key issues are control and risk, as you have identified. Programmatic investment has a low tolerance for what the investors perceive as risk of failure and need to feel deeply in control. Enabling investors have a higher tolerance for more risk and less control.

    In the public sector especially, generally programmatic investment is favored precisely because it appears to offer the best chance of low risk and high control. The problem is that this instinct tends to undermine at least some elements of the investment rhetoric, which often claims to be searching for innovation and new ideas, but behaves in ways almost guaranteed to undermine that outcome.

    As you say, the situation is rarely a simple binary choice and governments are capable in some circumstances of strikingly enabling investments (it’s kind of how the Internet was invented, to take an example from a different field).

    But too often funding paradigms in the arts, welfare, human services and a bunch of other areas are badly tangled and often terminally confused.

  • 21 martinsw Oct 28, 2013 at 12:36 am

    @unsungsongs have put a comment on the blog

  • 22 loosemacg Oct 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

    RT @unsungsongs: I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t…

  • 23 NielsOeltjen Oct 28, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Good thinking by @unsungsongs on arts funding:
    http://t.co/ua7ljcHOE3

  • 24 Sam Trubridge Oct 28, 2013 at 7:13 am

    I’m a little confused as to who is being referred to as programmers in this context, but will proceed with my assumptions about this that can be corrected as necessary:

    The model of ‘the enabler’ (as it is positioned here) assumes that all the artist needs is someone to make it happen, that their work itself is untouchable, it does not need to be questioned, and that it does not require curatorial contexts for it to be read/understood by audiences. Sometimes this is the case, but in any healthy arts ecology there are plenty of artists who need to be challenged, who need dialogue about their work and need programmes, venues, or contexts for their artforms and practices. It is not all about the artist. Although artists are pretty important, audiences are important too. For good reason audiences are often attracted to exhibitions, collections of artists, and ideas presented in a programme of events, so they can participate in more than just the individual artist’s egotistical singular statement but see works (even when it is a solo exhibition) that have been pushed to their greatest potential and arranged in a thoughtful, creative way. Marina Abramovic needed the input of more than just enablers for her exhibition at MOMA – her ‘agent’ put his foot down on involving David Blaine, and thank god. As an artist myself, I know that the times when I have worked hard to achieve a certain standard, then the input of a producer, curator, or criteria set by the programme that I am working towards all help to take my work further than I ever could have imagined. The model of the ‘enabler’ sounds like a subservient role, and as an audience member I am often bored by art that is so self-centred and solipsistic because the artist has not been challenged to explain their ideas or to consider the context/audience of their work in a rigorous way. By definition the word ‘enabler’ privileges the artist, while the word ‘programmer’ privileges the end-user/readability for a work. Of course there is a balance to be set here, and that is why I often use the term ‘curator’ because it speaks of consideration in both directions: (1) in the direction of artist development and support, and (2) with awareness and responsibility towards an audience, even if it is to challenge that audience, to take risks and to push conventions.

  • 25 unsungsongs Oct 28, 2013 at 7:22 am

    RT @NielsOeltjen: Good thinking by @unsungsongs on arts funding:
    http://t.co/ua7ljcHOE3

  • 26 beatrixcoles Oct 28, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Nice work from @unsungsongs and also highly relevant to the film world: http://t.co/Hg5L6vaV1z #filmmaking

  • 27 c41 Oct 28, 2013 at 7:27 am

    RT @NielsOeltjen: Good thinking by @unsungsongs on arts funding:
    http://t.co/ua7ljcHOE3

  • 28 sallywhitwell Oct 28, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Enabling or Programming? RT Currently Reading http://t.co/vcxzRaJObC

  • 29 marcus Oct 28, 2013 at 7:34 am

    @Sam … you’re key line is “Sometimes this is the case” (or indeed it is simply that for many artists somewhere outside the formal funded structures provides the challenge, dialogue, venues, and contexts) and it’s probably more than 10% of the time. Yet 90% of the funding (vary figure as necessary) goes to the programmers.

  • 30 WITA_now Oct 28, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Was interested to see this comment in a blog from Marcus Westbury over the weekend…it made me think again about… http://t.co/KFofMsGZix

  • [...] This follow up post tries to explore the distinctions between programming and enabling.  [...]

  • 32 AD_Innovatas Oct 28, 2013 at 9:27 am

    RT @unsungsongs: I’ve either totally rethought the paradigm of arts funding… or written a slight half arsed blog post. You decide! http://t…

  • 33 Andrew Hiskens Oct 28, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for the really interesting post, Marcus. It’s helped to clarify my thinking too.

    It also helps explain a personal affinity with emergent possibilities (‘enabling’ is essentially providing a context for the emergent) and being less keen on a top down approach.

    But I think there are places for both. It’s a bit like cooking v baking. Baking is a precise art – things in their right proportion, at the right temperature, for the right time – or else failure. Whereas cooking is more organic – how much salt? what if we substitute chicken for pork? more chilli?? – all to make it more surprising.

    The question is – how much baking, and how much cooking??

  • 34 hamishcurry Oct 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    RT @unsungsongs: What’s the difference between an enabling and programming? : Following on from yesterday’s post I made a TABLE! .. http:/…