WASTE.AGENCY: INSURANCE ART FUND?

Is there a role for the insurance industry to become more attuned with abstract art as a way of reducing their liabilities, increasing profits while simultaneously helping forge a new way of societal interaction? Utopian drivel? Or possibly an unexpected outcome noted during the Waste.Agency’s abstract art intervention presently taking place in the insurance district of the City of London.

Waste.Agency Window

Waste.Agency, Jon Pigram “I Love Vectrex, Nov 2014

Police forces, councils, NGOs, property developers and many others use the arts when most other solutions have failed to get the result an organisation requires; or more often a politician demands. Yet there is limited hard evidence that the arts DO make any significant difference to society. To satisfy those who see little purpose for art beyond the decorative or entertainment possibilities, the jury is NOT out on the value of art, it has NEVER sat as there is NO case to answer, art has NO purpose!

Of course, for a company embedded in the arts this is nonsense, but as the Arts Council[1] continuingly stress, it is difficult to make the case for public funding of art in a time of deep financial cuts.

A prime motive for the Waste.Agency location is to explore the opinion of the finance world, deemed by some to be the most nihilistic when discussing art, and whether it is radically different to other areas of London and the country where these types of art performance interventions take place. Initial indications are that The City is not much different to elsewhere; in fact there are a number of similarities with the Margate 2011 intervention, which will be subject to a new blog post named, The City Margate [to follow soon].

Strikingly, what is proving amusing are those actually working in the arts in The City. There appears to be an incredible amount of hostility to the Waste.Agency and artists’ work on display. One curator of ‘City museums and company receptions’ fumed at ‘bringing in this kind of work to The City. You just cannot do it!’ she said in no uncertain terms, before continuing that the artists’ work was ‘not finished and poor’. Despite gentle encouragement to write her thoughts in the comments book her rising irritation prevented her formulating a written barrage so she continued with a verbal assault on the work until her phone rang and she stomped out.

By developing a highly conceptual art intervention amongst a host of multinationals this intervention will highlight the power of abstract art beyond decorative reception eye candy.

(Taken from Arts Council England funding application 2014 for Waste.Agency)

It is with a fair amount of glee this story has been recounted to the artists whose work is on exhibit. For anyone familiar with artists, academics and technicians around the Platform-7 network, such ranting is seen as a triumph; the exhibition created a strong reaction.

It also exposed a seemingly bigger issue, the lady’s own relationship with the work she does and how art appears to be seen as a pacifier. Walk around The City this December 2014, and with the exception of Deutche Bank and Rothschild receptions, it is difficult to find anything on display that has real integrity. No doubt expensive, the ‘art’ works generally lack any vigorous inquiry, often radiating artist day job. The lady made vague references to not liking what she does (although what ‘she does’ remained vague). In her day job as an ‘art’ curator, does she see it her role to ensure the work her clients exhibit pacifies their clients and/or employees?

This contrasts what we are seeing in the Waste.Agency. As the comments book is clearly demonstrating, there is a strong engagement taking place with the broader concept and individual artworks’. The City of London environment bores workers; they want to find something to challenge them during their short lunch breaks or time between meetings. Many seem to long for an engaging distraction from their work, to give themselves a mental break, not just a physical one.

As we enter the third month of opening, we are noting numbers of City workers returning to take colleagues on the tour of the Waste.Agency. Hiscox insurers, one of the larger public facing companies marketed the Waste.Agency internally last week to their 500 London employees.

Hiscox Insurance UK internal promotion of Waste.Agency

With over 900 conversations having taken place, 700 with City workers, it is becoming clear there is an appetite for challenging artwork and discussions about subjects that provide a wider context to the world. This wider context is often suddenly equated during the conversation, or viewing an artwork, to a person’s own job or position in life. Incredible moments of realisation have been expressed throughout the last few weeks. These realisations are not amounting to people suddenly leaving their job or becoming a radical, more attuned to rethinking how the job can be used to create a better environment for everyone and in the process become more enjoyable to do.

Returning to the first paragraph. If it can be demonstrated to the insurance industry the potential of abstract art in developing new, positive thought processes and revaluating environments, could it creep into their broader worldview and insurance business practice?

If art can prove that it helps prisoners from reoffending, or interventions along the lines of Waste.Agency or Moonbow Margate 2011 can reduce crime by creating interesting spaces in derelict places, then the case might be made for the insurance industry to ‘invest’ in the arts.

As the economy shrinks and budgets are squeezed the insurance industry needs to find better ways to keep margins steady. By reducing the payout on claims is one route. If art does have transforming impact then maybe an ‘insurance fund’ to supplement the Arts Council and others is a possibility?

John McKiernan

[1] Arts Council England have awarded part-funding towards the Waste.Agency