art user


Leftfield questions: straight to the heart of a project


As well as co-founder of Art User and Director of Outset Scotland, I am researcher-in-residence for an ambitious new initiative called Outset Partners.  This has put me in the way of some fascinating conversations.

Outset Partners are working together to fund transformative projects in the art sector, and it is hugely exciting helping them develop a shared mission and make collective decisions about what they want to fund together.  

Around the table at our first meeting, I asked them to talk about their excitement and their trepidation coming together as Partners, and I used Cards for an Art User as prompts.  It was a fun ice-breaker, but it was also highly effective in bringing out hopes, fears and ideas. In fact, they’ve become our touchstones – I even projected them on screen during our award ceremony in London’s Royal Academy in March 2019!

In their inaugural year, they received 79 applications from 12 different countries and from every corner of the art eco-system - grassroots organisations, festivals, internationally renowned institutions.  The Partners were keen to identify and champion brave, sensitive and intelligent transformation.  Once we saw the power of leftfield questions to get to both the emotional heart and the strategic core of the matter, we decided to use them to interview shortlisted candidates.  

Where’s the tingle coming from? What is anchoring you? What are other people thinking?

Talking to today’s most talented practitioners and professionals about their ideas, dreams and schemes – now there’s a tingle!

We were granted an insight into what it is like at the coal-face of creativity.  When we asked about anchors, they spoke about their previous forays, pilot projects, foundational relationships, the things they would draw on as they forged new paths.  

In the end, Outset Partners awarded 5 Core Grants of £25,000 each and one Transformative Grant of £150,000.  

All of the chosen organisations demonstrated the courage to listen to the world around them and to be open to disruption of traditional power dynamics between institutions, artists and the public.  From school children holding world class design in their hands, to museum constituencies taking control of the future of collecting and exhibition making, these organisations are embracing new models and art practices with an emphasis on openness, collaboration and a society-wide journey towards a worthwhile future.

If I had to sum up the tenor of the field of applications – our unique glimpse of the zeitgeist - it was to move arts organisations towards more openly conversational modes, rather than what we might call tired ‘broadcast’ modes.  This is precisely the energy motivating Cards for an Art User.

Congratulations to The Whitworth, Van Abbemuseum, Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), Hayward Gallery, Chisenhale Gallery, Spike Island, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Kunsthalle Basel and International Curators Forum.

Read more about the awards here