MADE IT 2022 - Goin Places Doin Bits
Now in its fourth year, MADE IT 2022 is divided into two parts, part at HOME with an exhibition and public billboard project across Manchester city centre, and part exhibition at Rogue Project Space. It’s the culmination of Short Supply’s year long programme, Goin Places Doin Bits, for which the organisation took time away from its usual activity and traveled across the North West to create better cross-regional dialogue. I’ve had the opportunity to travel alongside them as a critical friend, and document the trip through a Writer’s Residency offering critical thoughts and conversation. One such conversation took place around the topic of MADE IT applicants; which artists feel confident applying for MADE IT and why are those that do, so heavily Manchester centric? The North West is not short on university campus’ or art graduates, yet it is Manchester that produces the most submissions. Has Goin Places, Doin Bits had a meaningful impact or changed the demographics of the MADE IT submissions, either in who is applying or in the artists shortlisted? Though this is only part of what the programme hopes to achieve, it is a signifier for if Short Supply can reach the wider North West region. Now having undertaken most of the programme, what is the return, and what is the landscape for graduating artists that Short Supply has come back to?
I've definitely seen a difference in which universities and which institutions artists have applied from compared to the previous years, I've definitely seen a difference.”
Though Manchester applications are still the majority, we saw a huge leap in submissions from Liverpool, and we’re showing work from some universities for the first time; Lancaster University, Blackpool School of Arts and University of Cumbria. This is quite a big deal considering we didn’t even get to visit some of these campuses, but word spread and that interest in reaching outside of our usual demographic made a change.
Although the organisation has been working with artists and producing events throughout the pandemic, MADE IT, its biggest event and only open call aimed at new graduates, is the measuring stick. This year’s graduates may be the first (and hopefully last) who’ve had reduced access to physical exhibitions during their time at university - specifically in the university gallery. Yet, after a pandemic that shone a spotlight on the shortcomings of the art world, little has changed for the returning 2022 run of graduate exhibitions. When most degree shows returned as normal over spring and summer, the impact of the pandemic and the extreme pressure arts education is under, were still obvious. Cramped spaces, poor promotion (not timely, and responsibility left heavily on students) and stressed underpaid staff with more to worry about than solely supporting their students.
I don’t think that’s something we expected going in with the first MADE IT in 2019. It makes us question what the relevance of degree shows continues to be, if this format is serving a function for its students at all, or if a marginally less slick self-organised show which they could have more control over, and make a smoother transition into the professional art world with, is what the future of these projects should look like.
In this way, MADE IT is a show that feels increasingly relevant. It tries to strike a balance between the scrappy have-a-go of student shows and the fixed professional standards of institutional ones. Poor investment in art spaces, in artists and in opportunities for new art graduates have left a market for MADE IT, as artists scrambling for a post-third year landing pad have somewhere to go - even if not displaying their work, the North West grads have an event to network at and gather around, hopefully squashing some of the misplaced feeling of failure, as they find themselves suddenly dropped on their heads, shut out of the art world and thrown out of the university bubble.
These problems go back years, and the rise in tuition fees haven't made any tangible improvements in these important final degree shows. Rushed BA and MA shows have done these new grads dirty. There hasn’t been an increase in resources, no additional tech staff to help students, or improved spaces for student work to be shown, and graduates are still expected to bundle this work into the same dilapidated spaces, taking up every inch of wall space, every surface and beat up monitor. The institution seems hellbent on getting back to a previous point before the pandemic, even when it was a precarious one. I don't think any artist or student is crying out to get back to this model. If you view higher education as solely transactional, art graduates are being short-changed. There is a wealth of talent graduating into the art world with little-to-no help or guidance, where suddenly the quality of graduates' work pale in comparison to the importance of connections, knowledge and free time (new graduates holding down multiple part time jobs unsurprisingly won’t have the time to spend in studios - if they can afford one). So, once again, Short Supply picks up some of the slack.
Leading up to the MADE IT show at Rogue Project Space, Short Supply featured over 200 graduate artists to be a part of a unique exhibition at HOME in Manchester and produced a series of billboards displayed across town in collaboration with Jack Arts. Rather than cherry picking a few, Short Supply curated an exhibition that showcased everyone, each artist providing an art piece the size of an instagram post covering HOME’s first floor wall. These square pieces were originally designed to be posted on social media but evolved to become part of a more ambitious exhibition.
I think we're doing something bigger here than just being more inclusive, I hope that’s the lasting impact of this year's show at HOME. There are hundreds of graduates out there who are being generous and looking to each other for strength. If that is the case and that strength gets pushed out further and further, I could probably quit Short Supply happy in the knowledge we've been able to do something genuinely cool.
We also hosted online meet ups for the artists to chat to each other before the private view. We were nervous they'd hate that we let everyone in, but they were really supportive - giving us a bit of hope in that bigger change we're trying to make.
By accepting everyone who applied, Short Supply did away with the usual graduate programme in which one or two artists are elevated and the rest of the group left behind. These participating artists have now had work exhibited in HOME which is something not every artist will have (both good for their CV and for getting their work seen by a wide audience). If only for a short time, it puts these graduates at the heart of the Manchester art scene, treats them as artists (a recurring theme for the organisation), and shows comparable organisers that you can produce great art exhibitions without competition; scarcity is a myth. As the second floor mural reads; community over capitalism. We are the art world.
It was great that we got to do it in three bits, it was really different to the ways that we've done [MADE IT] in the past. And I think that we managed to cover a lot more ground and reach a lot more people, especially in the traveling we did.
For MADE IT at Rogue, 25 artists are exhibiting physical works. Unlike the HOME show, this exhibition is selected by a panel. The submission process and selection has been designed to be as artist friendly as possible. Here, they are treated like professional artists, dealing with a professional organisation, not students dealing with a university - big difference. Short Supply treats artists as the professionals they might not feel like yet, but that Short Supply views them as.
As far as I know, Rogue is the only artist-led space in the city that has step free access, and wow that's a problem but that's also why we've used Rogue two years in a row. It's artist-led, and they're really supportive. Rogue is full of artists that [MADE IT] artists can come in and chat to, it gives them an excuse to invite someone in [to their studios] for a coffee and have that kind of intergenerational exchange.
MADE IT operates on a no strings attached basis, which feels all but stomped out of the art world. You are an artist, and that is all you need to be in this space. Where a lot of new graduates face the complicated reality of DIY spaces, cold open calls and pay-to-play exhibitions, here the artists are catered for, paid and highlighted by the organisation. Their work is given the space it needs, professional documentation is produced and a useful line on the CV is supplied. Again, with no strings attached. There is no expectation to invigilate, market, install, de-install, fund, or bring an audience to this show. Artists aren’t paying the photographer, paying for the bar, or having to staff it. This is rare.
A lot of the feedback that we've had in the past is why haven't I been given a spot? So [MADE IT] really kind of feeds into the idea of community over competition. It just shows how many people want to be in shows and how many people are applying straight out of university.
If nothing else, MADE IT is a success in pushing what is possible for a graduate show to be, not just in its curation and artwork, but in its selection process. Crucially, it is also a success in pushing back against the growing trends of an art world that have failed to provide an entry point for graduates. The chasm between university and the professional art world has widened significantly in the last 2 years, and graduates all over, not just the North West, need bridges now more than ever.