Blow to Cumbria’s artistic reputation?

Date: Tuesday 26th September 2017

Sir, As a long-standing visitor to C-Art, I have made an annual journey from Kent to Cumbria to research and enjoy the excellent visual art being practised here.

This year I leave with a mixture of disappointment and near-fury at the mess that this “festival” has become.

I am deeply concerned, not only by the organisational chaos which I list below, but more profoundly because the event appears to have lost its previous sense of direction.

The publicity document calls it a “visual arts” project, but devotes pages to music and performance events, at the expense of genuinely visual art.

The impression of moving away from its roots is reinforced by the treatment of the Open Studios event, with only 32 open this year compared with 82 in 2016.

Several artists spoke to me also of the problems caused by the initial announcement that Open Studios would last only three days, followed by a change of plan to nine days, which in at least one case was not communicated to the artist himself.

Extraordinarily, the dates of C-Art were kept secret until well into 2017, which cannot have done anything for its publicity and was very inconvenient for anybody trying to plan a holiday date.

Communication and information have been lamentable. The 40-page publicity document is more than 50 per cent. large photos and the remainder is highly defective “information”, in practice very uninformative.

The list of contents is is not in the same order as the sections in the document and has no page numbers. The spreadsheet of dates on Page 5 contains no reference to art in extraordinary places, pop-up galleries or other galleries.

Unlike the excellent booklet catalogue of previous years, dates and times for open studios were not given, rather an instruction “check for individual artist times”, which proved to be extremely difficult unless one located by chance the obscure instruction to download the reference guide to studio opening times, as checking individual artists’ listings showed several offering no dates and times.

To visit individuals’ websites might have been helpful, but seven out of 32 open studios gave no website address in the document and 10 out of 52 “members” were in similar state. There was no explanation of the status of “members” and no clarification as to whether they would be open for visiting.

The map shows symbols for galleries, pop-up galleries and art in extraordinary places without names, place names or identification numbers, making it impossible to search systematically.

The list of galleries did not state who would be exhibiting; the list of pop-up galleries did give those, but gave no date or times and six out of nine gave no website address, making them impossible to research.

This wearisome catalogue of administrative failure is serious enough in itself, but I detect two symptoms of a deeper problem.

The inclusion of various forms of performance with little or no element of visual art and a noticeable tendency towards dumbing down is an awkward and indefensible shift of direction for C-Art.

The increased focus on the Cumbrian artist of the year is on the face of it a good idea, but Rheged presented a narrow list of exhibitors, partly because several exhibited three works each, reducing the space available for others.

The quality of work was the most disappointing for all the years I have visited C-Art; many excellent local artists were not exhibited or did not enter; in either case, a huge missed opportunity.

At the same time, overall there was an absence in all categories of the talented amateurs who abound in Cumbria and need the encouragement of exposure and the opportunity to learn from each other.

This year C-Art lost its way and Cumbria’s artistic reputation suffered a blow which will reflect on its tourist industry. The organisation needs to seek out and listen very carefully to the feedback from participants, refuseniks and visitors to ensure that it recovers its sense of direction and former success. Yours etc,