My friend Andy Law brought musician Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame to my house in West Sussex two years ago and presented a clever proposition the two of them had cooked up: What if we were to apply the ideals of fair trade to the entertainment industry? Brilliant! And so was born the Artist Network.
By their very nature, artists are outsiders. They don't hew to the status quo; they experience the world and the human condition in ways no one else ever has, and communicate that experience just as uniquely. That's why great art can't be mass-produced: uniqueness and individuality are what make art, well, art.
But an ever-shorter list of media corporations controls an ever-broader swath of the music, film, and television industries. These corporations have institutionalized culture so pervasively that we're left with movies based on television shows, television shows based on mass-marketed toys, and prefabricated music acts assembled by record labels. Any good, successful idea is cloned and mass-produced until all we have left is a mind-numbing monoculture. I mean, really, if art were the object, would we have to settle for Pop Idol and Britney Spears?
Enter the Artist Network. It's designed to empower artists -- musicians, filmmakers, writers, visual artists, and everyone in between -- to take back creative control of their own ideas.
It's unconventional, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who expect it to fail. But no one involved got where they are today by following a formula. Malcolm Gerrie, who heads the television production arm of the project, calls Artist Network a "big messy idea" -- and that's what I love about it. Shekhar Kapur, the stunningly talented director, described that idea as "empowering and managing individuality."
This project thumbs its collective nose at an entertainment industry that lost its soul while it was rummaging in its pockets. It's all potential and new thinking and resistance and revolution. And modern culture could use a lot more of that.
To get an idea of what the project is about, it's best to hear Dave explain what inspired him to seek a different path: "The music industry is all about picking up some talent, fucking it up, and then dropping it. We want to actually develop artists over time -- provide an alternative to the mass-produced and meaningless product being churned out by the music industry. We're the opposite of that."
The way today's entertainment industry operates is exploitation, plain and simple. It takes advantage of artists in much the same way sweatshop laborers are exploited by corporations that pay them mere pence to make a pair of trainers that those corporations can then turn around and sell to a British footballer for £100. Dave himself will tell you that he has made out all right for himself financially over his career (he isn't destitute by a long shot when compared to, say, a Nike factory worker in Saipan), but many of the people who played on his albums saw almost nothing while the labels were making millions. It's a "one for you, three for me" arrangement that simply disrespects art and artists.
Why am I involved, you might ask? I like what Dave said: "Anita will bring projects to us that none of us have even imagined yet ... some of them quite frightening." Expect these projects to delve into the realms of publishing, graphic design, and beyond. Expect danger. Otherwise, where's the fun?