Following the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent closure of the majority of public spaces, the gig economy collapsed virtually overnight. Many self-employed people and freelancers have been left in incredibly unstable situations with projects being cancelled and budgets being slashed across the board. Before the government announced the self-employed support measures many were left with anxiety surrounding the potential loss of their livelihoods. Faced with this uncertainty, just over a week ago painter Matthew Burrows started the Artist Support Pledge #ArtistSupportPledge on Instagram and the response has been remarkable.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic many artists have found themselves without work teaching, technical support, gallery work, exhibitions and sales have disappeared. In an attempt to alleviate some of the stress I have instigated the Artists Support Pledge #artistsupportpledge. The concept is a simple one. You post images of your work you wish to sell for no more than £200 each (not including shipping). Anyone can then buy the work. Every time you reach £1000 of sales you pledge to buy another artists’ work for £200,” he wrote in a post on his account (@matthewburrowsstudio).
With a goal to encourage generosity, spread creativity, and support friends and colleagues as the industry had run to a halt, Burrow’s initiative has gone viral. The Pledge has become a dynamic art market now operating on a global scale, with the use of the hashtag #ArtistSupperPledge now standing at over 17,400 posts and growing by an average of 2,000 daily. In addition to gaining global press, Soho House included the Pledge in a newsletter to their members and Turps Banana are showcasing works of Turps associated painters available for sale via their Instagram (@turpsbanana). Not only does the Artist Support Pledge give opportunities to support artists and discover art, but also means that people are now able to invest in art they would have otherwise been unable perhaps to access or afford, with pieces being sold for no higher than £200.
Ten Magazine collaborator and prize-winning painter David Lock drew our attention to the Artist Support Pledge as an early adopter. Since last week he has already sold three works via his Instagram (@mrdavidlock) and is looking into putting up more for sale. “The only requirement is that you are using the hashtag and sell your work for under £200 and I thought that was a genius idea. It’s a great initiative, such a collective thing and I think artists by their nature are very social creatures,” he explains over the phone. “It’s a brilliant transactional way to still support and communicate with one another whilst we’re making this pledge and people have the opportunity to buy this work,” Lock continues. “Matthew Burrows started it in a really local way, but as he executed it so clearly I’m not surprised that it’s generated virally through artists communities,” he says. “The majority of my friends are pledging and if they’re not I think it would be a shame to miss out on this opportunity.”
As the founder of ABC Projects Atelier; an artists’ development and mentoring scheme designed to build networks and facilitate supportive peer critique, which has been running for over a decade, Burrows is used to working with a wider creative community. Living and working in Rye, East Sussex, Burrows runs two-day workshops around six times a year alongside working professionally as a painter. “From the start of ABC projects tried to cultivate a culture of trust and generosity, intrinsically linked to thinking and talking about art,” he explains. It was when he had to cancel all the ABC Projects workshops and sessions lined-up, after talking to colleagues who had had exhibitions, teaching jobs and commissioned works cancelled that he came up with the idea of the pledge to attempt to try and counteract the financial fallout of the virus.
“I realised it had to be generous, fast and fluid with a rapid turnaround as these artists have lost their income now and can’t be waiting to receive payments in a month or two’s time,” says Burrows. “I didn’t want it to seem opportunistic so I decided that you would donate back 20%, the amount of your first sale as an act of generosity to buying another artists’ work. It self-perpetuates a feel-good factor that artists are not only benefiting financially but they are also helping out their colleagues.” Burrows began by pledging a print of his work ‘The Seer’ (2012), from an edition of 50 etchings on paper whilst sitting on the sofa watching TV and the initiative took off from there overnight.
Since first gaining traction, Burrows has worked tirelessly to promote it and answer questions on DMs as the Artists Support Pledge has gone international with pledges now in Russian, Taiwan and Japan. From the sales he has received Burrows has invested in the work of Colden Drystone; a young emerging artist Burrows has previously supported with ABC Projects, as well as pieces by Scott Robertson, Phil King and Karolina Albricht. “I’ve tried to buy things from artists that I really like, some are young and emerging some well established not for any commercial gain to gain profit, but to support my colleagues, friends and those in the art world who need a bit of support,” he says. Some artists have even reported that are potentially making more than they ordinarily would through the Pledge.
In addition, Burrows has announced the Tyson award, supported by fellow artist Keith Tyson, which will give grants of £200 to five artists to put towards the making of their own pledges, for five weeks. The recipients will be chosen by industry insiders including Elizabeth Gilmore, director of Hastings Contemporary, Toby Clarke, director of Vigo Gallery and artist Matthew Collings. From his original Artist Support Pledge post has come an Instagram devoted to the initiative (@artistsupportpledge) and the inception of the Isolation Art School account. Run by Burrows and Tyson, @isolationartschool’s feed is devoted to showcasing projects, lessons and tips which are submitted and shared by artists, whilst in isolation to help people get creative from home. A fantastic resource especially for those now homeschooling. On Friday the legendary Roal Dahl illustrator Sir Quentin Blake gave a short drawing lesson, Saturday Jonathan Yeo streamed a live portrait painting session and Gucci collaborator Unskilledworked will be doing a tutorial today, with more being announced daily. Invest in a piece if you can, tune in and get creative.
Top image: Matthew Burrows, ‘The Seer’ (2012), etching on paper, 570 x 450 mm, edition of 50, @matthewburrowsstudio
@artistsupportpledge / @isolationartschool