Installation view Slacking OFF 2002, Imperial Slacks. Image courtesy Angelica Mesiti and Imperial Slacks http://imperialslack.niftynode.net/
Angelica Mesiti is a video and multimedia artist based mostly in Australia. Part of the performance-based group The Kingpins, Angelica was also one of 14 members of the influential artist-run space Imperial Slacks, a collective that ran from 2000 to 2002. Exhibiting the work of its resident artists who lived in the space, Imperial Slacks also showed the work of friends from surrounding studios. The other members of Imperial Slacks were Jessie Cacchillo, Simon Cooper, Sean Cordeiro, Claire Healy, Alex Davies, Léa Donnan, Chris Fox, Shaun Gladwell, Wade Marynowsky, Angelica Mesiti, Técha Noble, Emma Price, Michael Schiavello, Monika Tichacek, Melody Willis, The Kingpins.
Interview by Krista Huebner
Did Imperial Slacks consider itself as a business?
Not really, no…to me, we were a group of artists doing our thing. We had the opportunity to take over a great space and experiment and we took it, rather than setting out to ‘start and run a gallery’, which is a different objective.
How different would Imperial Slacks have been if it had been business focused?
Imperial Slacks was never really set up to be long-term. Our leases were only ever for six months and Surry Hills was quickly being gentrified around us, so it was only ever just a matter of time really. As a result we were less interested in longevity and planning for the future as such, and more about making it count while we were there. I guess that allowed us to take risks and just go for it. You could call it a ‘hard and fast’ model!
The artist run initiative (ARI) found a natural end mainly because of rent rises, but also because it did start to become more business-y. The administration started to creep in more and more and we were all at a stage where we wanted to focus on our art making, travel, and exhibit. We didn’t really have any time to commit to actually running the space anymore…but the main reason was rent.
Do you think a business focus would have been restrictive?
We didn’t have any ‘grand plans for the gallery’ as such, or a business plan. It just wasn’t the model we were running with, and in fact we would have probably shied away from that to keep it a fluid, experimental space.
That said, if we had wanted to be more commercially minded, I think there were enough creative heads in the collective that could have allowed it to be both experimental and commercially successful. Ultimately though our goal was at odds with that and it couldn’t have worked forever.
Do you think the creative integrity of arts can be affected by a business focus? How?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve seen really creative managers/thinkers in managerial roles within arts organisations doing really great things with commercially successful outcomes. In terms of developing creative business strategies and willingness to take risks in business, I think it’s possible but equally really hard. It’s hard to be both business-y and artistic, so I see that there is real value in working together.
As an artist, I’ve personally learnt a lot from working with people from different areas in business. They’ve opened me up to directions, ideas and possibilities that I wouldn’t have come to on my own.
There is also a difference between being commercial and having a business focus. Although they are similar ideas, a non-profit museum or gallery may employ a business focus for the purpose of longevity, accountability and having a unified direction. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean they’re suddenly “commercial”, nor that it will impact on the level of creativity exercised in the artistic programs it runs, or the creativity employed in running the organisation.
What were your measures of success?
The goal of Imperial Slacks was always to put on the best shows we possibly could and try new stuff. The goal wasn’t commercial as such and having funding from the Australia Council meant we could focus on other things.
While we didn’t set goals and objectives for each exhibition, we measured our success through feedback and the responses of our peers, whether we generated new ideas and conversation. Attendance levels at openings and throughout the shows were another good measure for us, as was any critical response. That meant a lot. Continued funding was also a kind of validation.
Would you do it again? What would you do differently?
Being part of Imperial Slacks I think taught me a lot of really important administrative skills that have carried over into my life as an artist today. Some people wouldn’t agree with this, but sometimes being an artist feels like running a small business; I’m a sole trader. It taught me about publicity, marketing, writing funding applications, interviews, and reviews…lots of things.
Given the chance I would do it again – and no, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was great. Who knows…if the stars align I might do it again one day.
Should the arts act like a business? Reference material that may further interest you: