Art as Mechanism

The Future Now Symposium 2017 arrives at a crucial time for the arts. Financial pressures in a post-financial crash world of slashed public funding, combined with the impact of digital media in making images available at a click, have led increasingly to an emphasis by art institutions on staging blockbuster shows by famous names with the greatest possible mass appeal. Yet, without identifying and developing new and emerging talents and affording them public exposure, the art world risks becoming increasingly less diverse, more risk-averse and ultimately, nostalgic, safe and backwards-looking – a dilemma faced across the creative arts, and already visible as a stifling trend in the film and music industries.

Future Now and events like it are vital because they consider the arts ecosystem within a broader social context, offering support, talent development and networking opportunities to those already working in the sector and those wishing to break into it. Welcoming speakers from some of the UK’s leading art organisations, publications and galleries, the Symposium gives attendees the opportunity to build contacts with those shaping the art world today.

A key topic addressed by speakers this year is how to define and curate art in a digital world where everyone is a photographer, and can create, manipulate and distribute images to a global audience. It is a breathtaking democratisation of the arts, yet raises age-old questions as to what is art and who has the authority to define it. The status of the museum, the gallery and the curator in this new world are in flux and demonstrate why arenas for discussion such as the Symposium are vital to making sense of this transformed landscape. Who are today’s critical gatekeepers of the art world?

This year’s event further addresses how the arrival of the digital age has created an unprecedented feeling of alienation. Communication has changed and we increasingly rely on technology to interact, presenting ourselves in ways that are evolving beyond control. The sense that the public sphere is merging with the domestic has led to a larger, blurred understanding of reality, in an age of “big data” and “fake news”. Surveillance is becoming a prevalent and inescapable issue internationally. Future Now demonstrates how contemporary art is responding this transformed understanding of living. Perhaps most importantly, simply by bringing people together in face-to-face discussion to foster new contacts and build personal and professional relationships, it not only addresses this sense of alienation but takes direct action to counteract it.

The Future Now Symposium takes place 25-26 May at York St John University. For more information or to book your place:

1. Julio Bittencourt, Plethora – Tokyo Subway (2015-2016). Courtesy of the artist.