Mila Oshin describes a cross-artform showcase that presents the work of like-minded artists, many of whom have been ‘emerging’ for their whole careers.

Image of artists in Joy Experiment

The most memorable people I have worked with have all been emerging artists. Although many of them have moved up in, or out of, the art world since, some of them have stayed pretty much exactly where they were and are, it seems, quite happy there. As far as I am concerned, being an emerging artist can easily be a lifetime’s occupation. Industry needs art, but art does not necessarily need an industry, and fortunately there are still many people out there who make it their mission to do their own thing irrespective of monetary success. A world where art would only be made if it was funded is simply frightening. Equally, as the saying goes, the most successful artist is a dead one. Just try and imagine the history of art as we know it, without the names of all those who may now be considered great but were struggling financially throughout their lifetime and only came to fame posthumously.

I am not glorifying lack of commercial success in the arts, nor am I saying that artists who make a living from their work can’t be great. I just know a lot of artists who hold down part-time jobs in order to take the money issue out of their art, and I feel their output may be all the more interesting for it. My partner and I came across many fascinating emerging artists in this situation when we founded Joy Experiment (formerly known as Joy Collective) in 2008. We had been working in the performing and visual arts in various capacities, but our own artform was a combination of music, poetry and film. Once we had released an EP and an album on our own label we started thinking about taking our work to the stage, but we wanted to do this as part of something bigger that would combine all our creative interests, experience and skills. We came up with the idea of a cross-artform showcase that presented the work of like-minded artists, who also saw art as a powerful tool for social change and were not afraid to experiment to our own live soundtrack.

All had exceptional ideas and lived and breathed their work, but none were able to make a living out of it

We started doing lots of research on the internet, got in touch with contacts at arts organisations we had worked with and visited as many degree shows as possible. Eventually we hand-selected most people, though some came through various sources we used for an open call-out. The first Joy Experiment comprised 19 visual and performing artists, including choreographers, dance artists, a painter, filmmakers, digital artists, photographers, a textile artist, a printmaker and a sculptor, who ranged in age from 19 to 43 years. All had exceptional ideas and lived and breathed their work, but none were able to make a living out of it. We made it clear from the start that Joy Experiment was unlikely to improve its financial situation much in the immediate term, and unfortunately receiving a small grant from Arts Council England and selling out most dates of the live tour did not change anything about that. Luckily, what interested most artists, apart from the artistic challenge, was that it enabled them to collaborate, present work and raise their profile on such a large scale. The cross-pollination of audiences between the different artforms, pooling of resources and expertise, and media exposure delivered free of charge could not have been achieved by any of them working alone.

None of the artists had ever worked outside the comfort zone of their own artform before, but they all went on to find new ways of expressing their ideas by integrating new artforms and a strong digital media element into their individual practice. Many of the artists received commissions, exhibition offers, bursaries or awards directly or indirectly as a result. We are still in touch with most of them and continue to promote their work through our PR and social media networks whenever they ask us to.

Mila Oshin is Co-artistic Director of Joy Experiment and one half of musician/filmmaker duo Drunk with Joy.
Tw: @Mila_Oshin

Joy Experiment is about to launch a new cross-artform initiative called Project Afterbirth, for which an international artist call-out will be announced soon.

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