Controversies News United Kingdom

South London artist’s home caught in controversy over non-payment of workers

Flat Time House director says space is at risk of closing due to lack of funding

John Latham. Photo: Walia, courtesy ‘Contemporary British Artists’, Bergstrom+Boyle Books London, 1979

The director and curator of Flat Time House, the south London home and studio of the late conceptual artist John Latham, has hit back at an artist’s accusation that the public gallery exploited art workers by not paying them to take part in a symposium. In a statement, the London-based artist Dean Kenning says that he decided to withdraw from the event, held at the gallery in November, because of the “non-payment of participants”. Kenning says that Flat Time House had an obligation to pay all its artists and speakers because it is a “supported arts organisation” that receives Arts Council England funding.

“Such non-payment encourages a reputation economy, which is rampant in the art world but deeply damaging to art,” Kenning says. “The policy of selective payment for those working at publicly funded galleries thus reinforces and reproduces art world hierarchies and exclusions, to the benefit of those at the top.”

In a letter published online, the director and curator Claire Staunton replied by saying that the symposium was an externally organised event. According to Staunton, the organisers asked to hold the discussion at Flat Time House as their own project space had closed because of a shortage in funding. Staunton says she did not charge for the use of the gallery.

Responding to the issue of non-payment, Staunton points out that the symposium was neither funded by the Arts Council, nor any public funding body. “The Arts Council England funds some of our in-house public programming (when we always pay fees and/or production), but none of our overheads, salaries or externally organised events,” she says, adding that Flat Time House is at serious risk of closure owing to a lack of secure funding. “We are a very small team of individuals working to a challenging budget who care very deeply about our flexible, autonomous institute, and all of the artists that we invite to work with us,” Staunton says.

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