Anna Lina Litz

Discussing Art, Autism and Subsidies

How can art funds become more accessible for neurodiverse applicants?

On Monday the 28th of February artists from the Mediamatic network gathered to discuss the topic of art and autism for the first time since last summer. The evening started with artist Laura (name changed for privacy) presenting her research project about the accessibility of subsidies and funds for autistic artists, which she is developing as part of our Penny for your Thoughts call for submissions. 

In her research, Laura, who has a recent autism diagnosis herself, wants to explore the application process for subsidies and the relationship between artists and funds from the perspective of an autistic artist. At the moment, these processes and relationships involve strict deadlines and constant expectations towards the artists to deliver new work of a certain quality. Autistic artists may be at risk of falling behind and losing their funding, since they often take longer to complete an artwork. Laura wants to focus on researching possible improvements to the Code of Diversity and Inclusion and the Fair Practice Code, which are the guidelines currently followed by art funds. So far, these codes focus on the important topics of race, gender and sexuality, but do not yet mention neurodiversity. When asked what the ideal outcome of her research would be, Laura replied that she would like to broaden awareness of the term ‚neurodiversity', to give autistic artists a voice and to make the application process for subsidies more accessible for them. The results could come in the form of a guide for funds and art-related organisations. 

In the discussion that followed, we tried to differentiate between issues that all artists are facing in relation to funds and subsidies and problems that arise for autistic artists specifically. 

We agreed that money, and especially money in the form of grants and subsidies, can have a big influence on any artist’s sense of self-worth. Another problem all artists face is that they rarely have the luxury to focus only on creating their art. Often times they are forced to take on part-time jobs to pay the rent, in addition to the extensive networking that is necessary to promote their art. We estimated that 60 to 80% of all artists also work as entrepreneurs. 

Laura pointed out that autistic artists in particular often lack the social skills required for successful networking, and that the necessity to multitask in order to secure enough funding to survive is likely to hinder autistic artists from achieving the periods of hyperfocus that are necessary to complete their work. Still, the discussion showed that it remains difficult to draw a line between the struggles faced by all artists and the added difficulties that neurodiverse artists face. 

We did agree, however, that the barrier to success for autistic artists has nothing to do with their talent and skill, in other words the quality of their work. Instead, the problem are the artificial barriers in place in a system that expects artists to adhere to constant deadlines while at the same time expecting them to be networking and marketing experts. 

As a possible solution to this problem we dreamt up a hypothetical organisation which could combine the strengths of autistic people working in many different professions. This could be a space where, for example, people specialised in IT or law could help artists to apply for subsidies and to find an audience for their art. The appeal of such a place is clear: in a world centred around neurotypical people, places where neurodiverse people work together and share their strengths could be a signal that the rest of society could actually be missing out. Another example that came to mind was Andy Warhol’s “Factory“, a place where neurodiverse artists came together in the New York of the 1960s, and arguably one of the coolest places to be at the time. 

In this way, the discussion arrived at the idea of switching the mindset around so that it is not autistic people who need to be helped in one way or another in order to be able to participate in a society designed around neurotypical people, but autistic people helping to improve society by offering their different perspectives. In today’s world, almost everyone is overstimulated by constant information, sounds and impressions. Neurodiverse people are often more sensitive to these kinds of stimuli, and listening to them could lead to the creation to more peaceful spaces for everybody. The same goes for the relationship between artists and funds. A personal, holistic approach in which the artist’s individual needs are taken into account would benefit not only neurodiverse artists, but, in principle, everyone: all artists, as well as the audience who would consequently be presented with better and deeper work.

Towards the end of the evening, we talked about the role that Mediamatic as an art institution could play in this transformation. Director Willem Velthoven would like to develop Mediamatic into a place that accommodates neurodiverse makers and highlights their work. We discussed the problems that  Mediamatic faces in supporting the careers of autistic artists in a sustainable way. It was mentioned that in our society today much higher budgets are reserved for health care than for the arts, while the two go hand in hand when it comes to the support of neurodiverse artists. Therefore, collaborations between the healthcare system and the cultural sector will be important in transforming our current system in such a way that it accommodates the needs of neurodiverse artists better. One example of such a collaboration could be the training of coaches specialised in helping neurodiverse artists. 

Finally, we talked about the up- and downsides of pursuing an official autism diagnosis as an artist. Someone pointed out that at the moment, artists are still caught in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to the question of whether or not to get a diagnosis: On one hand, an official diagnosis will help them to get access to the (mental) health care that they need, and make it easier to define boundaries with regards also to their capacity to work. On the other hand, an official diagnosis puts them at risk of being stigmatised and their art put in a corner. 

After three hours of discussion, we concluded that everyone present was happy about the opportunity to discuss these topics and looking forward to the next Autist/Artist evenings because there is still, of course, a lot more to talk about. 

So stay tuned on this blog if you would like to see the discussion continue, and for more articles and updates about what Mediamatic is up to with this project!