ARTISTS: IF YOU JUST WANT TO GET PAID FOR HAVING AN EXPENSIVE WANK, GET AN ONLYFANS.

At the beginning of 2020, I was in the early stages of planning ‘Queer Song Lab’, an experimental peer-to-peer development platform for queer songwriters (basically a bunch of queer musicians in a room experimenting with different strategies for writing songs and seeing what happened). It was meant to be a simple project that would be fun, satisfying, and free from the pressures of needing to deliver tangible results.

Of course, this was back in the heady days of life before covid, when the idea of getting a group of queers in a room to sing together didn’t seem quite so fantastical as it does today. My 2020 clusterfuck started earlier than most, with a mental breakdown in early January that would roll through until late February (call me a trend-setter, but the irony of the world catching up with me in March as I recovered was not lost on me).

With lockdown in full effect, I tried to think about how I could reform Queer Song Lab, reshape it into a digital blob, wait until we could meet in person again, to put it out into the world regardless of the fact the world was no longer itself and I was no longer myself. 

It took a global pandemic for people to start listening to black communities and to say their lives matter.

It took a global pandemic for people to experience just a fraction of the lived experience of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions.

It took a global pandemic for people to start to value the essential work of carers and the intrinsic value of care itself.

It took a global pandemic to close every gallery, theatre, and arts venue – some of whom we’ve lost forever (and some we won’t be sad to say goodbye to).

The list goes on, the world tries in vain to return to what it was before. As things fall apart, things also come together. 2020 has been a year of destruction but also alignment. What is our goal, what do we do, how do we move forward?

It is November, I have not been able to reshape Queer Song Lab yet, or rather… I do not want to reshape it, I do not want to enact it. Right now, it means nothing to me, it achieves nothing, it says nothing. I hope that in a not so distant future, it might start to mean something again. But today, tomorrow, this month, this year, it does not.

As an artist, as an organiser, I cannot produce something right now that does not directly impact the world around me (in however small a way that may be). I need my work to mean something to other people, to improve their lives in some way, to make change or at the very least take steps towards making change – otherwise, I physically cannot do it.

I am tired of mediocre people doing mediocre things with mediocre results. Even more so I am tired of mediocre organisations supporting people to do mediocre things with mediocre results. I want change. I want a different system. I want care. I want integrity. I want impact. I demand it. We should all demand it.  That is my job as an artist and probably all of our jobs as artists, especially when our work involves the participation of others. And when is it that our work does not involve the participation of others? What is participation, if not the act of being involved.

Perhaps this understanding is a product of seeing the world more queerly. Of navigating a queer body through an un-queer world, of actively seeking the dismantling of power structures, of transcendental bliss. I say perhaps, but in reality I mean it definitely is. Even here, in the writing I have produced for myself, my instinct is to sanitise and offer a helpful gateway for the un-queer reader to consider the queer perspective.

Some of you have never walked home late at night moving as quickly as possible without drawing attention to yourself, and your hands clenched so hard into fists that your nails dent your palms and it shows. Some of you have never felt the BPM inside you as you push across a sweaty dancefloor of entangled queer bodies collectively moving towards a more capacious reality, and it also shows. This understanding is categorically a product of seeing the world seeing the world queerly. Clearly.

Queer thinking asks us to come together, to unify, to form bonds of family with strangers, to rejoice defiantly, to transcend barriers, and dare to glimpse the astral possibilities of a world without shame – in short, queer thinking asks us to be better. Queerness itself asks us to participate in something bigger than ourselves, to shift, transform, and move upwards – these are the alchemic possibilities of participation.

We have entered into a period where our work will likely be harder to fund and harder to sustain, where the arts will be reconsidered and our value as a public service judged against other public services. I am OK with that, in some ways at least. I want our work to be about people, and about transformation, change, joy, celebration, challenge, and community. We need all those things. Public money should be spent on those things. This does not mean prescriptive – it should still be radical, joyful, reflective, sweaty, sexy, chaotic, comforting, challenging, angry, fun, fierce, raging, subtle, loud, cathartic, soft, delicious, painful, tender, horny, sweet, broad, detailed, and euphoric.

In a period of international crisis art for art’s sake is unethical, our work has to mean something, to benefit someone beyond ourselves, to shift the world in both perceptible and imperceptible ways. It should be communal, it should commune, it should be working to make the world better. In a period of crisis the work of artists has to be to help us find ways to navigate uncertainty building the blueprints for change.

 If you just want to get paid for having an expensive wank, get an onlyfans.

I am not unrealistic, I am not deluded; I do not expect art to end poverty, or austerity, or racism, or transphobia, or abuse. What I believe, in fact what I know, is that good art is a lifeline. Even in affecting the smallest change, it offers hope, perspective, and collectivity. It brings us together and allows us to see ourselves and see each other. It is the tangible articulation of the sweaty-bodied-dancefloor-induced-ecstasy that gives us reason to keep building, to keep breathing.

So I’ve chosen to devote the small amount of time and resources given to Queer Song Lab to something else (which is why you are reading this). It’s a list of questions, questions for people, persons, artists, organisations, and things what do participation to ask of themselves.

To do this I asked artists and producers to anonymously share the questions they were currently asking themselves, and together with my own feelings I’ve produced this list. They’re mostly questions for me, questions to ask myself before, during, and maybe even after projects. I offer them here in the hope they help others focus, make decisions, and move upwards.

Adam Carver (they/them)

Questions for people, persons, organisations, and things who do participation to ask of themselves.

Where ‘it’ means doing something, making something, creating something, communicating something, engaging with something, feeling something.

  1. What is it?
  1. Why are you doing it?
  2. Why are you doing it?
  3. Why are you doing it?
  4. Should you be doing it?

  5. What difference will it make?
  6. Who is the difference for?
  7. What is the difference only you can make?
  8. What transformation will happen as a result of it?
  9. Is this the best way to make that change?
  1. Who will benefit from it?
  2. Who will benefit from you doing it?
  3. Why will someone benefit from being a part of it?
  4. What’s the point of it?

  5. Who are you doing it for?
  6. Is it more than just for you?
  7. Should it be with instead of for?
  8. Who are you doing it with?
  1. What will someone participating gain from it?
  2. How will someone participating gain from it?
  3. Why will someone participating gain from it?

  4. Why do you need art?
  5. Why do others need art?
  6. Why do we need art?
  7. Why do you need participation?
  8. Why do others need participation?
  9. Why do we need participation?
  10. Is participation art?

  11. Does anyone else want it to happen?
  12. Did you ask?
  13. Does anyone really need to hear or see or experience or feel this?

  14. Does it feel right for you?
  15. Is it the right thing to do?
  1. Does it nourish you?
  2. Does it nourish others?
  3. Does it sustain you?
  4. Does it sustain others?
  5. What do you give?
  6. What do you receive?
  7. What do they give?
  8. What do they receive?
  9. What do we give?
  10. What do we receive?
  1. Can you live on it?
  2. Can it live without you?
  3. Who can access it?
  4. Who can’t access it?
  5. Why?
  1. What does it celebrate?
  2. What does it platform?
  3. What does it challenge?
  4. What does it ignore?
  5. What does it promise?
  6. What does it deliver?
  1. Is it safe?
  2. Is it fun?
  3. Is it worth it?
  4. Is it wanted?
  5. Does it matter?
  6. Does it even matter?
  7. Does it really matter?
  8. No really, does it?

  9. Are you sure?

    Then do it.

This writing has been developed as part of A3 Projects’ PARTICIPATE programme, with support from Arts Council England. Thanks to Kim McAleese for being provocative and making it better, Harry Clayton-Wright for providing titular inspiration, and to all those who continuously show us how not to do it.