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  • Writer's pictureStacey Toner

'Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.' – Henry David Thoreau

Following some disappointing outcomes in relation to funding applications during January, there was a short period of time at the start of the month where I found it challenging to compartmentalise ‘money’ from ‘sustainability’. I’m rational enough to know and accept there will always be an inevitable link between the two, however, I was fortunate enough to have some conversations over the last few weeks that helped me realise and remember that they can be mutually exclusive and symbiotic.

I was delighted to meet Jan-Bert van den Berg, Director at Artlink Edinburgh, a non-profit organisation which aims to support and promote the involvement of disabled people in the arts. We spoke openly about a multitude of issues, including the misconceptions of quality within participatory work and the complexities of ‘social prescribing’. I was keen to hear how their work was delivered and encouraged to hear that both people and creativity are valued as vital ingredients to the mix. These threads were also apparent when talking with Shirin Karbor, Create Community Wealth Project Lead at WHALE Arts, also based in Edinburgh. We spoke about the challenges that come with communicating fresh ideas to others and the practicalities of reaching out to communities in a way that genuinely responds to need. I was in awe at the time and commitment shown to the individuals they work with, balanced with the realistic understanding that people engage and move on from provision at varying paces for many reasons.

Exiting from these conversations, one question in particular sat with me, one that was posed by Shirin between sips of our coffee – ‘how do you define wealth?’. This question played a significant role in processing my thinking around ‘money’ and ‘sustainability’. I would be lying if I said that unsuccessful bids don’t cause deflation but when I started to unpick my definition of wealth it was uplifting to identify that, in my personal opinion (which of course may be soaked in bias!), M:ADE is practicing abundance – we build strong relationships, welcome honest partnerships, generate creative provision, maintain meaningful connections, remain open minded to possibilities and engage everyone with parity. Hearing about how ArtLink and WHALE Arts function, I felt a synergy in the impact of the connections we forge through our work. I recently heard Mike Benson, Director of The Scottish Crannog Centre, talk about the concept of ‘feltness’ – how a place, person, organisation or activity can make you feel – and this for me speaks to my interpretation of wealth. Ironically, this is something funding can’t create or support – and in that sense should be protected at all costs as the most powerful form of sustainability.

Equally, I fully recognise that the sector right now is in a precarious and susceptible place. I have a genuine worry for venues, live events, employment…and how core costs and project funding will be impacted by budget cuts, the cost of living and the needed application of fair working conditions. With so many elements of contradiction in play i.e. doing more and/or better with less, alongside long standing issues relating to funding structures and cultural behaviours, it is growingly difficult to read the forward trajectory of the landscape. But I do know that, in the simplest form, money equates to capacity…and for a sector where capacity is already topped up with passion, kindness and love for what we do, the road feels increasingly shaky.

I don’t have the answers as to if or how M:ADE will become financially sustainable as things develop but I’m taking some relief in knowing that regardless of how successful we are in future bids, we are in full control of the values and approach that has built and maintained what has come to form our organisational wealth.

A page from Chris Burden’s pamphlet, Full Financial Disclosure, 1977.


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