In the early 80s, when Seagull began its activism in the arts – focusing on the alternative, the political, the marginal, the dissident in the arts, and endeavoring to build a critical climate in which the arts could thrive—the arts were still taken seriously. They were thought to matter. Artists had important things to say, the way they saw and thought and acted impacted society. They provided a balance to the crude bottom-line approach of market-driven policy. At the time, Seagull saw its role as essential to the survival of the marginal and alternative through its documentation and dissemination activities, in a period of rapid societal and cultural change.
Over 3 decades later, Seagull finds itself functioning in a drastically changed—and scarily denuded—arts environment. Almost no one really believes that art is not entertainment, or that art can really make a difference. If it is seen as useful at all, it is as a skill, a certain sort of cleverness, lateral thinking and other such ‘marketable’ abilities. The artist is only as valued as his or her price tag or publisher’s advance. It has become even more desperately important than ever before to protect and nurture a healthy respect for the arts’ ability to truly contribute to human society.
The original commitment—that the arts are everyone’s responsibility and should be accessible to everyone without being ‘dumbed’ down—has acquired an urgency one could not have foreseen all those years ago.
The next decade will again see us reinventing ourselves in the light of ‘gained knowledge’ to suit the times.