It’s becoming harder and harder to build a career as an artist in Britain. Paula Varjack knows this, because she’s all too familiar with the head-spinning, panic-inducing plethora of part-time jobs, unpaid internships, insecure finances, and desperately hopeful grant applications it involves. Show Me The Money mashes together her own experiences with those of similarly striving creatives around the country to form a composite portrait of today’s arts economy. It’s a simultaneously depressing and uplifting hour, but a hugely eye-opening one as well.
British people talk about money like we talk about sex, according to Varjack: we just don’t. With a multi-cultural background – Ghanaian Mum, English Dad, raised in America, educated in Europe – Varjack feels that she’s in a position to start the conversations we don’t seem to be having. And so she does, aided by playfully edited interview snippets, unintrusive audience participation, and a refreshingly unself-conscious application of music technology.
Varjack has the easy-going charisma to pull it all together. Deftly interweaving personal monologues with exuberant dance routines, experimental hip-hop with snappily cut video projections, she draws a painfully relatable picture of what it’s like to have the balls to keep pursuing an artistic career, sometimes long after others have given up. Her strength is in her ability to cheerily introduce the audience to the scrappy, hand-to-mouth existence of the perennially ’emerging’ artist, and to do so without self-effacement or pride, but with frankness and honesty.
Because she’s sort of got a point. When government support for the arts is dwindling, only those with deep pockets or steely determination can earn a living in the industry, and a whole range of class-determined prejudices are unleashed. Oh, you don’t survive solely on your art? Then you’re not a real artist. You have to bartend to pay the rent? Then your not a real artist. You can’t afford to live in London and eat, at the same time? Then you’re not a real artist. Varjack dives into these money matters and the swirling psychological complexes that accompany them with brashness and brio.
Would it be good if she emphasised the political scope more? Yes, probably. Would it be good if she explored the wider social repercussions of arts cuts? Again, probably, pace Damian Lewis. Would it be good if she steered clear of Brexit-chat altogether? God, yes. But it’s important not to overlook the significance of the quirky, confessional, feel-good vibe that Varjack evokes. Because this isn’t agitprop, after all. The audience isn’t meant to storm the House of Commons come the curtain and demand an extra injection of cash into Arts Council England. Show Me The Money offers something different: friendliness, comradeship, encouragement, and an affirmation of self-belief. Which, in the long run, might just be all you need.
For more information on Show Me The Money, click here.