[spectre] Re: the media art center of 21C

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Sat Sep 10 15:57:08 CEST 2005

I agree that there often seems to be an aversion in the artworld to
recognising that we all have to deal with economic realities. No matter what
your politics are, you always need to work with the resources you have and
to justify the use of those resources to those who support you, whatever
their rationale for doing so. I do not see how effective funding decisions
can be made without reliable data from the prospective recipient (whether it
is an individual or an institution) and an understanding of their ability to
deliver what they say they will, on time and to budget, and with a clear
sense of what the value of the outcome will be and to whom. This might not
sound very exciting or radical, but in such circumstances you are
responsible for deciding how to spend money that belongs to everyone and
thus it is only reasonable that those requesting funding are able to
justify, to those people, why they should be assisted.

As for the open source concept: I support this fully, although the manner in
which it is sometimes proposed can actually be destructive to creativity and
the sharing of resources. I think it can be accepted that open-source is
only a (possibly larger) part of the picture, not the whole thing.
Proprietary systems will be with us for a long time, for many reasons;
economic co-dependence, security, profit-motive research in the private
sector, to name a few.

A recent debate in the UK has concerned academic research publications and
journals. As I am sure everyone is aware, the academic journals that
dominate the diffusion of new knowledge are owned by a small number of
publishers whose motivations are often open to question. To subscribe to
these journals also costs a great deal of money, far more than even many
institutions can afford to pay if they wish to keep up with all
developments. The situation now in the UK is that the government is actively
looking at requiring all publicly funded academic research (that is probably
more than 85% of all academic research in the UK) to be published and made
freely available to all via the internet. This position is supported by all
the research councils, most of the universities and most academics. The main
people resisting it are the publishers, who can see a very profitable little
wheeze coming to an abrupt end.

The logic at work here is similar to open source. If new knowledge is
produced through the support of public funds then that knowledge belongs to
the public that funded it. This is of course a great principle and my
feeling is that the publishers will lose this argument (they have already
lost it where it really matters - with their constituent readers and

The publishers will lose out, but their journals will continue and in the
long run they will survive. Their role will shift from being the gate
keepers of and profiteers from knowledge to an editorial role where the peer
review process will continue to function as a means of ascribing value to
research. Whilst research outcomes will be available to all for free the
journals will function to filter this avalanche of information and referee
value. This is an important function as much of the research rating a
research department has is determined by publications (volume and quality)
and this in turn determines research funding income. The money-machine will
continue to revolve.

I would be surprised if this development does not catch on elsewhere. I
certainly hope so. It means, most crucially, that all public funded research
is available for all for free, which should result in an acceleration in the
research development cycle, whilst stake-holders (the researchers, their
departments, the publishers and the commercial spin-offs that sometimes
eventuate from research) will have an economic model that will encourage
creativity and the production of new ideas and methods.

As an aside to this, it is interesting to note that the British Medical
Journal, one of the leading such "profitable" journals, has, in an editorial
signed by all its editors and many of its referees, called on its parent
publishing company (Elseveir Reed, I think) to sell off all those aspects of
its business that are involved in the arms trade. Seems the publisher owns a
number of journals in that field and also one or two major arms fairs held
in the UK each year. The BMJ editorial, supported by the British Medical
Association, is arguing that it cannot function in an environment where its
parent company is responsible for death and torture as this is in complete
contradiction of the Hippocratic oath. It will be interesting to see where
this story will lead...



On 10.09.05 09:36, Rene Beekman wrote:
> to put it slightly simplistic, the dominant political position in the
> art world seems to range from anarchism when our bank accounts can
> support that, to socialism when it is time for the next funding
> application round, but it seems always to be __in __response __to our
> financial situation.
> there seems to be a kind of allergy in the art world to developing a
> market-model that could sustain our work or what we would like to do.
> as a short note: i consider handing in funding applications at the
> responsible government desk annually or on a per project basis a market
> or business model as well even though i do know that many here might
> not think of it in those terms. also, here i'm not in way trying to
> compare one model to another.
> but let's take a look at the open-source software world that many
> artists and media art centres have embraced enthusiastically in recent
> years. yesterday i witnessed yet another discussion between artists and
> other humanists about how the "gift culture of the open-source
> community could be applied to art and research". throughout that
> discussion i was at a loss of how those two worlds could possibly come
> together. the problem is of course something that has been known for
> years and it has everything to do with the politics simon mentioned.
> to a certain and as far as i can tell quite a large part of the
> open-source developers, the "gift culture of the open-source community"
> is just another way to leverage their commercial businesses. being one
> of the core developers of an open-source network security project puts
> you in one hell of position commercially as a network security
> analyst/consultant/you_name_it and any book you would write on the
> topic would be guaranteed to sell good enough for at least several
> publishers to be interested - in fact enough so for a publisher like
> o'reilly to have reversed the model years ago.
> this to a great extend explains the kind of variety we see in
> open-source software projects.
> in contrast, many media art centres involved in open-source development
> do so - besides for ideological reasons - as a way of being eligible
> for government funding. i don't know of a single example of an
> artist-initiated open-source software project that has been successful
> in attracting money in any other way than more government funding or
> incidental sponsorship from a commercial company.
> yes, the choice of "business model" or "funding model" does have
> everything to do with politics. i cannot help but find it somewhat
> amusing that 15 years after most of the regimes in this part of the
> world (still in prague) broke down, the art-world still seems to cling
> to a purely socialist model.
> and even faced with disappearing funding, artists seem reluctant at
> best to discuss business or funding models, let alone consider
> alternative models without immediately asserting that "institutions are
> bad" and these "marketing models" should be "subverted".
> i am convinced that it is our inability to define and shape business
> models for our work together with an unwillingness to look at the world
> in any other way than from a point of view which dictates that "we need
> to be supported" that puts us at the mercy of the whims of politicians
> and the occasional company that does venture to become a patron (even
> if it does so temporarily).
> if we are to successfully shape any outline of a media art centre of
> the 21st century, we need to first acknowledge that such a definition
> cannot be made without busines or market models being part of the
> equation and we need to realize that what others would refer to as
> "government hand-outs" are not a guaranteed form of income and that any
> successful model cannot rely on a single source of income, no matter
> how deep those pockets seem at the moment.
> ok, back to work now
> rene

Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk

Professor, Art and Design Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

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