[spectre] // The State of Art //

mattyo news at ostrowski.info
Fri Aug 5 17:31:57 CEST 2011

As a New Yorker working in the digital arts who lived in the Netherlands for seven years, I've seen both sides of this situation, and I'm familiar with some of the Dutch institutions mentioned below.  I have thought a great deal about the differences between the European and American systems of arts funding, both of which, I believe have certain advantages and disadvantages.  Apropos of Josephine's comments, I'd like to point out certain blind spots I've often seen amongst European artists regarding their relationship to state support of art.

Regarding the expectation of state funding on the part of European artists, although Josephine is right in the sense that most artists are not having checks made out to them by the Prins Bernhard Fonds or the British Council, the state is supporting artist-friendly infrastructure in many indirect ways:  Subsidized venues with reasonably good technology, often some money to actually get paid for a show (not much maybe, but €150 for a show is a lot more than I'm making playing for the door in New York), free or extremely inexpensive art education -- these are all forms of state support for the arts which European artists expect, but do not necessarly identify as state support as such.

That is not to mention larger infrastructural state support which makes an artist's lifestyle easier:  A housing system which (this varies from country to country, obviously) keeps rents under control, low or free medical insurance, subsidized workspaces -- all these are a kind of state support which is taken so much for granted in European social democracies that they are invisible to locals, but unquestionably amounts to state support for art.

Regarding the institutions such as V2_ (I remember going there back when it was a squat!), I once again have to point out that the social system which once made squatting so easy to do in the Netherlands is yet another form of indirect state support for the arts and youth culture in general.  (Sadly, the Dutch squatting scene has been under strong attack the past few years, and thus making starting new initiatives progressively more difficult.)  Not having the National Guard show up and kick you out of your squatted building, as has happened here in New York, and permitting people to use a perhaps rickety but nevertheless rent-free space to make things happen, is in itself a subsidy.

This is in no way intended to belittle the vast amounts of energy, imagination, and sheer hard work that goes into setting up these initiatives, and I am in no way belittling them -- I wish it was more possible over here, and I envy the social cohesion and artistic ferment they make possible.  In the course of touring I've seen squats from one end of the continent to the other, and I am consistently impressed by the work people do and what they make possible.  However, to pretend the tolerance and tacit assistance of the state is not involved is not unlike the American belief that we shouldn't have to pay any taxes because God put roads and bridges miraculously across the country.

(Sonic Acts, by the way, was started by the Sound and Image department of the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag -- I was there at the time -- not exactly a ground-up initiative.)

I disagree with many of Julian's conclusions -- the situation we have here, where one is constantly having to play the supplicant before many masters does not particularly guarantee any additional degree of freedom.  The director of the NEA goes to the same parties as the director of the Ford foundation, and very few donor organizations want to tempt the wrath of the Republicans.  Also, these foundations can be fickle, and it can be extraordinarily difficult to build up something with no guarantee of regular support.  If the X foundation decides they aren't interested in media work anymore, or they decide you're not fufilling your community outreach goals, you're stuck.

the crowdsourcing approach to funding is yet another route by which artists are forced into self-exploitative situations. As if it isn't bad enough that it is virtually impossible to make more than beer money from one's work, we are then expected to subsidize our friend's projects with money from our day jobs.  This is a surrender to a wholly atomized culture with no sense of a commons, which I'm living through right now, and it's no picnic on any level, artist, economic, or cultural.

I also disagree with his characterization of poor arts funding as a New World phenomenon -- I think it's roots are more Anglo-Saxon (we had Thatcher before Reagan), and from my time in England, it's no Germany as far as funding goes.

The cuts in the Netherlands will make the entire country unrecognizable to many of us in a few years:  As the institutional and educational infrastructure is dismantled, it will cease to be a haven for international artists, and the vibrant scene there will suffer badly as a result. (Personally, I think that is part of the VVD-CDA coalition program: get those foreign weirdos out of the country!)  

That said, julian's points about the state of the arts in Europe are not invalid, and deep infrastructural support in much of Europe is simply a fact.  Stating it is by no means kicking colleagues -- it is something European artists should be proud of and fight for. 

-- Mattthew Ostrowski

On Aug 5, 2011, at 4:09 AM, Josephine Bosma wrote:

> Unfortunately I do not have the time to go into debate about most of the presumptions and insinuations in Julian Oliver's text. Let me just say it seems written from prejudice rather than knowledge. Prejudice about how funding bodies work, for example. To simply call them 'the state' or 'the government' is utterly simplistic. There are two statements in this article I want to take out in particular. There is NO basis for these at all.
>> The Netherlands, Britain and most of Scandinavia especially are
>> countries with a strong history of state support for the arts; development of a
>> work of new media in these countries in particular often comes with an
>> expectation of state support.
> This is nonsense. Surely you will find artists working this way, but for every single one of them you will find at least three or four that don't.
>> In June 2011 Zijlstra, the Dutch minister for culture, announced a 200 million
>> Euro cut to infrastructural funding in the arts sector. It may be the death
>> knell for a great many organizations and initiatives throughout the
>> Netherlands, some of which are considered to be canonical to the international
>> media-arts scene (V2_, Sonic Acts, Mediamatic, NIMK, STEIM, to name a few).
>> Many organizations under the axe where born directly out of arts funding and
>> have benefited from persistent support from the Dutch state since their
>> inception.
> V2 was born from a squatters/artists initiative, and worked as such for many years before it got regular funding. Similar stories for Mediamatic and NIMk. I am less familiar with the histories of Steim and Sonic Acts, but I am pretty sure these were also started from artists enthusiastically setting up something that became important, interesting and influential enough to get funding at some point.
>> Meanwhile the tax-payer's conscious or unconscious
>> investment in these fields (resulting in projects and vast, specialist bodies
>> of knowledge) will likely go unarchived, even lost altogether; a shell of
>> documentation on websites alone.
> ???
> It is good to talk about new economic models, but to talk about them while kicking colleagues is not a good idea.
> J
> *
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