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<nettime> Alternative economies and the funding cutbacks + a few words o
Eric Kluitenberg on Thu, 16 Jun 2011 16:36:34 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Alternative economies and the funding cutbacks + a few words on the situation in NL


nettimers,

Soory for cross-posting. This comment on a huge discussion currently waging on the Spectre listfolows up on the ISEA discussions and the waning of public infarstructures for experimental and media arts, etc..

I thought this was relevant enough to also post it here, it's just a sketch, a line in flight so to say...

bests,
eric

-----------

Dear Spectrites,

A fascinating discussion is emerging in (late) response to the funding cutbacks in the UK, NL, and now Slovenia. Without wanting to take anything away from what has been said so far, I would like to introduce a slightly different angle to the discussion. 

Because this is all still in becoming, it necessarily has to be sketchy.

That public funding for arts, especially the experimental arts and media arts / networked arts, are under increasing pressure is not really new - the scale and acceleration of austerisation is, obviously. Seeing for a long time the shifting funding priorities (from an 'arts' or slightly more autonomous designation to the 'economistic' notion of 'creative industries - a bit more about that in respect to the situation in The Netherlands at the end) it was clear that alternative models of sustainability for the kind of practices that are at least close to my heart should be probed and developed.

In 2008 we started this discussion around the rapid growth of on-line collections of audio visual material and their public accessibility with the Economies of the Commons conference series, inspired by the term that Felix Stalder had originally suggested to us. The conferences provide a relevant constellation of heritage, archive, as well as independent initiatives, producers, cultural and arts organisations and representatives of (public) broadcasting. This is an on-going discussion and exploration.

The idea in rough terms is to investigate how in view of the unreliability of public support structures (as has become abundantly clear now, but remember we started this discussion in 2007/8, alternative support structures can be constructed for these kind of experimental and public access practices and resources that still retain the ideals of accessibility, of publicness, of sharing, of free exchange (free as in unfettered - not 'gratis').

Documentation of the first ECommons conference:
www.debalie.nl/dossierpagina.jsp?dossierid=208416

Website of ECommons 2:
www.ecommons.eu

There are different layers to this undertaking. One important step is to understand what kind and how value is created in situations where no immediate transaction takes place when having access to the resources, productions, gatherings, exchanges we are studying. Here the figure of the commons (a highly anglosaxonian notion and not 'common' in The Netherlands at all), comes squarely into view. It is possible through this notion of shared resources, the commons, to tap into a rich experience and body of both practical work and excellent (economic) theory that has been developed in the commons movement suis generis, by a.o. Ollstrom and Hess and many others.

The figure of the commons identifies a third economic logic, next to that of the Market and Public (State) support, that is highly productive in a multitude of situations to resolve problems of access to resources, knowledge, skills, means of production, reputation building (important for the general art economy / market that is essentially a reputation economy), distribution infrastructures and more. The commons is not an ant-thesis to the market, nor is it replacement for public support structures, much rather it is complementary. Current debates about crowd funding that have suddenly become popular (surprise!?) are hopelessly beside the point, they reflect the simple logic of established cultural institutions who see their public funding go down and want to compensate this monetary loss simply by extracting more money from 'the crowd' - rather than rethinking the nature of their own practice and ways of working. We can see that this will lead nowhere as 'the crowd' will no
 t be willing to supplement dwindling public arts funds, meanwhile not getting anything new and not getting a stake or a new kind of involvement in the organisations and their cultural output. In other words, this short term strategy amounts to the same as simply raising the prices of your ticket sales, and we know what the result of this will be, raise them too much and the audience will stay away.

After two conferences (2008 and 2010) and extended discussions in the local and international environment the main observation that I take from the Economies of the Commons debate is that new realities are forcing cultural organisations to both rethink how they work and how they raise support for their activities. Replacing public funding with a commons based revenue stream will not work, while complete commercialisation will de the death trap for what makes this cultural activity most valuable (i.e. public accessibility, active dialogue, reuse and remix, critical engagement of the aesthetics and politics of experimental and media arts).

Therefore it seems that hybrid  models of practice need to be developed very urgently. Public funding should not be discarded, but should be fought for and where possible reinstated in the future, if current cutback plans are indeed effected (as it looks now they will be). But next to that more robust support structures need to be developed that range from shared resources and infrastructures (inter-institutional),  a more active community centric relationship between cultural organisations and their public beyond the prismatic jargon of crowd funding and crowd sourcing - i.e. based on genuine relationships of mutual interest and not seeing 'the crowd' as an amorphous body from which to suck the blood for a vampire-like existence as a non-living / non-dead entity, AND a critical look at (yes!) monetisation of the value created in arts and cultural contexts through established and emerging market mechanisms - not for the sake of profit but for the sake of sustaining that what 
 is truly valuable and keeping it open and accessible.

>From what I see evolving now none of these three channels will deliver on their own (public support, the commons, the market). So, if we are to be serious about the future of the practices we have so long been involved in, my feeling is that only a complementary strategy will point a way ahead, however difficult and frustrating that route will be. 

So far the ECommons conferences have not produced a single model of how to effect a new and sustainable strategy, but they do more than simply raise the question. Where the focus during the ECommons events has been on heritage / archives / on-line resources, the Free Culture Forum (FCF) in Barcelona has moved in its last edition towards the question of economic sustainability of commons based or free culture practices from the perspective of the producer - a first document in this direction can be found here:
http://fcforum.net/en/sustainable-models-for-creativity/declaration

FCF is now in the process of launching a new research initiative to try and substantiate the suggestion made in the declaration of the 2010 edition (and will reconvene in 2011 also). Hopefully this research can be developed to further strengthen the attempts at building new hybrid and more robust and sustainable support models in view of an untrustworthy state that capitulates to the pressure of a global reconfiguration of the international economy on the one hand, and market fundamentalism on the other.

It is clear at least that the discussion is both economic and political, but I think we cannot wait anymore for the state to get its act together, and should move forward into the domain of what has long been called the post-governmental condition.

------------

On the situation in The Netherlands:

While I sympathise with all attempts locally to address the funding cutback in the arts sector in The Netherlands, and actions to amend its potentially disastrous effects, when looking at the specific domain of new media culture or e-culture (as it is named in NL), it would be wrong to assume that the current policy proposal is somehow irrational or ill-conceived, or not properly thought through. Quite on the contrary, the suggestions made by the state secretary are the perfectly logical culmination point of a shift in discourse and funding priorities well underway before the financial crisis, which is supposed to be the root cause of this austerity operation.

Already during discussions in preparation for the infamous Practice to Policy conference (Towards a New Media Culture in Europe, 1997), policy makers at the Ministry of Culture repeatedly voiced their concern that an entirely new sector of cultural and artistic activity around the new media would place a disproportional burden on the public budget for culture. It was more or less unthinkable that this could be payed for at the expense of existing cultural infrastructures (slash the Opera's for new media culture? - not an option). Consequently other funding opportunities needed to be identified, ranging from a closer alignment with industry (art and industry), education (formal and informal learning), and the social and care sector (social quality). Only a cross-sectoral approach, tapping into the resources available in these different sectors would be able to resolve the investment needs to let the new media culture field blossom.

And actually this strategy worked quite well - the Waag Society with its foot simultaneously in culture, innovation, education and care is the living embodiment of this idea.

A few years down the road, however, the creative industries meme (under influence of Blairite Britain and third way politics - also highly popular in NL) started to gain traction. Creative Industries as an idea provided policy makers with the ideal solution to this infrastructure problem for new media culture: Public money would not be simply public funding - spend once and it comes back to you next year - but instead presented itself as an investment opportunity, where new initiatives could be set up that would sustain themselves in the market and that would even generate a substantial contribution to the general economy offering a profitable payback for society and the government (through tax revenues).

Obviously, the creative industries meme was a much more attractive proposition for these overburdened policy makers than new media culture or arts. We have seen in policy making, debates, writing, discourse that words such as 'art', 'autonomous', 'culture' have all been side-lined, while 'experimentation' now became a natural part of 'innovation', making it subservient to an implied economic logic or expected economically beneficial long term effects. Art and economy became a popular subject for a state secretary of culture about two policy generations ago, and she was herself coming from the business community, not from public administration, let alone the arts field.

The current transformation of the separate sectors of design, architecture and e-culture into 'creative industries', baptised with a new investment fund is in no way a contradiction of this trend, but instead its absolutely logical culmination. This new labelling is more than a mere semantic exercise - it is deliberate strategy to eradicate 'autonomous experimentation' and make cultural production subservient to an economised market logic. It is also an effective tool for the complete depolitisation of art.

Critics in The Netherlands, again I sympathise with their criticism, have absolutely no stance to claim that this is a sudden or a new development, that the arts sector (not just the media arts / new media culture) could not see this coming. Already in 1999 / 2000 former director of De Balie Chris Keulemans and design critic Max Bruinsma wrote an extensive series of well researched and argued essays for Dutch national daily De Volkskrant critiquing the 'economisation of culture', right about the time when at De Balie itself we were developing the Tulipomania DotCom conference (2000) at the instigation of Geert Lovink. Warnings that the economisation of culture meant a disregard for the enormous societal value of autonomous experimentation in the arts and its ambiguous and often untraceable trickle down effects in society (and economy), in favour of short-term economistic market driven view of cultural supply and demand structures.

Only when the cutbacks were finally announced did the art world spring into some kind of action (street protests in the Fall of 2010) and now is facing dramatic consequences of well over a decade of inaction and unwillingness to critically engage the shifting discourses in policy formation and politics at large. In the current situation the arts world is set back by miles and needs to play a hyper-urgent catch up game, most likely unable to prevent as yet immeasurable damage.

It is important, when developing a critique or actions aimed at challenging these policies, to understand where they come from and how they are formed - they do not just appear randomly and out of nowhere.  

Obviously it is never too late to spring into action - but is VERY late!

As for myself, I will not actively protest but support any well argued critiques, for the rest I'd rather spend my time building alternatives.

Bests,
Eric


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