A very interesting debate is going on with some facts and some clarifications needed - since most of you seem to be discussing the issue of fees but also making wild assumptions that do not reflect neither the community nor the organization of ISEA2011 Istanbul. (Apologies for the long email - but things needed to be clarified and I tried to do addressing most of the major points.)
This year the economic climate is particularly difficult and it has been like this for the past couple of years.
Someone has said that 'New Media' was the bastard child in the fine arts landscape - I couldn't agree more. Despite an aggressive fundraising nationally and internationally there have not been positive responses - apart from a few local organizations that are providing help pro-bono like the City of Istanbul and Vista.
Personally I was hoping for this conference to be for free, but unfortunately it has not been possible.
Therefore I will address some of the issues quickly that I believe would help to better understand the context:
Fees: are 300 and 250 euros for students and academics respectively.
As some of you have noticed we extended the early bird fees in April and it was our plan to let the fees stay as they were all along.
Why have a large 'jump then' was on the website? some of you may ask: it was more of an organizational issue in order to have as many people close their registration process as soon as possible and be able to do the program and look at the financial knowing were we stood.
Since the fees have become part of the budget this year in order to make sure where and how to allocate the fees we needed somehow to ensure that most people had registered by May. Now with even further commitment from the university allocating fee waivers we can see what can be done to assist people with complex financial situations.
There is one statement that I totally disagree with:
"I am not sure if I am more outraged by the fees or by the complete acceptance by a number of colleagues and friends of said fees."
If someone will be coming from Egypt or Canada with a few waiver to ISEA2011 Istanbul, for example, it is because of the complete acceptance of this number of colleagues (to which I am extremely grateful).
Are the very fees paid by these colleagues that are in part assisting with the conference but also allowing the University to allocate a number of fee waivers to people that have not had the chance to register or are from disadvantage international nations.
The job market is depressed and we are getting a picture in the current economic climate that is very saddening: with lecturers laid off, contracts not renewed for researchers and students, cuts on salaries, organizations with budget cuts of over 25 percent, etc.
Actually we have been waiving fees for people and organizations that have been strangled by budget cuts. This year you would be surprised by the shear number of how many people are having difficulties.
We have been approached by students who have asked to have their fees waived in exchange for their work and assisting with the conference. All requests have been looked at and generally granted, particularly for students.
To The ISEA Community
I wish to thank all of you that have actually made it possible for this conference to happen. Keynotes that have paid their fees - unheard of - as well as their travel and accommodation, students that have worked with us in convincing their institutions to support their attendance (thanks to them and their institutions) as well as all the organizations that despite the cuts are trying to support the artists and the speakers, and all of those that with a stretch of good will have worked with us and tried to find a solution to their financial issues.
Although all debates are very interesting this is a particular time for me and I need to focus as much as I can on the issues of assisting people and make sure that they can travel and have an interesting and pleasant conference. I would have preferred if those that are participating in this debate would have focused more on: e.g. how can we make sure that we get funding from the American Embassy? (We have approached them repeatedly in order to assist with people coming from the US and they have been not forthcoming. The republican approved budget in the US has had repercussions on ISEA as well and those lamenting the fees. Please make a note of this next time you vote.)
Here is an extract of an e-mail conversation that you may all find interesting:
The fees are not paying salaries - here we are all volunteering including myself - working non stop in order to make the event happen.
If I could have avoided having fees at all - with a sponsor offering money to cover costs - I would have done this ISEA without fees. Unfortunately it is not possible.
I am sure that you have put lot of work in your panel and I would be most happy to help you - but shouting at me will not help you nor me.
Perhaps we can together shout at the Goethe Institute or to Lufthansa or any other company you wish to.
Let me know and please bear in mind that I prefer a constructive practical approach leading to problem's solutions.
If any of you has any ideas on how to get support - please let us know. We are ready to follow any leads and any suggestions you may have. We have been trying everything - so a further attempt will not be problematic on our part.
Participation and Sharing
Although we have had incredible relationships with great part of the community, there have been episodes that have left me flabbergasted.
I opened a speech at the CAA two years ago, I think, in Chicago with a joke: saying that I was a European socially minded person and that probably in the US meant that I was a hard core communist.
Why to mentions this?
Because this conference has caused lots of soul searching within the ISEA team. We have questioned not the conference itself - I am very grateful to the Community that is proving that it exists and it is not a mythical animal - but some behaviors that I believe are self-deprecating, selfish and at time very unhelpful.
Two examples for all:
a) people that could have assisted us in finding funding from national institutions e.g. British Council or Goethe institute - have not done so. Although the arts council in some areas of the world are supporting the artists, like Australia and New Zealand - European countries in our backyard and cultural operators in those countries have not felt it necessary. (This would have allowed us to help other people from other areas.)
b) I have waived fees for entire panels if people were in financial need. An example for all: in order to facilitate the arrival of an artist from the US and to work with the European panelists that had invited him, I stated that they could use the waived fees to pay for that person travel and accommodation from the US if they did not find support from the Institution they were approaching. Their response: they wanted the fees waived for them and ISEA to pay for the US guest's travel and accommodation.
So What Are Our Fees Paying?
Our fees are helping people who would not be able to attend otherwise. The community with the fees is assisting those that otherwise would not be able to attend. Can we help everyone? I am not sure and I don't think so - we are flooded with work going through the issues and the people one by one.
This year all of my research budget and a good chunk of my own personal money has been sunk in this event. Am I claiming the money back? No. And for everyone's info I still have remnants of my Ph.D.'s debts for attending previous conferences around the world.
These Are Extracts From Our Discussions
For the Goethe and British Institute I have hammered in all directions to have funding for the artists but so far all has been ineffectual.
Academics are less of a problem - generally their home institutions support them. What is worrying and difficult are the students - I am holding up because with enough fees - if people don't feel that there is a rush to waive - we can help those that really need it: e.g. students and students/researchers from disadvantaged countries.
There was a serious discussion here when we received a request form Lecturers from Germany to have their fees waived. If we waive for the first world then we should probably waive for everyone else that comes from disadvantaged areas... but on the other hand that does not necessarily mean that someone from let's say Tanzania is necessarily poorer than someone from the US....
There has been lots of struggle and even heart wrenching on this topic this year - and we are going case by case, person by person... request by request and generally speaking waving when it is a student or someone else that we know would drop because of the financials.
Now, over the next couple of weeks we will be going through all paper presenters and speak with them individually - the ones that have not registered - and see if and how we can help them. The University has placed extra support and we have a number of fee waivers. Again this is possible thanks to 'those bad academics and bad students who paid the fees for the conference'. To all of you goes my utmost respect and thanks for proving me, in difficult times, that there is an incredibly supportive and understanding ISEA community.
General Overview of Financial
The ISEA2011 Istanbul conference will not make any money and it will take place thanks to a large financial support of the University. The fees will barely cover one sixth of the conference cost only - without taking into account the exhibition.
In All of This There Are Some Good News
a) the conference proceedings will be available for free (in previous editions they were not) although if we keep on waiving I am not sure that we will be able to do them in print for all
b) most of the program is for free - entrance to exhibitions, most workshops and etc. (many thanks again to all of you who are working hard with the financials of this year to keep most of the events free of charge).
c) there are no VIP events - personally never liked this division - everyone attends everything
d) the ticket to attend the conference as non-speaker - is 20 euros (this means attending the conference for 8 days and its events) - we did this in order to facilitate participation from international students and locals as well. With a single ticket fee of 18 euros for 8 days (2 euros per day) - everyone can attend and participate in the conference. (We will announce this on the website in the next few days).
Some of the comments in this forum are dictated in my opinion by an anger that is directed to the wrong people and the wrong institution. The questions I would ask are the following:
Where is our public money gone?
How can we exercise pressure on sponsors?
How can we organize ourselves to participate?
Are out there funding available that with the support of ISEA we could tap in to? (We have been writing numerous letters of support and contacting numerous agencies and we have added a new team member to help with the sponsorships, re-starting visits to possible sponsors.)
And finally in my opinion the most important question of all: How can we help the others?
Although all of this offers only a partial insight - the problems this year have been incredible and I am getting a very good picture of what is going on around the world.
As stated above shouting at me, or to ISEA, will not help. It will actually take away more of my time from trying to help people. The financials are what they are.
Let's try to organize ourselves and shout together to organizations (private and public) that you think can and should pay. I have no problem in adding my voice to yours in any constructive and helpful action.
With kind regards to all,
Conference Chair and Artistic Director