Culture Culture 10th of May summary - Berlin

The third meeting in the series took place at TOP, where I cohosted it with @tuce (to be on the platform soon:))

TOP is a collective of 20 people, focused on neighborhood practices and arts&science. They have a DIY lab in the back where they host workshops and artist space. The collective consists also of groups dealing with architecture, urban transformation and gentrification working with the neighborhood.
Tuce works as an independent curator and art writer, and she’s originally from Turkey. She deals with archives, posthumanism, transhumanism. Into the idea of hacking as a tool for artists in different ways.

Other guests - @uwe, who is in Berlin for 4 years and has an interest in Cultural Hacking - grassroots evolution achieved by different means: communication, honesty workshops, improv workshops, different ways of relating.

@orangejon, who is using design thinking tools and background of UX and software design to create events, peer learning/ social events to achieve authentic human connection. He is in a transition phase - recently moved back to Romania, Cluj, a city with many interesting people and an IT industry. He wishes to take the success he has had with these events, supercharge them with technology ie machine learning and use it to solve climate change (ecological awareness, connecting on a bigger scale, other species, plants and nature and feeling value which we don’t automatically get in urban life). One of his projects are introvert-friendly events.

Gideon Smilansky (to join the platform) is an artist, a painter with a background in cinema studies. He runs an artist space in Tel Aviv. As he likes to tell the story - they put a hole in the wall in a southern unpopular part of the city and it became very successful. It has since transformed into a 650m art institute and turned out to be a learning process. Running a space was foreign to the collective, as they were the first of this new wave of artist-run space. They have to figure out how to run a space, how to curate, how to make up a team, what does it all mean?

As they progressed, they settled on creating hubs: with teaching space, an exhibition space, etc - an art institute. They have studios, workshops, exhibition space, run collaborations national/ international. The collective consists of 10-15 people and a nonprofit with everybody really giving their time - The Alfred Cooperative Institute for Arts and Culture.

How to build such a thing, from scratch, bootstrapping, without any knowledge?

The knowledge is implemented immediately, takes intuition and a big chunk of luck.
This establishment was like an icebreaker - they had to deal with not only understanding how to give value to our field, or making it up, but dealing a lot with registration, policy-making. This idea of a cooperative was not a legitimate status when it started. As a result, the project has impacted Israeli regulations and has changed it, so that public money could be given to such establishments.

The Artist-Run Alliance is the main research of the Alfred Institute, since a year. We managed to establish a platform which maps artist-run initiatives around the world. It’s also a marketplace for opportunities which arise out of these initiatives.

Artists are not very well educated or wish to have experience in management. And there is no well-organized knowledge transfer of all the experiences independent cultural. We would need to have a forum for that, a resource center.

Jonathan: I come from a needs space (more design oriented) I think there is some value to explicitly surface needs - both because it’s interesting, but also because other people can fulfill them.
People naturally think in terms of solutions - they tend to need some re-framing or prompting to figure it out.

Gideon: I’m walking you through the story. If we were now finishing the story - looking into the future is to say: we’ve achieved those things, let’s stop and re-think the rules. For us, giving visibility to needs could be the starting point for the dialogue. Our biggest wish. Researching and resourcing knowledge is not a step that’s been properly done. And yet people spend PhDs studying sentences from Kafka (:-)))

From an emotional standpoint, sometimes it’s helpful to have a reflection done by someone outside the team. What happens is that the team takes so much energy from one another, that it becomes a mirror maze, and it could really disrupt your prospects for looking outside.

If you’re an artist, you should be doing art. If you’re putting your time into the establishment, then you’re not well positioned for recognition.

You have a class, a workshop, everybody builds their own, one after another, so it’s very centered on the individual. The pinnacle of your career is the solo exhibition. It’s a lot about ego and individuality. For these people, the creative process works best when they are alone. Like mathematicians.

Jonathan: Should the definition of success change?
Prior to engaging with that thought - first to show that even your idea of success is having an int career and showing your art to a lot of people; changing the idea of success should be done in a non-academic way

Noemi: what is best for someone to put their efforts into?

Gideon: Building this alternative value: something we historically know - ie the feminist’s struggle. Berlin is great not because of Gemalde, but the cultural playgrounds it creates.

Jonathan: In terms of cultural change, I still don’t tend to talk about the few individuals who have made great work, but about the organizations who have achieved something together. That surely matters to how we think about success.

Gideon: In collectives, very few people make art together. They actually stress the the point of not making art together.

Tuce: being in a collective means that you are meeting on the common ground. In Istanbul in the 1990s we saw artist collectives flourishing again; some had amazing ways of doing exhibitions in a squatted place. Now everything is commercialized. But there has been a short, great moment in the early 2000s - my collective members said: we are a collective, we have a venue, and we won’t show our own works, we’ll let young artists in. That lasted only for 3 years, because it was too much of work. All these people said: we are artists, we want to produce art.

What happens after you lose the space? 3 possibilities:

You’re turning into an institution

Or you die

Or you accept to be in this fragile, precarious situation

TOP is an association renting out the space; as a tenant, they have to sustain the space - often without funding. In Berlin, every year 15 artist-run spaces get 30K prizes. We got it 2 years ago, and it helped them cover some of the expenses up until now.

This space exists as a project space for 10 years. But to sustain it, we turned it into a co-work, where each member pays a monthly fee and can use the space for events as well. We don’t have a core group to spend the time to write the applications. So the existing model works because none of the people uses the venue too much - the space is just an addition to their work.

Great case study - people do not value their potential, or the space, to its full. The gap between the potential and the value is big. The value proposition of the space to the international community is not as big as it could be.

If I ask someone/ an artist here a question - a curator, writer, artist - for them this space could be a jumping point to places they want to be in their career. But they are not integrating their needs in the way that they visualize this space. One of the reasons - there is no strong narrative that helps them to do that.

At an Art fair, which I recently visited in Stockholm, there were representatives of 15 artist-run spaces from different countries coming and everyone there was telling this apologetic story about how shitty their space is, how difficult it is to sustain it. This is a constant reflection to the asset holders - then they start to understand the value proposition they (could!) give, that it’s higher than they thought.

Key point needed in this field: a reflection about value needs to be done by the third party; in order for them to start thinking on a higher level of efficiency. Then it stops being this pocket project. Money is not the reason that most artist spaces fail:

Most of the people in artist-run the spaces are engaged either in their own work or curating projects of people that were in the same status as them. That generates cultural value. But one person said: look, we must not only generate value to young artists, but also to young curators because they are going to be the people who build the next generation of shows in our locality. That’s where this space started to move forward, stronger impact and reputation. He understood what other people didn’t. The space members need to have more flexible and creative approach about the ways in which you create value.

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In our second meeting with Gideon, we discussed in more detail the role and potential of the platform and community he is building.

He would like this to become the first to-go place for artist-run spaces - and a source of knowledge about how this is done. Besides a global map, that it already features, it would also collect all:

  • opportunities to collaborate
  • main events
  • knowledge sharing center, with mentoring and help provided
  • research source for academics
  • archive of the field
  • a space for lovers of the art scene
  • a toolkit on how to support artists and art spaces - anything from accounting, to legal tips, workshops, services, etc
  • place where spaces and individual develop new relations
  • careers, opportunities, sustainability strategies

Artist Run Alliance would be a space that creates roadmaps for new and old spaces to their success and longevity - and bring together various experiences on how small invitiatives grow, engage with the local and the global audiences, develop their values, ideas, and become smarter at operating.

Now my role here will be to find new funds and ways in which we can develop these features - besides funding opportunities, very needed right now, I also see an obvious overlap between us and ARA’s needs - we could at this stage at least offer another community space on the platform to start connecting spaces and artists in a meaningful discussion that would later on result in some of these knowledge centers.

Thanks for the notes!
Looking forward to see Gideon here, and Tuce.

Two things from my own reflection

  1. One of the best insights I got from the evening was to hear Tuce and Alessandro discuss about TOP, and see how different views can co-exist in the same space. If the space is not in over demand, then it seems that if people agree on the minimum ways to make rent and organise it it can actually work.
    The difficult part for sustainability seems to be when overhead is too big and /or someone needs more income or space and is struggling.

  2. The goal and purpose of the Artist Run Alliance is great, no question about it… For a collaboration to make sense it might be worth asking ourselves: what is a meaningful discussion for those who are members? Is it a discussion about the unmet needs they have? is it a discussion about novel ways of creating value?
    One of the money quotes for me is the end of your summary: ‘The space members need to have more flexible and creative approach about the ways in which you create value.’
    I think we would be heading towards a research project, and finding a source of funding for it, if you and Gideon decide to go forward with this.

ping @KatrienR: any thoughts or questions coming to mind about this conversation…?