Radius of Art: Reflections on the geometry of global symbolic power
This report aims to critically reflect on the presentations and discussions within the thematic window cultural policy and alternative funding structuresof the conference radius of art that was held on the 8th and 9th of February 2012 at the headquarters of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, Germany. The report aims to shed light on the politics of the radius of art conference itself and the impact of political, social and economic globalisation in the field of the arts. Thus, it intends to highlight which dynamics unfolded on this temporary platform, in which a diverse range of interests of internationally, nationally and locally operating non-/governmental cultural policy institutions and corporate funding bodies as well as cultural managers and artists have been articulated.
The Latin word radius is used in geometry to define the distance between the centre of a circle or sphere and its perimeters. To grasp what the global radius of art, in the figurative sense, might be, hence, insists on the measurement of the distance between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’. In other words, understanding what is meant with the radius of art calls us to think about the arts within the framework of the geometry of symbolic power. The thriving of the arts at least in Europe, as its history has taught us, has always been in one way or another reliant on a system of patronage. Whether it has been painters or musicians being commissioned by the clergy and aristocracy to produce a work of art or with the emergence of capitalism and democratic nation states and the funding provided by governments and business elites, the arts as public or private goods enable the accumulation and display of symbolic power (see also Bourdieu 1992, 1993 and Thompson 1995). One of the classical aims of Western governmental (foreign) cultural policy has been to display the power of the nation, to strengthen its prestige and to legitimise its political agenda at home and abroad. In that context, the relationship between the arts and government is characterised by its function to display political and cultural power towards its citizens and other nations through the spectacle of the arts. Foreign cultural policy that assumes that there is a ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ to social life and within the radius of artrisks to re-/produce a neo-colonial patronage system and a certain kind of Eurocentric conservatism. Its translation into the arts world and the extension of this discourse into some of the discussions and presentations of the conference (such as the plenary session Good Life in Times of Cholera and Other Turbulences and the workshop Artists in Danger) seem to fossilize the outdated distinctions between European high and avant-garde art in the so-called ‘centre’ and ‘culturally diverse’, ‘traditional’ or ‘native’ art in the so-called ‘periphery’.
Another relatively recent argument for governmental arts funding is that artists are seen as ‘agents of social change’. As Barbara Unmüßig, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation pointed out in her opening speech of the conference, the arts need funding because they “have an immense potential for social transformation and empowerment”. For that reason, as she further argues, there is a need for cultural policies that “support artistic proposals responding to contexts of poverty and social exclusion, as well as building collective platforms for the mobilisation of different social players towards public causes such as social integration, effective citizenship, human rights, multicultural dialogue, and social equity”. The funding for the arts, thus, fulfils for the political left in governmental institutions the political objective of constructing a sense of social cohesion and equality. However, policy-making and funding structures that aim to support artists as agents of social change need to take into account that the artistic labour market itself is characterised by a high level of (self-) exploitation (Abbing, 2007) and that artists often belong to the working-poor with several part-time jobs and little social security and therefore needs itself considerable changes in the way how artistic labour is structurally organised. The question of economic sustainability for artists and arts projects is interconnected with the third theme about alternative funding structures for the arts and the promotion of cultural entrepreneurialism and corporate social responsibility that emerged during the discussions.
The workshop cultural policy and alternative funding structures created a platform for representatives of arts and culture organisations from different so-called emerging and developing countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, who partly receive funding from European non-/governmental funding bodies. The issues discussed during this session were the institutional funding strategies of these organisations and the wider question of what kinds of alternative funding structures, independent from European donors, could foster their economic sustainability. Hatem Hassan Salama (project manager at the Centre Rézodanse in Alexandria, Egypt) and Basma El-Husseiny (Managing Director of Culture Resource Al Mawred Al Thaqafy, Egypt) presented how they conceptualise alternative funding strategies. Two of their suggested alternatives to public funding are the development of young cultural entrepreneur schemes and corporate philanthropy in the Arab World. There are several issues with regards to the question whether these proposed alternatives could actually promote better working conditions for arts organisations and capacity building in a development context. In the European context, the idea of the cultural entrepreneur has become over the past ten years a toolkit for economic and labour policies, in which the cultural entrepreneur embodies a successful role model of the creative and innovative workforce. According to the beliefs of policy-makers and urban planners the creative industries serve as an engine for diversity, growth, jobs and as an instrument for urban regeneration. The glossy brochures of creative industry policy reports however obscure the fact that the quantitative growth of cultural entrepreneurs and artists did not lead to an increased work quality and job security for people working in the artistic field, but to a rapid rise of a new creative precariat. Learning from that experience, I would argue that the cultural entrepreneur model does not offer a sustainable alternative for arts organisations and fundraising in a development context.
The second alternative model introduced with regards to alternative funding structures draws on the increasing role of institutional philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and business endowment for the development of arts and cultural organisations as agents of civil society. As Michael Edwards (2010) has pointed out in the book Doing Good or Doing Better: Development Policies in a Globalizing World, the problem with private philanthropic initiatives is that they “suffer from two central weaknesses that make it much more difficult to develop effective proposals for policy and practice in support of private aid: poor impact analysis and weak accountability” (Edwards, 2009: 248). Following Edwards analysis, we need to critically reflect on the popularity of private philanthropy within the radius of art as the gradual (or in some cities rapidly growing) privatization of arts funding may lead to the privatization of (foreign) cultural policy more broadly, with the negative consequences of having less democratic processes of policy-making and less transparency and accountability regarding cultural policy-making and funding.
Based on the examples depicted in this report the question remains of what is needed in future discussions about cultural policy and alternative funding structures for the arts. I would argue, that the issue at stake with regards to the dynamics that unfolded during the conference is not per se about its function; that is to legitimise the funding of arts institutions towards the public (in terms of how much is spend for what purpose) and to justify the budget and activities of (foreign) cultural policy institutions. What needs to happen in the future, however, is a greater public debate informed by rigorous, independent and critical evaluations on the effects of public and private funding rather than self-serving promotional and managerial presentations. This relates to the need to create opportunities to discuss openly and critically the relationship between governments, private funding bodies and artists. The extent to which for example existing funding structures create problems for artists (such as that artists have precarious labour conditions, that the creative industry strategies promote an economic policy, which does not necessarily support artists in terms of the quality of how artistic labour is experienced, but the increase of the quantity of people stepping into low-paid artistic occupations) needs to be discussed more extensively. Instead of reproducing the glossy vocabulary of the creative industries and cultural diversity managers, we need to start thinking beyond the current paradigms and outside our own (institutional) boxes in order to understand the power and potential of the micropolitics of the arts.
Abbing, Hans (2007) Why are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts, Amsterdam University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1992) Language and Symbolic Power, Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1993) The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, Columbia University Press.
Edwards, Michael (2009) “Why ‘Philanthrocapitalism’ is Not the Answer: Private Initiatives and International Development”, in: Monique Kremer, Peter van Lieshout und Robert Went (eds) Doing Good or Doing Better: Development Policies in a Globalizing World, Amsterdam University Press, page 237-249.
Thompson, John (1995) The Media and Modernity, Polity Press, page 10-31.