Hopefully, you’re reading these lines feeling well and safe.
My name is Noa Mamrud. I’m a professional dancer and producer.
It is my first time writing a blog. Frankly, I would have never imagined my ever first blog would discuss cultural policy, labour and funding. Rather, I would have thought that it would be about my personal and artistic encounters. But the more I think about it, the more I recognise how the personal, performative and academic sides of my life interlink. It goes back three years ago. In 2018, I have turned 30 and spent some time in a quest for my freedom, independence and agency as a freelance artist. Like many mature female artists, I started to wonder about my financial capacity, self-reliance, long-term plans and substantiality as a self-partnered woman. I had no savings nor pension scheme, and was practically living a random, nomadic and precarious lifestyle. At the same time, life was very free-spirited and adventurous. These were times of great abundance, work took me to the most beautiful places in the world, I met people and discovered relationships, inspiration, movement, joy. Yet, the question has remained – how can I can do what I am good at, without necessarily sacrificing my financial security and future? This question has eventually led me to apply for my MA in Arts Administration & Cultural Policy. There, I started to explore the labour conditions in contemporary dance and the personal consequences of the self-employed artist. Today, within the framework of project 7 at the FEINART programme, I am interested in taking my investigation of employment and policy of the independent art sector a step further.
Before presenting my project, and to give an orientation to my research question, I would like to share an excerpt from: ‘Lockdown Theatre (2): Beyond the time of the right care: A letter to the performance artist’ written by Bojana Kunst (2020)
Such a process of imagination is very familiar to you, who are always involved in so many working processes with people, things, bodies, spaces, sounds, animals, friends, atmospheres, weather, plants, spaces, etc. You are incessantly caring for micro-relations, growing the practice of imagination in collaboration, testing, exploring, and corresponding with so many of you and them. Therefore, I wonder, how would you, in many different forms of you, if (hopefully) everything goes well for us, imagine the time beyond? What is your hope, your imagination of the future, how are you colouring your deepest fears? Will you be able to continue at all, concerning that it was already very heavy and almost impossible for many of you before?
Bojana Kunst is a philosopher and performance art theorist. Her words, to me, give the essence of what I wish to contribute with my research. She expresses the already difficult situation of artists and asks to imagine a better future while relating to the current Corona crisis as an opportunity for reflection and a turning point. In my research, I hope to explore how this future could look like and ask – How can economic precarity be mitigated and resilience fostered in the independent art sector?
In my research, I will discuss the labour and financial precarity of the independent art sector and focus on the groups and institutions that work in the field of socially engaged art (SEA). Why? Firstly, because I’m highly intrigued by and curious about art that seeks out an interdependence with and connection to society; secondly, because I suggest that the case of SEA can specifically illuminate the economic and political challenges increasingly rampant in the fragile relationship between art institutions, funding authorities and artists. It is my hope that the investigation of the funding of SEA, entailing most acute issues in cultural policy, will give a reference to the independent art sector as a whole for the questions of labour, precarity and resilience.
My research embarks from the crisis of our current times, Covid-19, and argues that its consequences are a radicalisation of the field’s experience of precariousness, vulnerability and uncertainty that was prior to the crisis. It suggests that the new pandemic situation brought along an economic necessity for a more robust, sustainable and resilient sector. Therefore, in addition to the continuous advocacy and value of socially engaged art, future endeavours should be geared towards finding creative ways to mitigate economic precarity and build resilience in the field.
The research will review the history of socially engaged art and its evolution until our current times; how it has affected other fields, and most importantly, how cultural policies understood and harnessed socially engaged practices. Coming from the performing arts and with a background in cultural policy, I have learned that Socially Engaged Art (SEA) is a term that is differently interpreted. How does the artistic scene view SEA? How does theory related to SEA help us to understand the practice better? What do policy-makers mean when saying Engagement? Social impact? Is there a common denominator between all of these?
Further to that, I will explore the state of labour in the arts and identify the factors which make it precarious. I will focus on three study cases of SEA projects in three countries – Greece, Sweden and Romania. I expect that the diversity of the political, economic and historical contexts of each country within Europe will bring insightful resources for examining the problems and hurdles, as well as the opportunities and strengths, in the meeting points of art and policy. Potentially there will be as well an outlook on my home country, Israel.
In my research, I aim to map, question and analyse the tools, strategies and practices used by state (authority) support agencies and other bodies for funding. Additionally, to investigate and develop different business models so to enhance the social and economic conditions of the labour in the field. Lastly, and based on what I have learned about the conduct of the different actors (authority, institutions/groups), to complement policies with measures for fostering resilience and stability in the socially engaged art field and largely in the European independent art sector.
My ambition in conducting this research project is my hope to find creative and smart ways to tackle the long-lasting paradigm of art and precarity. Even though issues concerning the social and economic conditions of cultural workers were reported more than fifteen years ago, little to no significant response has appeared in forms of a solid policy. In our current times, the employment and social rights of cultural workers are even more acute issues, given the global halt in various forms of cultural production. I believe that by embracing a holistic perspective that brings into consideration the role and capacity of the different actors: Authority – Artists – Arts and Cultural institutions; ways in which they all might benefit and thrive will be revealed.
Just before finishing… I would like to share that I intend to gather think tanks every once in a while, for presenting my findings and opening some questions for debate. This is for ensuring that diverse opinions, skills and ideas feed into the somewhat challenging task of this research. Moreover, I feel that this particular kind of investigation begs collaborative thinking and consultancy. Hopefully, you’d like to join! Stay updated and find out about ways to get involved here in my blog.
Until next time…