In his talk about Trust for the Israeli podcast ‘New World’ (translated from Hebrew), Dan Ariely, an author and professor for behavioural economics, discusses politics in the 21st century as a game of sheer interests. He suggests that people view politics as a win-or-lose game, and as opposed to an expanded view on society – deeming social morals and care for the common good – they vote for the candidates who they believe will serve their personal interests the most. Be it financial, ecological, or security-related, votes (trust) are placed in favour of the candidate who represents one’s worldview and promotes one’s interest most adequately.
I believe it is always relevant and important to discuss polarisation as nationalism continues to prevail and gain dominance in times of political rift. However, what I am intending to share here is my contemplation about political dynamics in a field of power, and following Ariely’s view, some notes on how the game of interests might behave and manifest in the arena of the funding for the arts.
I depart from my understanding of funding as a political event. Decisions taken on the dissemination of resources and criteria-setting that determine eligibility for production, promotion, circulation, and recognition is a deliberate interplay that I think should not be conceived naively. Howard Becker, in his book ‘art worlds’ (2008) expresses that nation-states take an active role in the production cycle of art as they set the legislative apparatus within their borders and thus provide a framework for the cooperation of artists, distributors, and audiences. (Becker, 2008, p. 165) This framework, conveyed by means of policies, articulates this game of interests and intentions. In some cases, interests and priorities are being articulated by strategies and in others, they are implicit; in both scenarios, mechanisms and how they are being deployed, can imply how things work de facto, and the proximity of practice from the original strategic intent or assertion. We pay much attention and participate in public discourses concerning nation states’ cultural policies since the state as a public institution is the only funding agency to be held accountable for how it secures the common good by means of support and funding for the arts. Given it is the dissemination of public money (sourced from mandatory tax contributions) we expect to feel represented and reassured by the state-sponsored cultural offerings and services. Unlike private agencies who partake in the funding mission of the arts, (e.g funds, corporates) the state must report on how it conducts democratically, and how its actions reflect the way it perceives and visions society. Failing to act democratically or making choices that disrupt the balance of freedom and equality in society result in public disputes, countering and de-legitimising actions of citizens and civil society.
*Photo taken from the website: This is not an Atlas. For me it resembles the multiplicity of forces, players, logics and interests in a given field.
(Available at: https://notanatlas.org/maps/c-artographies-of-positionality/)
In a civilised and democratic society, we expect artistic freedom to be safeguarded and art to be given the platform and legitimisation to challenge social constructs, refer to alternative forms of living and expand human consciousness. By virtue of its aesthetic value, art might exercise subversiveness and insurgency to a greater extent than other forms of organisation and communication. Referring to the aesthetic value of art, as well as viewing it as an expended right of freedom of expression, we conceive its positionality as unique and, in theory, allow it extended freedoms. However, in practice, art production is reliant on funding, being substantially affected by the confines and conditions this allows (Alexander, 1996). The multiplicity of funding actors in the art field – the macro level of EU and state public funding; banks; corporates; private funds; etc’ – extend the discourse on the effects of funding on art from mere (but important!) questions about state censorship and freedom of expression to investigations into the autonomy and agency of artists in the light of the fact that artists’ intentions are increasingly shaped by the interests of various funding agencies. The arena of art funding is changing as corporates increasingly become more significant in the generation and promotion of art and socially engaged art. Revealing already that in Romania and Greece private funding takes a substantial, if not the main role in keeping the art scene going, I am curious what the field will disclose in relation to the ongoing meta-debate on public versus private funding for the arts.
Another interesting aspect is the networks and multilateral relationships that artist groups cultivate in their attempt to sustain their art and ensure continuity and freedoms. What strategic decisions they embrace and how they secure what they think should never be compromised. As the political theorist and philosopher Oliver Marchart maintains, a dimension imperative to the understanding and actualisation of an activist act is of the groups’ organisation and institutionalisation (Marchart, 2019, p. 36). How they organise and understand their role and actions, and around what believes they gather, are the primary questions whereby I intend to compose an up-to-date cartography of their organisational system, which I maintain is political too, as it also revolves around mission, interests, and values that form and informs ethos and actions. Will the field prove that political performance is repeatedly problematic and unqualified for state funding? Will some countries show differently? What is then the role of private funding or alternatively, how significant then self-organisation becomes?
Alexander, V. (1996). From philanthropy to funding: The effects of corporate and public support on American art museums. Poetics, 87-129.
Becker, H. (2008). Art Worlds. Los Angeles: University of California .
Marchart, O. (2019). Conflictual Aesthetics: Artistic activism and the public sphere. Berlin: Sternberg Press.