It's not your fault - how art academies perpetuate social unsafety

Issue no2
April - May 2021
#WATGEVENWEDOOR

What makes the art academy an unsafe working environment? A number of teachers from art academies argue that the appointment procedures and terms of employment within art education maintain a culture of fear. If you really want to change the situation, you have to tackle the material conditions and hierarchical structures that underlie it. (English translation of a text first published in Dutch in December 2020)

“That’s just the way things work here…”

“You are too emotional…”

"That's something between the two of you..."

"I'm just trying to do my job..."

"It was your choice..."

"That's not my role..."

"Well, you know what he is like..."

"But can't we just talk about that?!"

"This is your own responsibility..."

"Pick your battles..."

"Well, you are very critical/negative..."

"Personally, I don't have any issues with..."

"You know, in the real world you will also have to deal with..."

When you, as a student or teacher, try to raise an issue at the art academy, you might as well just hear one of the above clichés. Whether it is about the lack of communication or responsibility, pedagogy, bullying, your contract or your wage, the general whiteness and total lack of "diversity" in the institute, or about unacceptable behavior. Raising an issue means that you quickly become the problem yourself: "When you expose a problem you pose a problem," as Sara Ahmed explains. [1]

No wonder expressions of concern, criticism and despair come out through other outlets. Students and teachers are desperate and resort to social media such as Instagram to make themselves heard anonymously and loudly. We rather speak with a journalist such as Lucette ter Borg than with a confidential advisor appointed by the academy, because there, you are left on your own.

In recent weeks, art academies have issued statements. Everyone strives for a safe learning and working environment. Crisis management is running at full speed at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK). Expensive agencies have been hired to assist senior management and investigate the issue of the "internal culture of social unsafety" that has been uncovered. But what will this yield? Not so much in the short term: people ‘await the investigation’ and ‘cannot make any statements while the investigation is still ongoing.’ And what are the long-term benefits? A director stepping down? Or a coach being appointed for a poorly functioning and overworked manager?[2]

Art academies are accredited educational institutions. Everything on paper should guarantee the quality and functioning of these institutions--from accreditation boards to participation of students and teachers, complaints and whistleblower schemes, collective labor agreements, codes of conduct, sector-wide consultation bureaus, and a board of governors. How is it possible then that there is such a big gap between the pursuit of a safe working and learning environment on paper and the everyday experiences in practice?

The Andeweg case, and its aftermath, made it clear that unsafe environments at art academies are not incidental. What causes us to be structurally held back and discouraged from doing something about malfunctioning colleagues, transgressive behavior and abuse of power? What structures determine how we interact with each other, what we consider our job and to whom we are loyal? Who has insight into this, and where does accountability lie?

In this article, we examine three concrete structures within art academies that make (the lack of) social safety possible: The creation and composition of a department and its related appointment procedures, the terms of employment and the department culture.

1. APPOINTMENT PROCEDURES: NEPOTISM vs. THE "JOB APPLICATION CODE"

Although according to the collective labor agreement for higher professional education, compliance with the basic rules of the "job application code" is mandatory when recruiting new employees, most appointments of teachers at art academies seem to take place in the informal sphere. Job openings are rarely published. The head of a department often finds teachers through his own network, who he considers suitable, often on the basis of their 'interesting professional practice': '[They] work at a high level as an artist, musician, designer, composer, organizer, publicist, curator or researcher. They have a solid and relevant position in the professional field and, for the most part, an international reputation.’[4]

Pedagogical experience is rarely tested. And if it is, a broad portfolio and experience in giving some lessons or workshops at different locations will suffice. Productivity and a good network: These are the signs of competence in the gig economy, at least when it comes to upcoming artists and designers. Moreover, in the case of more established names, a lack of educational vision or organizational capacities will be thought to be easily compensated by co-teachers and a coordinator. Although a high cultural status does not say anything about your ability as a teacher, it easily results in an invitation for an appointment as head of department. After all, big names ensure large enrolment numbers and prestige.

A recurring principle is that art academies train students for professional practice. Academies assume that artists, writers and designers teach students the experience, knowledge and craftsmanship they have gained in the field. In this way, the institute hopes to anchor its relevance and quality in society and current events. You may wonder which current values ​​of the professional field these new teachers reproduce and maintain in this way – willingly or not. A flexible, workaholic mentality whereby productivity, usefulness and impact have disrupted true creativity and diversity?

Incidentally, professional practice is currently uncertain for so many that teaching has now also become the condition for having a practice at all. This will only strengthen the asymmetrical power relations within the academy; artist-teachers cannot afford to lose their appointment and cannot do anything else but be completely dependent on the governance as it exists in the academy.

2. TERMS OF EMPLOYMENT: STEADY CONTRACTS vs. THE 'FLEXIBLE SHELL'

The principle that art education and ‘the professional field’ must be connected also justifies the flexibilisation of education. Hardly any permanent contracts are given to new teachers; almost all of them work (compulsorily) on a temporary basis. There is little or no transparency about the exact number of self-employed people working at art academies per year. [5] Annual reports of art academies provide a little insight into the composition of the teachers here and there. In any case, it is clear that there is a dichotomy between the current - often old, Dutch and white - teaching body, of which a considerable part has a permanent appointment, and the 'flexible shell' of new teachers.

That dichotomy also translates into different financial compensation schemes. Annual figures show that members of the Executive Board in The Hague and Arnhem earned around 150.000,- euros in 2019. [6] A glaring difference with the standard minimum rate for self-employed teachers at Bachelor level - for at least ten to fifteen years, it has remained between the 35,- to 42,- euros per hour. At Masters level, the fee varies between 37,50 and 55,- euros per hour. Many beginning and young artists, designers, writers or curators are on a freelance contract because that is the only form of contract with which they can carry out their work or apply for grants.[7] It is not a choice, it is simply the only way to work in the creative sector.[8]

Academies, however, explain this impermanence and flexibility as a wish of the teachers themselves: 'We see a continuation of the trend from 2017 in which teachers with temporary contracts prefer to work as self-employed, or on the basis of other flexible forms, at ArtEZ.’[9] The logic of autonomy and individualism on which both the art academy and the cultural field run seems to have also been internalized by the self-employed who teaches. They often find it ‘nice to just be a guest.’ But that resigned and, sometimes, cynical attitude stands in the way of the involvement and healthy collaboration that education requires.

When new teachers are nevertheless offered a contract, this is often a temporary one [10], the conditions of which are almost as precarious as those of a freelance contract. In the collective labor agreement, the so-called ‘chain scheme’ determines the maximum number of temporary employment contracts that may be consecutively drafted for an employee before a permanent one should be offered to him or her. 'Temporariness in employment contracts, and therefore flexibility, must be substantiated and explainable', according to the collective labor agreement for higher professional education.[11] According to it, regular work must be performed on the basis of a permanent contract or a temporary contract with the prospect of a permanent one, unless 'an assessment […] shows that the employee is performing inadequately'. [12]

At art academies, however, it is perfectly normal for teachers to retire after three or four year-long contracts.[13] For some this means that their time at the academy is up, for others it means that they are asked to interrupt their work for six months. They may be informally promised that they can resume their teaching afterwards, but they will not receive any guarantee on paper. The result: uncertainty, ambiguity, caution and, indeed, precarity.

Flexibility and therefore temporary contracts are legitimized by both art academies and the sectoral advisory board for art education with the argument that connection with current affairs, innovation and the professional field are important.[14] Art academies have thus created an exceptional position for themselves; they deviate from the collective labor agreement for higher professional education. While new 'artist teachers' with a professional practice are on the one hand of fundamental importance for art education, they are not treated as full employees according to law.

3. THE DEPARTMENT CULTURE

Because of the lack of transparency of appointment procedures and the logic of the gig economy on the one hand and poor working conditions and temporary contracts on the other, education itself has also become a competitive field. Being asked to work happens informally; being asked to stay is a whole other story. How is your performance, as a teacher, assessed at the art academy?

Performance interviews and evaluations vary considerably: Per department and academy, but also per appointment. It can be partly left to the teachers themselves or to a quality assurance department but it is ultimately the department head or the project leader who decides whether you can stay or not. Although the employment rights of tenured teachers are often guaranteed, the reasons for not asking someone with a temporary contract to teach again can be very arbitrary: Poor connection with other colleagues, absence from meetings, under-commitment, dissatisfied students, a professional practice that is less relevant.

When decisions about appointing or letting teachers go are made in such a shadowy manner, this creates a culture of distrust. It is too risky for lecturers and employees, including those with a permanent contract, to address poorly functioning colleagues or to report abuse of power. When taking concrete steps, people are likely to lose their job, to be bullied, or to experience consequences in the field outside the academy.

Trust becomes a loyalty issue. Superficial involvement and a culture of gossip and fear are the norm. Not only with lecturers and employees, but also with department heads. It is the same dynamic that makes it difficult for them to bring into line their acquaintances, friends and network. Let alone address them in case of undesirable behavior. Both on paper and in practice, the role of a teacher, their tasks, responsibilities and ethical or moral duties are not (properly) elaborated. The department starts with you and ends with you.

TRAININGS, COACHES AND EVENTS: THE STANDARIZED REACTION

Problems, whether raised by students or teachers, are often initially dismissed as subjective and are consequently isolated. They are only discussed occasionally, when they are, they are very rarely discussed in light of the hierarchical structures within the organization, although they are fundamentally tied to them.

Vague hiring procedures, unclear job descriptions, a lack of teaching assessment and evaluations, a lack of collegiality and commitment, accountability and responsibility and, also crucially, a lack of pedagogical skills, together form the culture that fosters the unacceptable behavior denounced by the NRC article published this last November about Andeweg.

We prefer to think we can solve the problem on our own. It is our (mythical) ideas of autonomy, artistry and professional practice that make us keep going and prevent us from seeing teaching as an extension of the academy's governance. Exceptionalism, individualism, freedom of choice and an extreme emphasis on individual responsibility form the framework within which education takes place. Add to this mix the usual relation of authority between teacher and student, but also the balance of power between management, heads, teachers with a permanent contract and the 'flexible shell' of countless temporary teachers, and you understand that there is a fundamental organizational problem at art academies. You are as an individual made personally responsible – and this is exactly what paradoxically paralyzes us and makes us keep going at the same time.

The same logic is now used when academies attempt to improve work culture. For every ‘problem’ there is a training, coach, event, panel, book, meeting or report. For the institute, everything is possible and ‘valuable,’ as long as it doesn’t come with obligations. Under the wings of research professors, studium generales and other experimental initiatives and loose partnerships, complex issues and initiatives lose their efficacy and potential for change. They are transformed into mere discursive products of the institute.

In other words, the institute allows for critical discourse without ever having to listen to it or for it to take root.

Expensive investigations into social safety, new confidential advisors, diversity officers and integrity codes will not change that much, as long as the poor and skewed working conditions and power relations that make good education impossible are not addressed. Power corrupts and should always be kept in check. However, as we indicated earlier, the danger also lies in the false promises of autonomy and freedom that permeates the art academy, professional field and the self-employed and which turn everything into ‘a personal matter.’

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Good and safe education, education where there is no place for rape, sexism, racism or bullying, requires engagement and long-term commitment. It requires a system of collective responsibility, transparency, trust, collegiality and involvement in which not only students can grow, but also teachers are supported. In which educational visions are shared, tested and adjusted. In which one is considered accountable and an evaluation is more than a cup of coffee or a vague yet excruciating assessment. And: in which pedagogical qualities are central.

For the time being, a number of department heads, research professors, teachers, coordinators, but also alumni and even a few students continue to benefit from mismanagement and nepotism. Despite differences, students and teachers should work together to promote a safe working culture. The struggle runs along hierarchical structures, but when we organize ourselves we can resist the forces that oppose change.

Get organized. Unite, join the Kunstenbond or Platform BK or another labor union. File joint complaints against the board. Demand transparency, vision and accountability. Demand shared frameworks, and an end to the massive wage gap and corruption that have resulted from this mismanagement. Don't do it alone, but together.

THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN DUTCH IN DECEMBER 2020. WE THANK THE TRANSLATOR WHO OFFERED THIS TEXT TO US TO MAKE IT AVAILABLE FOR NON DUTCH SPEAKING STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS.

IN METROPOLIS M NUMMER 2 #WATGEVENWEDOOR GAAT HET OVER DE STRUCTUREN VAN CULTURELE OVERDRACHT DIE HET KUNSTKLIMAAT VORMGEVEN EN BEPALEN. OA EEN RONDETAFEL MET VERTEGENWOORDIGERS UIT DE KUNSTWERELD, AIMÉE ZITO LEMA EN M.MARIA WALHOUT, EEN COLUMN VAN VINCENT VAN VELSEN EN PILVI TAKALA OVER DE CULTUUR OP DE WERKVLOER. ALS JE NU EEN JAARABONNEMENT AFSLUIT STUREN WE JE HET NUMMER GRATIS OP. MAIL JE NAAM EN ADRES NAAR [email protected]

*Anonymity

This article was written by a number of teachers (names known to the editors) and an advocate working at de Kunstenbond. The teachers choose to remain anonymous because it is unsafe for them to publish this text in their own name. In addition, they find it important that attention is paid to the content of the text. Peter van den Bunder of the Kunstenbond can be reached by name and surname regarding this article. Reactions can be e-mailed to the Kunstenbond: [email protected] or to the editors of Metropolis M domeniek [​at​] metropolism.com.

[1] See her blog feminist killjoys: https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/02/17/the-problem-of-perception/, and as well: On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life and What's the Use? On The Uses of Use. Her new book Complaint! will be published in 2021.

[2] One of the recommendations of research bureau Bezemer & Schubad (which is now investigating the abuses at the KABK, Design Academy Eindhoven, the Willem de Kooning Academy and previously also at ArtEZ), after their research into artistic director Marco Azzini at Theatergroep East Pole. See: https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-illustration/ongewenst-gedrag-maar-niet-grensoversch Rijd-artistiek-leider-toneelgroep-oostpool-mag-rijven~b9c2da5c/. How much money is involved in this and what does such research yield?

[3] ‘The recruitment for teacher vacancies is often handled by the departments. This is done via the network and/or via an application procedure’ Annual report 2019, KABK p. 55

[4] ‘Instellingsplan + kwaliteitsafspraken Hogeschool der Kunsten,’ The Hague 2019-2024, p. 21. https://www.kabk.nl/storage/documents/hdk/HDK_instellingsplan_NL_2019-2024.pdf

[5] Almost everyone at the Sandberg Institute is self-employed, including the coordinators and heads of departments. The KABK does mention an amount, but puts freelancers and guest lecturers together: ‘The total amount of hiring freelance and guest lecturers in 2019 was 2,601,000 euros,’ KABK 2019, https://www.hogeschoolderkunsten.nl/storage/media/JAARVERSLAG_2019_Hogeschool -der-Arts-The-Hague.pdf p. 55

[6] See: https://cultureelpersbureau.nl/2020/05/verreken-klm-en-booking-ook-in-de-gesubsiderden-kunsten-zijn-de-directeuren-grootverdiener/. See also: https://www.artez.nl/media/dit_is_artez/artez__jaarstukken_2019.pdf, p. 68;https://www.hogeschoolderkunsten.nl/storage/media/JAARVERSLAG_2019_Hogeschool-der-Kunsten-Den-Haag.pdf, p. 88.

[7] If you want to apply for a grant from the Mondriaan Fond or Creative Industries Fund, you must be registered with the Chamber of Commerce.

[8] ‘The decision to work as a freelancer is not always a free choice, but often something that one is forced to do.’ https://www.platformbk.nl/voorlopige-statement-over-de-arbeidsvoorwaarden-en-financiele-vergoed-van-freelance-curatoren-in-nederland/

[9] Annual report Artez 2018, p. 25. https://www.artez.nl/media/artez_jaaronderdelen_2018_definitief.pdf

[10] In 2019, 38% of the 325.64 FTEs had a temporary contract. Annual report KABK 2019, p. 57. https://www.hogeschoolderkunsten.nl/storage/media/JAARVERSLAG_2019_Hogeschool-der-Kunsten-Den-Haag.pdf

[11] CLA-HBO 2018-2020

[12] CLA-HBO 2018-2020, p. 25.

[13] Annual reports do not provide sufficient insight to determine the number of temporary contracts in relation to the number of permanent ones. It is known that theory teachers can get a permanent contract in some places.

[14] See, for example, annual report ArtEZ 2019, p. 24. https://www.artez.nl/media/dit_is_artez/artez__jaaronderdelen_2019.pdf

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 2 — 2021