Spread from the Post-Precarity Zine, courtesy INC

Shifting the definition of professional competence — Post-Precarity Zine: Toolbox for Beginning artists

Issue no6
dec- -jan 2021
Vijf interviews - Depot

The rhetoric that artistic freedom should be separate from talks of money and professionalization still prevails in art academies and public imaginations, making the survival — not to mention well-being — of artists a neglected topic. The Post-Precarity Zine, a result of collective reckonings from the Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, co-organized by the INC, Platform Beeldende Kunst and Hotel Maria Kapel, discusses these elephants in the artists' rooms.

For young artists in the Netherlands, talking about the economics of their practices can feel like a taboo. While side jobs, funding applications and doubts about the art world are common concerns, young artists shy away from these conversations, either lacking the vocabulary or feeling insecure about sharing their experiences. The rhetoric that artistic freedom should be separate from talks of money and professionalization still prevails in art academies and public imaginations, making the survival — not to mention well-being — of artists a neglected topic.

Opening up the discussion is urgent, especially as the covid pandemic puts additional pressure on the already precarious conditions of many artists. A new publication by the Institute of Network Cultures (INC), “Post-Precarity Zine: Toolbox for Beginning Artists”, shines a much needed light on the discourses that affect the work and life of artists.

The Post-Precarity Zine is a result of collective reckonings from the Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, co-organized by the INC, Platform Beeldende Kunst (P BK) and Hotel Maria Kapel (HMK). During the five-day camp, which took place in September 2021, approximately twenty recent graduates from Dutch art and design academies gathered to discuss the elephants in the artist’s room. Are you getting paid fairly as an artist? Is your life healthy and balanced? Is there any sustainable self-organization in your practice? Each day focused on one theme: working in the gig economy, money flows in the cultural sector, experiments with cryptocurrencies, staying happy and healthy, and durable self-organization.

Are you getting paid fairly as an artist? Is your life healthy and balanced? Is there any sustainable self-organization in your practice?

Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, courtesy INC

Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, courtesy INC

Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, courtesy INC

Organizer Sepp Eckenhaussen speaks about the necessity of the camp. A lot of young artists find themselves confronting the rough reality of the labor market in the Netherlands. Many people graduate from art schools without having ever heard of the Fair Practice Code or the Guideline for Artist Fees. They [might] not know what organizations can represent them or how to say no to underpaid work.”(1)

On the first day, participants shared with the group the financial streams that fund their practice, ranging from parental support to temporary jobs. The discussions on personal finances required a great degree of vulnerability, which explains why participants found it difficult to speak about them in daily life. “The camp made me reflect on moments when I felt unable to share my situation with others and the isolation I felt when going through stress,” writes camp participant Malin (who would like to be referred to by first name). “We didn't have to pretend that we had it all figured out when we met each other [at the camp], which was refreshing,” adds another participant Ana-Maria Gușu.

In the days to follow, facilitated by several presentations, participants gained further insight into existing capital flows and alternative models of financial organization: Marianna Takou from Casco Art Institute provided example projects that redistributed public funding and pooled resources through commoning practices. Artist Timo Demollin presented his report on philanthropy funds in arts and culture. Artist Rosa Menkman talked about her journey exploring Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrencies.

At the end of each day, participants reflected on their learnings by drawing, writing and collaging on pieces of A4 paper. These materials were first scanned and uploaded to the INC website as blog posts, and gave participants a glimpse into their collective thinking throughout the camp. Some of the scans came from workshop activities — for example, when participants deconstructed their CVs as an institutionalized instrument for unpaid labor and declared their own terms in valuing their work.(2)

The zine-making time was planned for collaboration, reflection and rest – as organizer Eckenhaussen puts it, “a kind of down time where people can retreat.” Besides generating a sense of togetherness, the zine also helps disseminate knowledge after the camp. “We carefully selected the materials which we thought would be useful for those who [we could not invite to] the camp,” writes Morgane Billuart, camp participant and designer of the zine.

As a toolbox, the zine includes practical exercises, tested out at the camp through roleplay and workshops, that help artists navigate conversations on fee negotiation, life balance and solidarity

Spread from the Post-Precarity Zine, courtesy INC

Spread from the Post-Precarity Zine, courtesy INC

Spread from the Post-Precarity Zine, courtesy INC

The structure of the zine follows the camp’s daily program — with introduction texts, input from the participants and photo documentation. As a toolbox, the zine includes practical exercises, tested out at the camp through roleplay and workshops, that help artists navigate conversations on fee negotiation, life balance and solidarity.

Among these pages are: a real email exchange between an artist and a curator representing a Dutch museum, revealing the normalized practice of institutions to “pay” artists with exposure and how an artist can respond in these situations.(3) A series of questions that reframe the dichotomy of work and life into four relational fields (the domestic, the peers, the market and the public), illuminating the fact that artistic freedom is dependent on — as opposed to independent from — other personal, social and economic relationships.(4) A resource glossary listing platforms and initiatives that experiment with self-organization and redistribution of money.

Throughout the camp, participants questioned the competitive environment fostered by funding mechanisms and the outdated attachment to “autonomy” in art academies. The demand for higher visibility of artist rights became clearer. “I'm looking first for ‘minor’ changes, like getting paid for my labor or being respected about how I want to use my free time,” writes participant Gizem Üstüner, “I question the praise for high productivity and the focus on the outcome all the while neglecting the invisible work of artistic production. I now think about how much I want to engage with these problematic processes.”

An open letter to art academies, developed from these conversations, is now part of the zine. The letter, titled “4 Demands for Economically Responsible Art Education,” calls for a curriculum that implements more courses on post-precarity and involve students in institution-building. As participant Malin writes, “we need education [instead of] vague promises from Art-institutions or funds and clear facts about how we are seen in the market and how we want to act within it.”

Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, courtesy INC

Spread from the Post-Precarity Zine, courtesy INC

The publication of the open letter – and the zine overall – is one step towards a cultural shift, a shift where cultural workers see themselves differently and institutions actively engage with the discourses of professionalization. “At the camp we tried to look at what things we can self-organize today, while not forgetting to make a claim to public values such as universal basic income, more funding for the arts, and general labor agreements,” says Eckenhaussen, “the reality is, if we do not shift the definition of professional competence, the only artists who will ‘make it’ are those with enough privilege, with wealthy parents and the ‘bit of luck’.”

The Post-Precarity Zine will be available in December 2021 on the INC website: https://networkcultures.org/ A physical launch of the zine will take place in late 2021 or early 2022.

Notes:

1. https://fairpracticecode.nl/ and https://kunstenaarshonorarium.nl/

2. The workshop, titled “Curriculum Veto”, was led by Art Goss on Day 4.

3. This is slowly changing. In 2021, Mondriaan Fonds made it mandatory for subsidized institutions to comply with fair payment to artists. Under a temporary scheme, institutions can apply for a budget allocated specifically for artist fees. Nevertheless, it is too early to say whether this scheme will turn into long-term support or what will happen when budget prioritizations shift. https://www.mondriaanfonds.nl/subsidie-aanvragen/regelingen/kunstenaarshonorariumregeling/

4. The email exchange took the form of a roleplay and the series questions were part of a workshop that refers to the “artistic biotope” model by Pascal Gielen. Both were led by Koen Bartijn from Platform BK.

Jue Yang
is a writer and filmmaker

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