Archive for april, 2011

More fragile than their creations

Two tables away from me in a smaller restaurant in New York the other week, I spot the well-known author Salman Rushdie talking intensely with a friend.

I see his backside, but still recognize his strong appearance. I remember seeing him November 2008 in a TV-sent seminar together with Italian author Roberto Saviano arranged by Svenska Akademin under the name ”The free word and the lawless violence” (original title: ”Det fria ordet och det laglösa våldet”). Two writers living under death threat because of their artistic work.

The day after the visit at the restaurant I read an article in New York Times (April 20 2011) written by Salman Rushdie.

Art can be dangerous. Very often artistic fame has been proven to be dangerous to artists themselves.

The imprisoning of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and other activists and artists in China is the latest example, he writes. And when the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, of which Salman Rushdie is the chairman, invited Chinese writer Liao Yiwu to the festival opening on April 25, he was denied permission to travel to the USA.

The latest issue of the Economist (April 16th 2011) follows the same line of thinking with the headline: ”China’s crackdown”. The detention of artists and activists in a steady flow sent to prison and ”disappearing” is following the latest ”freeze” in China and at least three things casts hope of a more open China into doubt, an article notes.

The detention of Ai Weiwei; the duration of this crackdown is longer than the former; and the cruel method of the repression picking up people under ”arbitrary detention rules and then made to disappear”.

I was reminded of Salman Rushdie’s strong article in New York Times reading this.

The lives of the artist are more fragile than their creations, Salman Rushdie writes.

The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire.

We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.

He could be writing of himself.

If we ever forget why art is important, this is a reminder.

Read former post on Ai Weiwei here.

29 april, 2011

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Fractured Atlas in New York

In the middle of the Theatre District, on the tenth floor on 35th Street on Manhattan you find Fractured Atlas, a business service organization for artists. For a service organization, it is well hidden from visitors. For obvious reasons, it shows. Fractured Atlas is solely an online tool and service for artists; a virtual meeting place and service provider.

It started off in 1998 as a performing arts producer in downtown New York City and they worked with theatre companies, choreographers, musicians, and performance artists. In 2002, they reinvented themselves as a service organization with the aim of impacting a wider segment of the arts community.

They have around 16.000 members, artists around the US, with a majority of members in New York State and California. They help artists within all art forms with what they need most in the US: Health Insurance Program and Fiscal Sponsorship.

Alongside these two flagships, Fractured Atlas also provide technological solutions for networking and calendar of events; matchmaking of free studio spaces; cultural asset map that collects data of cultural activity in an area, and other useful information.

This non-profit organization is completely internet-based with the aim of having all useful information online in a system easy to learn for the members. You can take easy step-to-step courses in what to think of when freelancing or running an organization, or apply to the Health Insurance Program and use the other services on your own wherever you are situated.

It is virtual service centre, focusing on what they think artists need most in form of insurance and sponsorship, and do not work with entrepreneurship. Instead, others do this like for example the incubator in San Francisco; Intersection for the Arts (look in the end of this post for a link to the visit Nätverkstan did in 2007).

Adam Natale, Director of Partnerships and Business Development, says there is a need, though, to build more knowledge at art schools and universities of entrepreneurship.

The little state funding that has been available in the US is declining and there are many examples of what being too dependent on grants and sponsorship from foundations could mean. The latest example being the old theatre in Seattle, Intiman Theatre, having to lay off all staff and close down during the rest of 2011 to try to get finances right.

The tradition among artists, at least within the performing arts, is to become a non-profit organization. Many artists are thinking of them as a charity and ask for grants. Even though Fractured Atlas offer an umbrella fiscal solution for these organizations, a legal and financial system by which a legally recognized public charity can apply for grants and receive tax-deductible contributions, this is not enough.

The troubles for Intiman Theatre are not only due to declining grants from foundations, but also to ”management missteps” as you can read in an article in The Seattle Times (November 12, 2010). It is, though, Adam Natale says, an example of the vulnerability for many theatres in the US depending on grants as their main stream of income.

Read about the Nätverkstan visit to Intersection of the Arts here.

26 april, 2011

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Sustainability as the new quality

It’s a busy time at the Design Management Program at Pratt Institute in New York and I have managed to grab the only whole in the calendar for a long time. Mary McBride, Director of the Program, take me past her office on the way to our meeting room, an office with the windows overlooking the busy 14th Street at Manhattan filled with around ninety applications for thirty places. All applicants are being processed and the majority interviewed. The attitude is to always to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Students are designers in organizations and businesses that would like to learn more about Design Management. They come in with experience and can use the knowledge directly in their organization.

In a world struggling with significant social and ecological challenges, a new economic paradigm – shaped by innovative design thinking – must transform business strategies and tactics.

The words are Mary McBride’s in an article in Design Management Review (volume 22, number 1, 2011) where she puts forward the Triple Bottom Line model as a way of thinking. It proposes to advance the sustainability agenda and encourages simultaneous pursuit of economic value, social equity and ecosystem quality.

”Sustainability is the new quality,” she tells me and in the Design Management Program this perspective is integrated in all courses. She talks about strategy and strategic thinking rather than using ecological terminology, which suggests an out-of-the-box thinking and a process starting with a company’s goal and mission all the way to realization, distribution, and customers.

Radical innovation, she says, is to go to the root of a business’ mission and start an innovation process. The problem is rarely innovation in it-self, but the diffusion of innovation.

To manage this profound change in companies’ values and attitude and the ”ecology of decision-making”, creators are needed. Businesses usually don’t like surprises, while creators are thrilled by the unexpected.

Two reflections come to mind as I leave the meeting: The strong commitment to sustainability as a life matter for all parts of society in business, economical as well as social, and the belief that creators play a key-role in this transformation.


21 april, 2011

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Study visit in Istanbul

The educational board of Kulturverkstan has spent a couple of days in Istanbul, visiting organisations, students on internships, and taking part of  the vibrant cultural life of the metropolis. We have visited and discussed the possibility of future cooperations with, among others, the following: Garasjistanbul, Istanbul´s major scene for experimental dance and theatre, with a huge international network; Filmmor,  a feminist film festival that gains a rapidly growing domestic as well as international attention for its creative work for gender equality; Kalem, a literary agency as well as festival, that focuses on bringing world literature to Turkey, and Turkish literature to the rest of the world; Pozitif, one of the major labels of the Turkish music industry, as well as a leading concert and festival producer.

The impression of cultural diversity and expressive power is indeed overwhelming. Some features seem to be common to the initiatives we have visited. One is a sense of curiousity for the surrounding world, whether it is Western Europe, Japan, Brazil, or the Middle East. This openness is usually explained by the fact that Turkish cultural life for decades suffered from isolation when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship. A crucial year in this respect seems to be 2005, when several initiatives suddenly came in to action.

Everything is not at its best. As Mustafa Avkuran, director of Garasjistanbul, points out, there are many limits to the freedom of expression, both artistically and journalistically, both formal and informal. According to recent reports, no country in the world has so many journalists in jail as Turkey. And Tugce Canbolat, at Filmmor, told us that domestic violence has increased during recent years, partly as a tragic consequence of women´s stronger demands for equal rights. This does not in any way prevent Filmmor for carry on their work, on the contrary. The cooperative has two main objectives: to increase involvement of women in cinema and in the media, and to disseminate non-sexist representation and experiences of women. To this end they not only organise festivals, but also workshops on how to write, produce and make films. Right now they are engaged in a documentary project that highlights the situation for women in Turkey and Sweden.

Nermin Mollaglu and Mehmet Dermitas at Kalem Agency work for the exchange  between literatures in many ways. They are literary agents, but they also organise book festivals, and have taken an ambitious initiative to promote translations (and translators). One of Kulturverkstans students, Silke Spangler, is doing her intership this spring at Kalem.

Another one of our students, Ricardo Samaniego, is doing his internship at Pozitif, one of the most influential networks in Turkish music industry. It contains of many things, as Okan Aydin told us when we visited his office in central Istanbul: festival organiser, record label, radio station, and – not the least – one of the hottest scenes in Istanbul´s boiling club life: Babylon.

There is of course many paradoxes in the Turkish cultural life: the state support for the arts is limited, which forces all organisations to search for sponsors, a both tiresome and time demanding work. The ruling AKP party (no one expects it to lose the upcoming elections in June) is on the one hand strictly conservative on moral issues, but is one the other hand liberal in economics and strongly in favour of closer relations to the European Union. The atmosphere that the visitor meets in Istanbul is one of a self confident and proud nation and culture, situated as it is between the historic Orient and Occident, determined to play a role that suits it size and traditions, both in the region and on the world scene as a whole.

Text: Mikael Löfgren, acting Manager at Kulturverkstan

Photo: Malin Schiller, Coordinator at Kulturverkstan, & Karin Dalborg, Manager at Kulturverkstan

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12 april, 2011

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Every-day practice of political work

In Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland political parties with less tolerance towards immigrants are growing in popularity.

In an article in today’s daily Dagens Nyheter (April 9 2011) you can see that sympathies for Fremskrittspartiet (Norway), Dansk Folkeparti (Denmark), Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden), and Sannfinländarna (Finland) are growing in popularity.

In Sweden, Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats) got seats in Parliament in the last election 2010 (and in Finland Sannfinländarna are expected to get into Parliament in upcoming election on April 17). Ever since, Swedish politicians have had different strategies and theories of how to handle the situation and not give these nationalists any power. With mixed success.

In an article in Eskilstuna-Kuriren on March 28, you can read that it is shown by research and practice that if the other political parties meet nationalistic parties’ hostility towards immigrants with other arguments, they loose and the nationalistic parties gain votes. It is said to be built on the assumption that immigrant hostility is stronger among voters than among our political representatives and when an argument is met with another argument, the questions become more housetrained. These thoughts are now being backed by a working report by Quality of Government Institute at University of Gothenburg, which is pointing in the same direction (download paper below).

A better strategy to meet the nationalistic arguments would, then, be to do the opposite. Instead of trying to burst an argument or point-of-view with a better argument, just meet it with silence.

At the conference Kulturens roll i samhällsutvecklingen (The role of culture for social progress) last Friday (April 8, 2011) representatives from the 49 municipalities in Region Västra Götaland were invited together with civil servants and some cultural organizations to discuss just that: The role of culture in local and regional development. Proud political representatives showed examples of cultural projects and its effects for their local community. Everyone was movingly in agreement of the role of culture. And the need for arms-lengths distance between politicians and artistic content.

But in the region we still have in memory the discussion on the first meeting in the Regional Parliament held on November 2, 2010, where Sweden Democrats argued to take away a whole chapter of text in Kulturplanerna 2011–2012, the Cultural Plans of coming two years, concerning the importance of intercultural dialogue and how the region should work with issues like ethnicity, human rights and crossover cooperation with the aim of building understanding and knowledge instead of prejudices. This should, the Sweden Democrats argued, be erased from the document.

Their suggestion was voted down, but interestingly two persons from one of the largest parties, and one of the parties at the moment in Swedish Government, Moderaterna (Conservatives), voted together with the Sweden Democrats.

This is the everyday practice of political work. And shows how thoughts from the Swedish nationalstic party, with a background in neo-nazism, is slowly sneeking into the political arena and decisions.

Read related posts Wash one’s one dirty linen and Migration and entrepreneurs.

Read former post on Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Time to guarantee artistic freedom.

Download the working report from Quality of Government Institute, University of Gothenburg, wwwqogpolguse_working_papers_2011_5_dahlstrom_sundell.pdf.

9 april, 2011

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Time to guarantee artistic freedom

The Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, now detained in Chinese prison, has continuously been a needle in the eye for the Chinese government.

In his exhibition at Tate Modern last fall, Sunflower seeds, the floor in the Turbine Hall was covered with hand-fired and hand-painted porcelain sunflowers, made by inhabitants of Jingdezhen, once the ”porcelain capital” of China.

The day Nätverkstan arrived to see the exhibition, the museum had decided to close the ability to walk on and touch the seeds. The intention from start was that you should walk among these millions of sunflower seeds, to feel them, touch, reflect. The exhibition was overwhelming, even from the side just overlooking the Turbine Hall filled with seeds.

With the exhibition Ai Weiwei wanted to transform the traditional handicraft to contemporary language. Using sunflower seeds has a political meaning and he says in the film (below) that: ”Sunflowers supported the whole revolution, spiritually and in material ways”. In almost all official paintings of Mao Zedong, says Ai Weiwei, he is surrounded by sunflower seeds, symbolizing all every-day Chinese people supporting the regime.

Ai Weiwei’s work is important, in China and elsewhere. Basic freedom of rights should be guaranteed and he, together with other political activists and critical thinkers, should be freed at this instance.

In a Europe where nationalism and intolerance for differences are growing, it should be on every politician’s agenda to assure the possibilities for artists to work freely and as artists.

Read more on the detention of Ai Weiwei in the Guardian here.

6 april, 2011

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Lotta Lekvall
Director of Nätverkstan, a Cultural Organisation in Sweden. Nätverkstan provides services …

Cultural and Social Entrepreneurship

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