• The International Meeting between Autonomous Cultural Centres, organised by artfactories and Bizart centre with the support of ASEF, gathered for the first time 30 autonomous cultural centres from 15 countries. Close to 60 people from different fields attended different workshops, including those from autonomous cultural centres, networks and residencies programme (such as Artists Link, Res Artis, Trans Artists, Trans Europe Halles), and city council, as well as professors and students based in Shanghai or other cities, artists, and groups from non-ASEM countries (such as Canada and Brazil - specially invited by Artfactories and BizArt).
Development of the meeting
The meeting was articulated around booth presentations by most participating centres, four workshop sessions, and video presentation of works by different centres at Fuxing Park. The booth presentation resulted in networking opportunity among the different centres, as well as the interaction between the centres’ representatives and visitors to BizArt premises during the event. The participants also attended the opening of the Shanghai Biennale at Shanghai Art Museum on 28 September 2004.
• The four workshops focused on the following topics:
Workshop 1: Art in contemporary society and the evolution of contemporary practices:
Historical, political and social environments of the centres are different but this workshop could highlight some common features. This workshop also served as an introductory forum where most centres could briefly speak about their situation and the influences of their environment -local and international- on their work and vision. Key discussion points were as follows:
Budget/financial constraints have implications on art practices. Energy/commitment of centres’ staff are therefore the forces behind the vision of the centres, driven first by artistic aims.
There is a need for advocacy for more public funding, to make policy makers understand that what autonomous cultural centres are doing is for public good. There is also a need to show that artistic practices can propel cultural development in today societies.
Life cycle of the centres reflects different phases of development: from birth to maturity and development in long-term perspective. The common challenge is how to keep the centres connected to the outside world while keeping its artistic vision.
The responsibility for the society is important: The centres’ strategy is influenced by their respective environment and has the potential to promote social development. In that sense, the centres need to find a creative way to follow their artistic mission while integrating local communities in the process, without being used politically.
International exposure: The workshop focused on examples of Asian centres. Usually the centres have been set up in Asia because no or not enough spaces for contemporary arts hitherto exist. Apart from their artistic mission and functions in the local context, the centres also help to make contemporary artists from their country known internationally. However, the resulting international recognition might result in dilemma for the artists and the centres on how to fit back to national context and how to keep artistic vision intact.
Workshop 2: Methods and practices of reaching communities though the arts
Six case studies from Europe (Italy/Serbia/France) and Asia (Indonesia/Japan and Singapore) were presented to illustrate potential community participation in artistic process. For instance, Paolo Naldini, manager of Citadellarte, Italy, presented a three-week artistic project with a Canadian artist Raphaelle de Groot in a factory with mostly women workers. This photo project articulated around topics likes “what is happiness? What is love ?” etc.
Projects with social concern do not aim to transform artists or the centres into social workers nor to find immediate solutions to social developments. On the contrary, they aim to focus on creativity, and on art as a way to empower life and to ensure creativity in the society. Social responsibility, the need to understand the immediate environment, and the issues suitable for such artistic projects were mentioned. The question of process and time needed for such initiatives was highlighted, since art is deemed as a dialogue and a two way exchange process. While social and educational aspects of such artistic projects are more attractive to funders (be them public or private), the artistic strength should be maintained as highlight of the projects.
Workshop 3: Rules and Developments of independently founded art spaces:
Despite the very different funding situations in Europe and Asia, the main idea emerging from this workshop was the need for diversification of sources of funding, coming from public, private and own sources. This would allow the centres to be independent and thus autonomous in terms of programme/choices/vision etc. There is a sustainability risk to depend on one major funder, since the fund availability may be disrupted, and the centres are under persistent pressure to satisfy this sole funder. It is thus recommended to try to diversify financial sources, depending on the types of projects, for the centres’ sustainability.
The problem of corporations/private sources of funding was raised. The centres need to keep ethical integrity and to use the sponsors’ products to transmit desired message. The centres should also realize the potential for diversification of their services (courses, consultancy, cafes etc) and of partners (like NGOs).
From an Asia-European dimension, two opposite trends in terms of funding were discussed. On one hand, in the UK, during the past 3 years more funders have invested in the process more than on the end artistic product. For instance, there have been more support for artist’ collaboration, and projects involving diverse local communities. This is related to a number of factors, including the credibility acquired by some centres like Gasworks after years of experiences and advocacy, and the cosmopolitan aspect of cities like London where there is more a political awareness to utilize art process to develop connections between peoples from different cultures. On the other hand, most of the centres in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, are not supported by governmental and city councils but by international foundations and foreign cultural institutes, despite that the centres aspire to work for local community and domestic public. This situation poses the problem of self-justification of these centres.
While attracting funders, the centres need to keep focus on their artistic vision and empowerment of people, while building trust and finding common language with the funders. Time and networking opportunities are needed to foster this relationship.
Workshop 4: Artist in residence programme:
This session allowed sharing of experiences on artists in residence programmes. Some programmes have been initiated by official institutions with a multilateral dimension. For instance, the Arts Council of England has developed a three-year programme titled “Artists Link”, which the British Council has run with local partners in Shanghai and Guangzhou. This programme aims at “developing conversations” between artists from China and United Kingdom. International networks of cultural practitioners initiated other schemes. Three notable examples are the Amsterdam-based Trans Artists platform, which is now the office of Res Artis - the worldwide association of international residential art centres; the Bangkok-based Alliance Francaise International Art Centre; and the new initiative “Hong Kong International Artists’ Workshop”, which in 2005 will involve local communities in Wanchai, NGOs, and international and Hong Kong artists.
Issues raised were the importance of a network particularly involving newly set up Asian centres in these residency exchange programmes; the need to identify the right sources of information and to document such exchange process to support advocacy among cultural policy makers.
The issue of responsibility of the centres and artists was also discussed. It is important to evaluate the quality of work and the experiences the centres and artists can get from such residency programmes.
Workshop 5: The exchange and development of transnational projects in Asia and Europe
This last session focused on sustaining and strengthening the network and exchange started among autonomous cultural centres in a long-term perspective. The related issues included the existing sources of information; the extent that ASEF could support certain initiatives; and the advantages derived from networking ability of all centres gathered during this Shanghai meeting.
The Artfactories website (www.artfactories.net) was presented as a unique information tool on autonomous cultural centres worldwide, practical information on developing such centres, studies and project resources, as well as news relevant to the centres. This platform of information can be seen as a way to develop contacts, networks and share information.
ASEF’s presentation focused on what ASEF could offer in terms of partnership for cultural centres, while cautioning that the initiatives stemming from this network meeting need not be confined to ASEF framework. ASEF presented the areas works of interest to the centres, such as the series of art camps that the centres could be partners; as well as the conditions for such partnership. ASEF also presented its strategy on Cultural Dialogue between the levels of artists and cultural policy makers.
As an effort to nurture the network, ASEF proposed its pilot project on staff exchange (document attached). This project aims to answer the needs for training of cultural managers highlighted several times in this meeting.
Other ideas discussed during this session were annual week-long training programme, as developed by Artfactories and Felix Meritis; and to a series of professional courses held in different countries and contexts using the pool of cultural professionals from various centres from Europe and Asia. It is expected that ASEF’s pilot staff exchange project will help to develop a longer and stronger core programme on training.
Only three centres from mainland China attended this event, despite that BizArt had invited, and later reminded by phone calls and e-mails, 15-20 centres to attend. This might reflect a lack of interest in international networking, or a lack of interest to attend an event held inside the country, despite its international/Asia-Europe dimension and its network opportunities.
This meeting has generally raised a lot of interest from potential partners, funders and press. Specifically, it attracted a satisfactory number of autonomous centres in Asia and Europe, cultural policy makers such as Mr Yusaku Imamura from Tokyo Metropolitan Government, a number of presses including That’s Shanghai magazine, NRC Handelsblad, Netherlands, a Korean TV Channel, local Chinese Press. Universes in Universe editors (htt://www.universes-in-universe.de) will also have a special report on the event, as part of the Shanghai Biennale coverage.
Artfactories, Biz-Art and ASEF have tried to ensure that this meeting would not be a one-shot event but an opportunity to strengthen the networks among autonomous cultural centres, through process orientated artistic projects or networking meetings on issues of their common interest, such as the approach to reach local communities. The arrangement of this meeting reflected such intention. Notably, the workshop content and booth concepts were designed to facilitate the processes of participation and creativity, and not a monologue. The booths could show the working philosophy of each autonomous cultural centres and their artistic practices. The video screening in the last evening complemented this by showing physical images of these centres and their selected artistic projects, which were not usually exhibited in international art events. This setting was successful in encouraging networking and contacts among autonomous cultural centres, and thus could become a reference model for other similar events.
Immediate and medium term follow-ups:
The Asian contact for Artfactories would be Shanghai-based BizArt. Given the diversity of artistic projects in Asia, two additional contact points could be added which could be in Northeast Asia (Japan- AIT) and Southeast Asia (Malaysia-RAP), for the sake of better collection and dissemination of information.
Artfactories will strengthen its roles as platform of information on autonomous centres, centre management, events, and networking etc, while enriching and diversifying its contacts in Asia thanks to the contacts made during this meeting.
The Amsterdam-based Smart Project Space offered its server as a forum for other centres to share their projects and documents.
A publication on this meeting should be ready by early 2005. It will be designed and organized not as a report but more as a “work in process”, while highlighting follow-up activities after Shanghai meeting.
There should be information on international projects planned by the centres, as the centres located nearby might be interested in joining the projects and thus sharing the cost and resources.
One strong core idea was the need for common advocacy to defend common visions and ideas of autonomous cultural centres.
To follow up on this idea of common advocacy, ASEF will work towards bringing this issue to the attention of the Second ASEM Conference on Cultures and Civilizations, scheduled in Paris in June 2005. Despite the different situations in Asia and Europe in terms of public funding and political recognition, a paradigm shift on and stronger political support for autonomous arts centres are needed in both regions. Public subsidies for the centres could help balance market forces and could support more experimental, process-orientated types of artistic projects, which could preserve diversity and pluralism within the society.
ASEF aims to serve as an interface between the cultural policy maker level and the artist level. By this, it hopes to promote more support from policy makers for the autonomous cultural centres, and to try to serve as an interface between the two. This issue will be interesting to follow up with ASEM enlargement, as many similarities can be felt between Southeast Asian and Eastern European centres.
Many thanks to Marie Le Sourd for her making the reporst of this meeting.