Sunday, 7 December 2014

manifesto as prompt

draft prompt : MANIFESTO GWNN - 6/3/13

A manifesto is the basis for reflection and discussion.

It is a rhetorical document to raise and explore the theoretical and empirical substance of claims - to look at what might be missing and to consider what other issues have emerged in how the field has developed. In doing so, we might question with what assumptions we are working and how might they differ?

A manifesto locates demands both on government and the arts themselves. It focuses on issues of employment and equality, governance and democracy, funding and internationalism.

Like all manifestos, it makes ambitious demands that will be extremely tough to achieve. But the point of a manifesto is to raise our expectations, to generalise our experiences and to help draw us out of a defensive mindset into one which believes that both resistance and positive change is possible.

A rallying call to another way of asking the old questions about liberty, equality and solidarity. Not a call to defend the status or quo or retrieve that which is seen to have been lost - to allow an established paradigm of creation and distribution to reassert itself when it has already failed us - but to re-signify into something new, horizontal and not hierarchic, participative and democratic.

Solidarity is not built vertically, from the top down, but sideways.

A manifesto is an experiment in attempting to convey the diverse perspectives on the situation - developed within a particular context - and to put those perspectives forward for discussion and action.

The text is a first step - offering it to a broader public for discussion in the field of art as well as in art’s neighbouring occupational fields. It involves processes of articulation - the becoming public - of artistic practices.

In helping articulate a better future, it is to convince a wider public how the conditions of cultural practice are crucial for the common good of society. To do so requires rethinking those modes of professionalism, specialism and social relations which have cut much cultural production off from mutually securing those conditions.

This manifesto concerns the topic of cultural governance - the relationships of cultural production to the state; the mechanisms for the redistribution of public money in the public interest; and ultimately what and who gets to constitutes that public interest?

What do we do to help answer these, and other, questions?


A defence of communicative freedom and political engagement - for a multiplicity of knowledges, of perspectives that allow us to think freely in the world we live in, and the world we choose to create (albeit not in the historic conditions of our choosing).

To open the opportunity to be critical, to reflect and question, to give shape to worlds of sounds, of colour, performances and of the written word, distinct from our own.

To identify and articulate a working definition of 'value' and of 'public interest' - so at to be of and to engage multiple publics in multiple ways.

To  change the relationship between hierarchies of institutions and funders in enacting democratic processes, political diversity and confronting inequality. To do so requires the need for overhauled policy processes and their foundations.

To establish what distinguishes forms of artistic production and articulation that have unfolded during recent decades - as  catalysts of rigorous intellectual engagement and civic debate. This would be to connect learning with social change, and knowledge with more democratic modes of self-development and social empowerment.

[locating the arts' relation to culture]

This thing called culture has the distinctive character as a domain of the common social life of the multiplicity of people and their activities.

Culture is one of the most important social domains in the struggle for a more democratic, egalitarian and free society. It concerns a permanent, vigilant and compassionate dissent. A permanent improvisation, a permanent self-criticism, the possibility to take and give up responsibilities, the forming and dissolving of practices, theories, lives.

Culture starts with people as agents of themselves as transformers of their environment - our action of us upon ourselves and on the world to transform it, and thus covers the social, political, economic and technical fields. Culture, in its widest and most complete sense, enables people to give shape to their lives. It is how we come to understand the world and is thus systems of thought, philosophies, sciences, beliefs, arts and languages. Culture is essentially dynamic: in other words, both rooted in practice and habit yet also containing its tools of transformation.

Culture plays an important role as a space for experimentation and reflection, for creating mutual trust and bonds between people. Cultural interactions based on the spontaneous activity of individuals and groups play a crucial role for the development of the society, including its economic dimension. Recognising the importance of this is a necessary step in creating a space for self-realisation and democratic debate.

For the development of democracy culture is crucial in providing society with tools to transform itself and encourages political participation. To be able to do so,  imperative is not the public 'right' to consume culture but the universal right to change culture.

Culture cannot be seen through capital’s narrow gaze or the market’s whims - to merely reproduce docile subjects and uncritical automatons. We can not let 'growth' be the ultimate condition of the development of culture and society.

[the arms'-length principle/ state proximity + concerns of 'cultural governance']

Why might so many creative producers cling to a notion of disinterestedness as regards their conditions of production, and make a claim to a context of cultural governance that allegedly decries any relationship to politics, power or interest in larger social issues?

How are we to govern ourselves? What might the democratisation of governing bodies look like?

Liberty is not one and the same as nationhood. An engaged citizenry does not equate to an homogenous national society bound by political consensus.

Culture is to be free from the duties and obligations of professional politics, whether in the form of imposed topical social issues, tying funding to designated political contexts or the promotion of official ideologies. It does not mean however, that we support politically indifferent culture enclosed in its own consecrated world and projecting itself and its own interests back onto the society in which we all live.

One of the indispensable conditions of the autonomy of culture, and a necessary element of an appropriate cultural education, is the efficient functioning of public institutions - which must act according to their public mission, and not for the sake of private gain of politicians or municipal authorities. All public institutions should therefore guarantee public access to culture the ability to produce and to change it. To transform culture into a genuinely public good, so that it would cease to be state property - removed from the purposes of party political self-promotion, political propaganda, electoral campaigns, etc.

Support for intellectual freedom and the 'right' to political engagement - a freedom which must include the right to research and freely discuss social or political issues even where they are inconvenient to authority. Like all citizens, cultural and/or knowledge producers have a right to be politically engaged and hold views that differ from the ruling ideology.

A humanist model of the ‘autonomous institution’ - regarded as an ‘autonomous’ institution which, to meet the needs of the world around it, its research and teaching must be morally and intellectually independent of all political authority and intellectually independent of all political authority and economic power. It involves build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. One whereby the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning, are in the hands of the public - so as to empower a truly active, connected, informed citizenry.

What are the necessary conditions for culture to cease to be a privilege, and to allow culture to become a true 'right' of everyone to freely shape their life?

Concerns with a 'rights-based' discourse - What would giving the government a duty to protect the freedom of communication and expression mean - to give legal meaning to such a broad concept? How vulnerable (in an adverse direction for freedom) would it be to amendment? Is there a non-statutory mechanism to ensure that independence?

Where does the trajectory from 'Welfare Nationalism' to 'Competitive Nationalism' [with a model of territorially defined cultural identity] figure in this current economic re-designation of culture? That is, arts and culture as a competitive factor of national economic growth, integral to cultural policy where the Nation State is branded as the location of performance through reference to distinct cultural output. That the concept of national identity is not just totally inadequate for serving as a basis for political concepts for dealing with the processes of social recomposition currently taking place, but is in fact an integral component of it.

[public interest]

"To be meaningful, even useful in the current situation, art has to occupy a different role than one grounded in subsidy and a claim to autonomy based on the right to do what it liked at public expense. That autonomy was itself one of the reasons that art could be accused of elitism, however unfairly, because it was linked to a lack of concern with social and political events - the right to autonomy slowly evolved into a right to subsidised irrelevance...and then the subsidy stopped. In our present atomised society, many basic notions such as autonomy need to be redefined and given force and relevance in these new circumstances. That is the task before us in the years ahead."

What positions should 'the arts' take at a time when politics is being emptied out of any connection to a civic literacy, informed judgment, and critical dialogue, further deepening a culture of illiteracy, cruelty, hyper-masculinity and disposability?

When seeking debate about fundamental societal problems, the arts are often exposed to and unprotected from the contradictions that a society carries within itself. The eulogisation of creativity and innovation (in the name of art) as backup for the privatisation of the Commons is only one example.

Is there a viable defence of 'the arts' as constitutive of a democratic public sphere, of culture as a whole, defending to a broader public the very conditions that make such work possible?

To change more than the conversation about 'art', more than the language of cultural governance, but to locate that change as not distinct from important social issues, and democracy, and from what it might mean to imagine a new understanding of politics and a different future - bridging the production of knowledge, research and teaching with the myriad urgent social issues now facing the larger society.

Art’s relation to society includes a role as a measure of the space of democratic deviance, its capacity to imagine the world (and not just itself) otherwise.

Art does not exist only 'for its own sake' - and culture is best explored and exhibited in freedom.

Art must remain a concern with aesthetics devoted to pan-societal concerns. The arts can engage and inspire us, and stimulate us to challenge the world we live in - societies that are to be democratic and diverse. In doing so art can contribute to human, social and environmental progress - but, importantly, also the degradation of all such spheres.

The role of art and culture must always be to make the way for a diversity of voices, a plurality of stories, a fundamental openness to the world, to our society and to each other. Such a role by definition must move beyond 'including' the subaltern and marginalised as subjects of study: immigrants, gays, lesbians and the transgender, women, men, old and young.  In order to achieve this participative and democratic process, we must build strong ties of solidarity and interpersonal knowledges.

Art is not societal decor. Artists are not virginal, spiritual beings who await their saviour in a place far removed from the theatre of capitalistic virility. Instead, critical and self-determined, they can comprehend developmental processes in society as processes of formation. Cultural work produces cultural, social, and interpersonal knowledge. It is within the incisive contradictions of art that society, in its emotions and in its thoughts, may arrive at a concept of itself.  Art creates spaces where societal actions can be experienced as worth.

Adopt and enact in practice mission statements relevant to each institution, that recognise the obligation of institutions to foster independent and critical thought, to ensure access for all social groups, and to seek the participation of the local community in the life of the institution.


The present crisis is about much more than economy, finances or debt. In reality it represents a much deeper crisis of values.

What kinds of globalisation do we seek? How do we locate and expose the interconnections among the aspects of the crisis, let us be open in our thinking and attentive in our conversations?

We will not be bribed with special privileges. Why is it that people wish to blame someone else for a problem that lies in the material practice of their actions?

This then requires a deeper cultural exploration of the causes of crisis - which shows how materialism, selfishness and competitive nationalism have overshadowed fundamental cultural values of enlightenment, solidarity and humanism.

How might we turn to culture to examine and reflect on the crisis, and to ponder that most important question: What now?

Should art and culture now be subservient to the crisis or the political attempt to apportion economic 'responsibility' within it?

What has been the response to this situation - 'Keep as much of the old system as we can, while we can’?

The dangers embedded in economically-driven proposals for reforms in the domain of culture have already been discussed by artists, theorists, cultural and social activists throughout Europe. There is agreement that culture is a very specific field of production, and that it would be endangered by an exclusively market-oriented strategy of organising it.

Do we refuse a notion of society that embraces a definition of agency in which people are viewed primarily as commodities, bound together in a logic of unchecked individualism and a disdain for democratic values? Which is part of broader criticisms against the withering away of the public realm, public values and any viable notion of the public good.

How, then, might we consider the ethics of institutional involvement with the arms trade, the military and the nuclear industry, and those environmental degradation - while at the same time, in pursuing social benefits and public value, practice and research without fear of state intervention?


Over the years spaces for culture have lost ground as a place to think, dissent, and develop a culture of questioning, dialogue, and civic enlightenment. A growing instrumentalisation and accompanying hostility to critical and oppositional ideas has been an assault on public character, on civic society and its future.

We are against the recomposition of culture in line with the broader global economy. One which demands so much micro-management of 'investment' in an allegedly self-regulating market. One where culture is subject to market-driven values and managerial relations, one which treats artists and organisations as entrepreneurs and clients, while reducing knowledge production to the dictates of an audit culture, and pedagogy to a destructive and reductive instrumental rationality. 

While many might still support a limited notion of a market economy, they do not want to live in a market society - a society in which market values become a template for organising all aspects of social life. Beneath this market fundamentalism resides a mode of education and a set of values that contains an order of politics that is destructive of democratic social relations, democratic modes of equality and civic education itself. We refuse the demands of an audit culture that confuses training with critical education.

'New managerialism' usually refers to practices commonplace in the private sector, particularly the imposition of a powerful management body that overrides professional skills and knowledge. It keeps discipline under tight control and is driven by accountability and monitoring, and an emphasis on measurable standards. Nor is a counter to this to be found in a nostalgic return to a paternal state clientalism.

[Social welfare of (not only) art producers]

The majority of 'creative producers' continue to lead lives at or under the poverty line. Hence artistic work stands in the hot spot of a pan-societal contradiction: a new work culture advertises itself as flexible, artistic, and creative; at the same time, survival anxiety and the pressure to perform in this culture increase along with the gap between the rich and the poor.

We must acknowledge the problems of representing labour - where the artistic escape from ideological drudgery is more reminiscent of a word game.

The harder path for all concerned is building organising unions which, ideally, listen to members and respond by asking questions intended to expand the terms of discussion, participation and action. Essentially, the more militant ethos is about winning against employers, not going into an opaque governing partnership with them.

The arts and media are systems increasingly based on volunteers and interns who are paid badly or not at all - a cheap work force recruited under the pretext of further education and increased chances of future employment  is often a matter of course in entrepreneurial strategy. Here the activities of culture-makers are strong-armed into becoming the force behind glamorisation of the freelancer in all sectors where work bears features of the artistic-creative and elements of communication, but it is also deregulated. We should speak out resolutely against the construction of the success story - a narrative which glosses over contradictions that are felt everywhere where culture makers stay poor even though they work nonstop.

We wish to launch a widespread, general, and collective discussion on how work should be understood and rightfully recognised and remunerated throughout society as a whole.

In the vague sense of being concerned with opportunity, there hasn’t been much effective critique of the economic and social policy of the neoliberal governments as regards equality, fairness and tolerance. Why are artists poor? Are they poor because of the art market? Institutions? Maybe the very artists? Or the 'evil capitalists'? Can artists be called immaterial workers? Or maybe artists are just perfect, entrepreneurial and creative role models for cultural capitalism? Do artists choose to be precarious, are they competitive and why do they do it? What are the modes of exploitation in arts and how do they differ from creative industries or regular factories?

A vast majority of art producers (both artists and organisers of events) currently live under conditions of precarity. This condition does not necessarily mean all artists live in poverty, but it forces them into a state of permanent instability and insecurity about their future. Evidently the market itself cannot provide the distribution of resources which could alleviate that precarity. The market makes us live in a world where everybody works yet only a few profit, whereas an effective development of the process of symbolic production requires the participation of all members of the social network regardless of the ability to pay. Without the whole collective body of cultural producers and their publics (i.e. the art milieu and the art scene) no 'genius' will appear. The only reasonable solution is to propose an unconditional guaranteed salary - a citizen's income, including for all cultural producers. This would not be a form of a social hand-out but signify a recognition of everyone's creative role in society. In a longer perspective this would lead to the regulation of the legal guarantee for a common 'wage' based on a redistribution of incomes from the top to the lowest level of income, for all members of society. Such an expansion or redefinition of the term 'work' hardly applies only to art - it pertains to all areas where people work and don’t get paid. [See e.g. feminist economist, Prof Ailsa McKay on Citizen's Income]


How are we to organise the economy to meet our own and the planet’s needs - and how do we reconcile the needs of society and nature?

The proposed exploitation of Intellectual Property Rights and the introduction of loans coupled with a cut in grant aid all act to reinforce artists' poverty. We require equal legal status of various forms of intellectual property.

Subjecting culture to economy is a political choice. The adoption of this policy in response to economic crisis is easily attributed to the perverse market incentives put forward by that very same rationale. The power and remit of this free-market mantra is now extended beyond the confines of the financial sector and private enterprise, to our hospitals, schools and universities. Beyond the immediate loss in pay and working conditions, the wider effects of privatisation are the rearrangement of our common good along producer-consumer lines. This will see those public sites rapidly transformed into sites for private speculation and profit, rather than institutions geared towards the production of a public good - where the 'public good' is not determined by the degree of contribution to economic growth. 

Artistic and intellectual subject matter is increasingly treated as a disposable resource - as exploitable 'content'. Our lives, emotions, vulnerability, doubts, purposes and ideas are to become a commodity - in other words, a mere product to fuel the development of new forms of capitalist exploitation. It is absolutely unrealistic to believe that the art market would provide any relief here - the IP market does not provide a sufficient economic basis for the future life of contemporary cultural production.

We hereby express our existential and political solidarity with the people who oppose this marketisation of all spheres of social and personal life. We reject such a model based on narrow forms of measurable utility for capital accumulation. We must halt and reverse the recent radical expansion of 'intellectual property rights', which threaten to reach the point where they trump any and all other rights of the individual and society.

Culture must not be subject to calculations of investments and profits - the notion that market values are the best means for ordering society and satisfying human needs, that material interests are more important than social needs, and that self-interest is the driving force of freedom and the organising principle of society.

We will promote and apply alternative and democratic forms of protection and redistribution of the author's rights using 'open license' strategies. Meanwhile, we demand the introduction and extension of the existing forms of production and distribution of culture in ways that would be appropriate for the new, horizontal exchange, distribution and circulation of cultural production. We are against restricting the distribution of culture according to the aim of maximising profit.

[a basic education about contemporary culture]

To claim a space for radical pedagogies, for the co-construction of knowledge.

The introduction of 'contemporary culture' to the basic school education - providing knowledge on the main issues in culture of the historic and recent past, with a special emphasis on contemporary cultural fields. It should have an interdisciplinary character - developing knowledge and experience in both theory (elements of history of philosophy, human geography, economics, of art, art theory and criticism) and practice (visits to concerts, exhibitions, theatre, participation in critical debates). Not a grinding of cultural knowledge, but rather a work on creating self-determined, critical and informed forms of reception and participation in culture. Such knowledge and experience should aim to facilitate the creation of non-hierarchical, non-violent models for sharing one's opinions and experiences. It would therefore become a preparatory understanding for critical reflection, participation and living in a direct democracy.

[housing + debt]

Concerning pressure on the conditions of production and living - when the conditions for people engaged in cultural production are worsening when the state prides itself on 'its' artists. The view of how art [in particular] should be fostered, however, stands in stark contrast to what culture-makers consider necessary. Participants in cultural production today need, first and foremost, in solidarity with all in society, a safeguarding of their conditions of re-production.

Models for self-management, the allocation of property, for the development of another kind of real-estate policy [including establishment of a city-wide land survey register that is comprehensible to the public]. The development and expansion of experimental multifunctional spaces for living, production, and presentation - an important basis for securing the standard of living.


The notion of culture as enabling a public centre of critique and a vital democratic public sphere that cultivates the knowledge, skills and values necessary for the production of a democratic polity is giving way to a view of the 'experience' as a marketing machine essential to the production of identities in which the only obligation of citizenship is to be a consumer.

We propose to change such a conversation about the meaning and purpose of 'culture' - to reclaim culture as a democratic public sphere, one that offers a formative culture that is of a citizenry as critical and active agents in shaping the myriad of economic, social and political forces that govern their lives.

Offering the possibility of becoming part of a larger conversation, that addresses what the role of culture might be in relation to public life in the 21st century. Central to such an inquiry is examining how the arts have been caught in the grip of larger economic and political forces that undermine the social state, social provisions and democracy itself.

The elimination of the centralised, bureaucratic model of governing culture and, in its place, the opening of social councils for culture and art - the pursuit of cultural democracy.

As we struggle against closures and resource cuts, we need to think about what kind of institutions we want in the first instance - places that secure independent, critical and relevant knowledge to the benefit not just of individuals but society as a whole.

Demanding an alternative vision and set of policies for the arts and culture more broadly.

It is important to avoid limiting demands to the attainment and augmentation and reorientation of public art funding. Instead, it is crucial to make a connection with current discussions on urban development and planning, on property and rental policy, and to take up a position with respect to concepts and realities of work, precarity, and the Commons. We are all stronger if we link our local disputes to wider movements against neoliberal recomposition.

Power and resources are to be shared and economic justice and democratic values to work in the interest of social responsibility and the common good - democracy is in the making, unfinished, and open to connecting people, power, resources and knowledge.

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