The lesson of the Trump victory for the art world

November 13, 2016

Trump for president. Who would have thought so. More people than you think. The dichotomy in the US is stronger than we wanted to acknowledge. Alie Hochschild wrote a wonderful book about it:. Strangers in Their own country a divide between the high and low educated, between haves and have-nots, between those who benefit from globalization and those who suffer. Between those who live in constant uncertainty about their future and those who will prosper. Those who can get along with all the changes and those who feel passed over in their own country.

And now the parallel with the art world. Which consists mainly of people who are leftish inclined with a cosmopolitan mindset, who prove at least lip service to feminism and anti-racism and for equal rights for LGHBT-people. Almost all lived in the bubble that this mendacious, uncontrolled, anti-feminist, racist Trump could  (and should) never win. People who have little contact with the other half, the people who feel passed over at home.

One can see that many in the art world long for the time when the political elite naturally protected the arts, who assume that the budget cuts should be repaired in the arts and that world would become the same as before.

That era is gone. The current elite can not and will not protect the arts anymore. Populism has become too strong. And the art world has situated itself too far away from the rest of the people.

What can the art world do to bridge that gap? That should be the main topic of the debate. It is necessary, but not nearly enough to tackle social issues in the theaters of this country. But there those who are passed over, are not there. Of course, the classics remain necessary, the experiment remains necessary. But we need a much broader movement than now to leave the theatres and concert buildings of today and move into the neighborhoods. It starts with listening to the why of the (political) choices of those Trump believers and enter the discussion with art. Not to propose the cosmopolitan point of view, but by starting from their questions and feelings. It is time that the art world does not go into the streets to ask for repairing the budget cuts grants, but to enrich the lives of those who feel passed over.

There are many artists who already do, by all means, but they are only drops in the ocean. The largest part of the art world does not participate there. And it will have to. It is the only real answer from the art world at Trump.


The art of funding the arts

October 22 2016

The combination of art and money is and remains interesting. In earlier times, an artist had  a client and was paid per job,  if he was employed by a rich man, a patron, he produced works in paid employment. The best art works produced this way we can still see every day in museums and are heard in concert halls and churches.

It was not until the 19thth century that the romantic image of the artist arose who mainly had to follow his own expression, regardless of job or employer. The autonomous artist was born. That expanded the possibilities of art enormously and also brought us a lot of beautiful art, which can be seen in museums and heard in concert halls.

Only around World War II government subsidies for art came into being. A system that continually expanded and refined through national, provincial and municipal policy. With principles such as uplifting the poor, distribution and accessibility. It also meant a substantial growth in the number of works and artists.

Only that expansion and refinement of the subsidy system now ended. In the Netherlands more or less a quarter of the funding has gone. Many cultural institutions have stopped existing, many artists earn less than before and a lot of support structures no longer exist. And still a lot of young people want to become an artist.

What next?

Kunsten’92, the lobby organization of the sector, published an agenda for tomorrow and the day after: Culture works for Netherlands. This booklet argues that we can not do without art and culture, especially in times of change: “Even now can art and culture is of paramount importance to the welfare of our people, for the renewal of education, economic innovation and development Netherlands’ international profile.”

The question is: how will all this art be financed? Only through subsidy? Not a chance. Even if there will be more funding for arts and culture, the cuts will not be reversed, the situation of the past will never return.

The agenda rightly says: “The art, culture and heritage sector is a growth sector which largely operates in the market, but where investments by the government are a crucial prerequisite for a strong infrastructure.” But then it only goes on about those investments from the government, and not on the market in which culture operates.

Yes, there is a reference to the makers and creatives seeing little revenue of their work, being at the beginning of the value chain, where the money is being made by exploitation by providers and distributors at the end of the value chain. The only call is for better client-employer relationships and to provide better access to the European market.

The agenda also notes the need to invest in an entrepreneurial cultural sector. But here is nothing about the market and about financing, only more about more government funding and how to make it easier to justify that funding.


When funding and when other kinds of financing?

The responses of Kunsten’92 are totally inadequate for the development of a properly functioning market for art and culture. There is no answer to the question: how to respond to a permanently changing world with less grants, lots of cultural offerings and a faltering market.

Apparently Kunsten’92 has no idea how a functioning market looks for culture. When is subsidy in order, when are other forms of financing better suited? If the government is investing in culture where they really cannot support itself, fine. Or where R & D is carried out, just as hundreds of millions of subsidy go to the industry  to encourage innovation and innovate. As the interviews show with successful artists in the second part of the agenda of Kunsten’92, without grants they would not have achieved their artistic and economic success.

Investing means there are costs to be made before the benefits are reaped. It may be through a grant, but also through a loan or other form of financing. When is subsidy the appropriate means and when a loan? How can loans work to be complementary to subsidy? That debate has not even started yet. Each government, each fund has its own subsidies, but rarely, if ever, there is a clear vision of financing other than through grants.

The Scientific Council for the Government (WRR) published Revaluing Culture and spoke of the need to broaden the financial instruments and to prevent further inequality in acces to finance. There are new forms of funding imaginable and research shows that the sector lacks growth opportunities through lack of access to bank financing. At the same time it is clear that the earning power of cultural institutions and artists is very uneven: in the periphery the earning power is less and the same applies to smaller institutions. Recruiting gifts and crowdfunding are only a partial solution.


A new agenda

What we need is not only a sophisticated grant system, but also a sophisticated financing offer of microcredits, loans, crowdfunding and investment possibilities. Knocking at the banks for funding is not a viable route for cultural SME’s (and that applies to SME’s in all sectors). The funding need is too small and not profitable, there are few securities and there is no knowledge of the sector. What we need is a lot more knowledge about different forms of finance and how they can work together. How for example combine grants with loans and with crowdfunding?

The commercial market will not solve this, there is clear evidence of a market failure. Therefore it is time for a new agenda for tomorrow, where interest groups and governments develop a financing agenda together. On that agenda should be:

  • A new positioning of grants and other funding
  • The development of a sophisticated range of financing methods thereby improving access to finance
  • The development and dissemination of knowledge on the use and combination of different forms of funding.

The Dutch Ministry of Culture has done something new: to invest in a revolving loan fund for the cultural sector: the Talent Loan. An initial evaluation of these loans has just been published, and yes, it works. It is only a first step towards a new agenda for tomorrow for a holistic offer of financing possibilities, beyond grants.

Art and money, it remains an exciting topic for discussion.

PS To be transparent, I was one of the co-writers for the evaluation of the Talent Loan. This text is entirely my own.

The challenge for crowdfunding in the cultural sector

Thursday, February 11 I was one of the panelists at the crowdfunding cafe Crowdfundinghub. A lot of discussion about the possibilities of crowdfunding in the cultural and creative sector. Afterwards I want to share a few thoughts.

Crowdfunding is a rapidly growing form of financing in the Netherlands. Doubling every year until now the amount of money in crowdfunding deals is approximately 128 million in 2015.

Is that also true for the cultural and creative sector? Not quite: in 2015 the amount spent has increased to 9.5 million on 856 projects, an average of about € 11,000 per project. That is a substantial increase: 80% in volume and nearly 60% per project. Why the latter is in rise, is not clear.

What is striking is that only 7.5% of all volume of crowdfunding goes to the creative and cultural sector, while 23% of all projects are carried out in this sector. How is that possible?

That’s simple: in businesses the average amount of crowdfunding is more than € 90,000, eight times as much. And crowdfunding for enterprises makes 85% of the total. There lies the bulk of the growth of crowdfunding. The banks hardly finance start-ups and smaller companies and thus lending to businesses via crowdfunding takes an enormous flight.

It is the difference between donations and loans. In the cultural sector crowdfunding is almost only through donations. Voordekunst is doing very well and has gained almost a monopoly in the sector. And many artists and small institutions are living from project to project, so that fits here very well. De vraag is natuurlijk of dit van project tot project leven op den duur houdbaar is voorveel kunstenaars, het is niet bepaald een duurzaam verdienmodel. The question is whether this project life is sustainable in the long run for many artists, it’s not exactly a sustainable business model.

Maar wat dan? But what then? In de cultuursector gebeurt (te) weinig aan ondernemingsfinanciering. In the cultural sector there is not much done in loan funding. There are loans, for example in the Fund’s Culture + Fianncing , but not by a form of crowdfunding that is tailored to this sector. The question is whether there is need for a new platform, there are far too many platforms in the Netherlands, at least 80, and most are not viable in the long run. With a commission of 5-10% it requires a very large mass of projects as a platform to make enough sales to be viable. Many platforms have now grants or require investors with deep pockets to keep running.

Ultimately it’s all about the financing needs of the sector and how to provide it. In a sector in which recent years more than 500 million has been cut (200 million national government, more than 70 million provinces, 250 million at the local level) it is no longer sufficient to think only in grants and gifts. Crowdfunding only, donations or loans, is not the answer. It involves creating combinations of different types of financing.

But in my idea there is also a need for a place that provides loans to the cultural and creative sector through crowdfunding. There are plenty of entrepreneurs and professionals in the Netherlands with a heart for this sector who will find this an exciting idea.

Art for Innovation

Blog 22 juni 2015


I The Start

Big words: art and innovation. How can we connect them? Trying to define them is going to get us in trouble. So let’s broadly assume: this is about all kinds of art-forms and what they can contribute to all kinds of innovation in companies and other organisations.

The setting: May 2015 in the Hague, the Netherlands. Some 30 people assemble to follow the track Art for Innovation at the Pin-C-conference. Where Pin-C stands for participatory innovation Conference. Other tracks concentrated on the role of design for different innovation domains.

So here we are: artists, researchers, consultants (some have an artist background, some not), intermediaries between art and organisations. There is no fixed program for the 2 days ahead, except that there are some papers by researchers that will be discussed.

Everything you read are my thoughts and notions, not necessarily of others who were present…

II Understanding the context

The session starts with the use of theatre forum within a company.  How to get support for innovation within a company. The group is divided in departments of the company. It is almost alarming to see how fast participants identify with the partial interest of ‘their’ department and how fast communication between departments disintegrates into dysfunctional and adversal communication.

Forum theatre is able to show the ‘shadow systems’ within an organisation: values, norms and power structures behind the facade of the official charts of a company. This recognition may be the first necessary step for change. It is awareness building, not the change itself.

The use of the artists making-process within a MBA (Master Business Administration) is another approach. By using artefacts and building together a different process of interaction develops than when just using words and concepts. It is easier to question each others presumptions and beliefs and to get deeper into the matter.

The use of rituals, silence, other ways of communicating than through words, all hint at making space for reflection on what was normal until that moment.

My first conclusion: many artist ways make it possible to ‘reframe’ the situation:

  • They shift the meaning of the situation
  • They deconstruct or attack the prevailing meaning
  • They make shadows visible: the rules that no one talks about
  • They make interaction possible between the shadow world and the official structure.

III The art of intervening

The question rises if it is only about reframing, or/and is also about bringing change itself. Does the art stays outside and reflect or comes inside and act?

An observation of mine: many artists use forms and rituals over and over, maybe adapted to the situation at hand. They have a domain or form which is theirs and which they always use.

There are also artists that start from scratch, they listen and watch first and then develop an idea on what to do. They are multiversal, every project is different, they hardly ever repeat themselves.

Both approaches are equally viable, depending on the situation. But in my observation it is more of a difference between artists then a conscious answer to the need and situation of a company.

Can we put artists interventions in a frame, with two dimensions? The first dimension: to start, knowing what you are going to do or to start, without knowing what you are ging to do (or: having a form at hand or jumping into the deep and improvising).

The second dimension: is this a repeatable process/form or it ist a first time/novel way so specific it cannot be repeated.

Then you get this frame:

  repeatable First time

It is possible to put a lot of artistic interventions within this frame. And of course it can be reframed.

My second conclusion: we do not know many frames that make sensible distinctions between sorts of artistic interventions.

IV Who does it?

At the conference track we were with researchers, researchers-artists, teachers, artists, consultants without artistic background, consultants with artistic background, intermediaries between artists and companies.

They all work on artistic interventions:

  • They can bring art into a company
  • They can bring artists into a company
  • They can bring artful ways into a company (sometimes even without an artist).

This makes the landscape of art for innovation quite complex. There are many possible actors and there are many possible acts. That is why there are no easy definitions of artistic interventions or of art for innovation.

My third conclusion: it is a constant changing scene where you have to look carefully to see who is on stage and what their act is.

V Art for Innovation

There are many areas in a company where art can help to innovate: products, services, processes, business models. Do we know which artistic interventions work best in what area? Or is that a stupid question?  Because it is always up to people to change: change their consciousness, change their behavior, develop their talents?

A company has a need. It can decide to use an art approach to  clarify that need, to develop that need into a better plan, to get backing for that plan, …

Art creates space, it can give a voice to people not being heard, to empower them. It can help unlock new energy, deconstruct extisting meaning and practice, develop new meaning and alternatives.

And therefore influence the existing situation. Is that innovation? Ninetynine percent of innovation is incremental anyway. And breakthrough innovations are always the result of a long process of other innovations.

My fifth conclusion: yes, art can work for innovation. Even if working on innovation might mean that innovation often happens alongside the process.  But that is also the way innovation works in art.

VI Final act

I know a play should have three acts, but we can break that frame, right?

At the conference there were two people from a big company. In the end they were convinced that the company could use art for innovation. They experienced how it could work. But they did not know how to convince their superiors that art could work for innovation.

Art is much more form and process than a predictable outcome. That is its strength, but for selling it  also its weakness.

The company people need a catalogue of examples, stories of other companies where it works. And CEO’s with a long term view and commitment. The ones that have some form of affiliation with the arts. The ones that only look at the next quarters’ results will not use art for innovation.

My sixth conclusion: we are looking for managers and CEO’s who like art, but do not know all its possibilities, yet. Who look further down the road then just the metrics. Who are able to put trust in people and processes before knowing the outcome.

There is work to do….

P.S. Just to be clear: where I write company you can also read (not-for-profit) organisation