Platform Beeldende Kunst Graduates of art academies deserve more agency over their future – Platform BK






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Graduates of art academies deserve more agency over their future

Platform BK and signatories call on the management of Dutch art academies: improve the preparations of students for the unruly economic reality of the Dutch cultural sector, while avoiding clichés of artistic autonomy or cultural entrepreneurship.

13/12/2021




To: the Executive Boards and management of Dutch art academies

 

Future generations of artists deserve to be prepared for the unruly reality of the cultural sector’s job market. [i] Too often, and for too long, we have heard from recently graduated artists that they have little idea of their professional future or how to shape it.[ii] We find it hard to accept that many graduates hardly dare to say ‘no’ to underpaid work; have not thought about whether and how they want to sell their work; work without knowledge of the Fair Practice Code or the Guideline for Artists’ Fees; have no idea about the unions and professional organizations that represent them; have little experience with funding applications, (salary) negotiations, or filing a tax return; have never heard of bread funds or housing cooperatives; are unaware of the fact that most artists have a ‘hybrid practice’ and actually live on income from side jobs; do not know the mores of patronage; do not know what (public and private) money flows exist in the cultural sector or even what the average income of an artist in the Netherlands is. As a result, many graduates of art education experience a stressful, emotionally demanding entry into an already problematic job market.[iii]

This lack of knowledge about the possibilities of professional art practice cannot be blamed on individual teachers but fits within the insensitivity to social developments at the administrative and managerial level that has become increasingly evident over the past year. One report after another appears about social unsafety at art schools.[iv] Students organizing political discussions at the academies are being silenced.[v] And lecturers and unions are forced by poor working conditions to take action against false self-employment, revolving door contracts, and excessive work pressure.[vi]

We support these students and teachers who want to improve art education and add a demand to their list. Art academies must pay more attention in their curriculum to preparation for professional practice; after all, students are being trained for a sector characterized by the high level of precarity among its workers. It is about time that art academies take responsibility and provide the knowledge transfer that will give graduates the tools to prepare for a future career. In making this demand, we think of four concrete points:

  1. Develop post-precarity courses. On a daily basis, alumni are confronted with the fact that these do not yet exist. The programs of art schools should therefore be expanded to include joint fund applications, role-plays in negotiating or drafting a budget, experiments in setting up bread funds and blockchain donation circles, and other practical tools and solidarity models for surviving in the cultural sector.
  2. Support social engagement and self-organization. An active, socially conscious attitude is essential to making your way in the art world. Therefore, students deserve support in setting up strategies, petitions, reading groups, community kitchens, and collective living/working spaces. In this, art schools can take an example from initiatives such as Cultural Workers Unite, Tools for the Times, and No More Later, which are fueling important discussions about labor, gentrification, internationalization, and marketization, among other things.
  3. Provide insight into the world after the academy. Art schools should inform their students about the fund landscape, the housing market, alumni income sources – and the alternatives in these domains. It would be good to invite organizers of self-managed studio spaces for guest lectures; hold Q&As with gallerists and philanthropists; make visits to alumni; discuss how to strike a healthy balance between art practice and side job; find out together what opportunities and pitfalls ‘gig platforms’ offer; in short, pay attention to questions students have about their future professional practice.
  4. Involve students in institutional developments. Ultimately, the precarity of the cultural sector is the result of political and ideological decisions. The solution to it is therefore also political. Art schools must recognize and support this political struggle, starting within their own institutional frameworks. To do this, they can (financially) support participation councils in engaging with students, strengthen the position of student councils, give students a greater say in the development of policy, or whatever other form of political and institutional involvement can be facilitated.

This is not too much to ask. On the contrary, it is the least that academies can do. After two years of the corona crisis, it is crucial for the whole sector that they pay more attention to working conditions and professional competencies. As things are now, only those students can remain artists, who are lucky enough to become art market darlings or have a strong (financial) safety net. Those with less privilege, unsurprisingly, choose a different career path. This is especially true for the growing number of students from outside the EU, who, in addition to their sky-high tuition fees, often face problems with visas, side jobs, and housing. If art schools mean their oft-repeated fine words about equity and inclusion, they must logically draw a simple conclusion: the art world will remain an elitist bastion as long as we don’t do a better job of looking after the future prospects of art students – whether they have market success, rich parents, or neither.

Despite this great and obvious urgency, too little is happening. Two typical justifications often play a role here. And both can be traced back to a cliché we should overcome.

Some academies think they can reduce precarity by stimulating cultural entrepreneurship. This is a misconception. The concept of cultural entrepreneurship has some value, but it is far from sufficient to describe labor in the cultural sector. It is true that a large proportion (70%) of those working in the cultural sector are self-employed, but this has little to do with a conscious choice for entrepreneurship. Artists and cultural workers almost always work on a project basis, with many small institutions, relatively small teams, and (very) small budgets. In this situation, entering a contract with cultural institutions is sometimes undesirable (artists like flexibility), but often simply impossible.[vii] Instead of entrepreneurship, we are dealing with the fragmented, flexible nature of work in the cultural sector, which lacks social safety nets and social security.  Instead of encouraging cultural entrepreneurship, these academies would do better to arm their students against the reality of where the art worker is treated as a flexible day worker.[viii]

Other academies do not buy into the discourse of cultural entrepreneurship, but rather go in the opposite direction. They do not deal with the subject of money at all, as this would undermine the autonomy of students. However, preparation for the job market has nothing to do with the – admittedly – tricky discussion around autonomy. (Artistic) freedom is essential in art education, but so are survival techniques in the sector. Students must be able to develop in unexpected ways, to be enterprising and socially critical. But professional ignorance does not lead to artistic freedom. Freedom comes from social awareness of one’s own position and the ability to dispose of it oneself.

The time is ripe for art schools to develop new ways of taking responsibility for the future of their students. Devote more time and attention to their preparation for artistry in practice. Don’t lapse into clichés about cultural entrepreneurship or autonomy, but be honest about labor in the arts. Then graduates will be able to determine their social position critically, independently, and with equal opportunities.

 

If you have any questions, which we can imagine, you can, of course, contact us.

On behalf of Platform BK and signatories,
Sepp Eckenhaussen, co-director

 

Signatories

Martin Alonso, alumnus Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Sol Archer
Tasha Arlova, graduate, Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Lila Athanasiadou, Willem de Kooning Academie
Koen Bartijn, co-director Platform BK
BBK
Delphine Bedel, artist and researcher
Lola Bezemer
BOK, Beroeps Organisatie Kunstenaars
Morgane Billuart, alumni, Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Stephan Blumenschein
Thomas Bragdon, teacher, KABK
Elena Braida
Dorin Budușan, student DOGtime, Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Peter van den Bunder, advocate for visual makers, Kunstenbond
Lenn Cox, Practice Plan mentor ArtEZ MA Practice Held in Common
Irene de Craen, alumna, KABK, former teacher, GRA (etc.)
Cultural Workers Unite
Rebecca Cushera, student TXT, Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Zoë Dankert and Alix de Massiac, Werktitel
Eloïse Dieutegard, alumn of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Hanneke Dikboom
Dr Mijke van der Drift, teacher, Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunst
Andrea Elera, graduate alumni, ArtEZ
Rineke Engwerda, artist, alumnus AKI
Lauren Fong, MediaLab Sandberg Institute
Marlou van Gennep – Jansma, Makerting
Dr. Florian Göttke, artist and teacher
Vera Gulikers, artist
Ana-Maria Gușu, student graphic design
Sterre Herstel, Darkmatter Collective
Mirjam Hijstek, coach for artists
Tim Hollander, artist
Rosa Johanna
Annette Krauss, artist, educator, HKU
Giorgia Lo Faso
Silvio Lorusso, lecturer, Center for Other Worlds (Lusófona University Lisbon)
Geert Lovink, Institute of Network Cultures
Alina Lupu, artist and board member of Platform BK
Sanja Medic, artist and tutor Fine Arts KABK
Polina Medvedeva
Francine Mendelaar, Fonds Kwadraat
Mylou Oord
Marina Orlova, graduate of SNDO, Amsterdam Academy of Theatre and Dance
Rune Peitersen, teacher at St. Joost and board member of Platform BK
Falke Pisano, artist and teacher
Marthe Prins, KABK, DAE
Johannes Reisigl
Mirre Yayla Séur, alumni Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Koen van Seuren and David Westera, Stichting Antiklimax
Rosa Sijben, artist and teacher
Asia Skupińska, graduate of Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Lidewij Sloot
Rein Jelle Terpstra, visual artist and teacher, Academie Minerva
Gizem Üstüner
Wilma Vissers
Mirjam Westen, curator contemporary art, Museum Arnhem
Niels Andree Wiltens, Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten
Hermelinde van Xanten, Kunstloc Brabant
Jue Yang
Juha van ‘t Zelfde

Would you like to sign this letter? Send an email stating the name and/or organization you would like to sign with to kantoor@platformbk.nl, and we’ll add you to the list.

 

Post-scriptum

This letter is a result of the Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, organized by Platform BK in collaboration with the Institute of Network Cultures and Hotel Maria Kapel. More articles and research on the position of (beginning) freelancers in the Dutch cultural sector can be found on the project page of Our Creative Reset.

Excerpts from this open letter were published as an oped in Het Parool on Friday 10 December 2021. It was also published online.

This open letter was republished on the website of Mister Motley.

Silvio Lorusso wrote an excellent addendum to this letter. His core argument: ‘A previous version of the letter advocated for an “economically responsible art education”. The big question is: how do we define economic responsibility? Here, I’d like to give a pointer towards a possible answer, linked to point 3 of the letter. Economic responsibility is not just financial literacy. Sure, students need to know how to write invoices, but economic responsibility goes beyond that. One way in which art academies can be more economically responsible is by strengthening the research into the lives of their students after graduation. The data available is often fragmented, hard to find, superficial, too broad (on the scale of a country or even a continent) and frequently comes from the work of students themselves who use their thesis time for this kind of inquiry. Furthermore, exceptionalism is the norm: cherry-picked successful alumni are invited to give career tips to young students, reinforcing biased representations of professional fulfillment. Instead of externalizing surveys and cherry-picking success, art academies should be the ones that dedicate in-house resources to develop a rigorous, localized picture of economic life after graduation.’

 

References

[i] See ‘Passie gewaardeerd’, a report on the problematic labor market in the Dutch cultural and creative sector by the Sociaal-Economische Raad (Social Economic Council) and de Raad voor Cultuur (Council for Culture), https://www.ser.nl/nl/publicaties/passie-gewaardeerd.

[ii] From the 27th of September until the 1st of October 2021, Platform BK, Hotel Maria Kapel, and the Institute of Network Cultures organized the Post-Precarity Autumn Camp: How to Survive as an Artist. The twenty participants were recent graduates of six different art schools in the Netherlands. During five days, we discussed important topics in the working practice of contemporary artists: working in the gig economy, money flows in the cultural sector, experiments with crypto, staying happy and healthy, and durable self-organization. Even though the week was inspiring, we were left with a bitter aftertaste. With hardly any exception, the participants wondered: ‘Why did we never learn this at art school?’

[iii] This problem has been acknowledged in the reports of sectoral committees on art education. In ‘KUO NEXT sectoragenda 2021-2025’, it is stated: ‘De beroepsvoorbereidende lijn is met het sectorplan Focus op Toptalent en de sectoragenda KUO NEXT sterk neergezet en krijgt in de opleidingen veel aandacht. […] Ondanks deze aandacht […] geven studenten vaak aan dat ze zich niet genoeg voorbereid voelen op de kunstpraktijk en het zelfstandig ondernemerschap.’

[iv] For instance: https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nieuws/artikel/5234547/landelijk-onderzoek-sociale-veiligheid-onderwijsinspectie-kunstonderwijs.

[v] For instance: https://versbeton.nl/2021/06/protest-studenten-van-willem-de-kooning-academie-om-verwijdering-free-palestina-banner/ and http://www.metropolism.com/nl/features/44884_how_student_led_artist_initiatives_are_changing_the_institution_from_within.

[vi] Kunstenbond is currently considering legal procedures against the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, https://kunstenbond.nl/nieuws/kunstenbond-stuurt-gerrit-rietveld-academie-brandbrief-arbeidscontracten/. N.B. This problem is equally present at many other art academies.

[vii] We’re thinking of affordable health care insurances, general labor agreements, apt forms of (temporary) government support, and a Universal Basic Income.

[viii] For a clear analysis of this issue, listen to the Dutch-language podcast ‘Werktitel #6: De dagloner’, https://www.werktitel.org/.




About Sepp Eckenhaussen

Sepp Eckenhaussen is co-director of Platform BK and researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures.


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