Case Studies

Each of the self-directed arts collectives invited to participate in the development of this e-resource via personal interviews as the basis for a series of case studies self-identify as politically motivated/activist-informed/radical artists and/or cultural producers working to fulfil an explicitly political mandate. As such, they engage in various activities intended to encourage political discourse in the public sphere with a view to promoting social change including, for example, economic justice, a more expansive definition of human rights, environmental protection, etc. Each collective has worked collaboratively for five or more years with a demonstrated commitment to working as activists through the arts and culture.

To generate a more detailed understanding of their motivations, activities, and the challenges they face, I intentionally sought contact with groups embracing different models/structures of governance, different forms of practice, and different funding models, but all working in relatively similar conditions. For example, within the context of a national economy transitioning from manufacturing to knowledge-based, or within the context of a nation that once provided greater government support for culture but now faces a decline through rise of neoliberal agenda/privatization/austerity measures created by international banking crisis. It is important to mention that the urban environments from which each of these groups work (London, Malmö, and New York) are densely populated port cities with diverse communities wherein class and race are inescapably divisive factors. These cities also feature a very high cost of living, and tourism plays a large role in the local economy.

It would surely have been interesting to compare self-directed radical arts collectives in different regions around the world facing various and, in some cases, more harsh and urgent social, economic, and political challenges, but given the limited time-line and scope of support for this project, it would have been overly ambitious to think I could adequately analyze such broad circumstances with a view to generating productive observations. That is, there would have been too few parallels as points of comparison with regard to structures governing community, education, media, distribution of wealth, and cultural funding, among other significant elements. It should also be duly noted that a lack of facility for foreign language on my part is also a tangible barrier.

And so, given the European origins of neoliberal ideology which, over the past 40 years, has been refined in the United States and Britain and realized through extreme economic experiments in Central and South America, and Africa, it seemed important to choose groups working in those countries. Apart from the fact that my research was supported by Konstfack University College of Art, Craft and Design in Stockholm, the resistance of Swedish Social Democracy to the dominance neoliberalism, only recently showing signs of wear, bring additional fodder for comparison.

The larger goal of contributing to the dismantling of neoliberal ideology is a lofty one that will clearly take time. In the meanwhile, I this e-resource may grow to include additional case studies concerning the work of other self-directed radical arts collectives elsewhere.

Questions for Semi-Structured Interviews

Motivations and Structure

  1. What is the name of your group and in what year did you come together?
  2. How did your group come to form a collective?
  3. What motivates you group? Or, what mandate, vision, and/or purpose was identified as the reason for forming?
  4. Has your mandate, vision, and/or purpose changed since that time?
  5. Do you consider yourself a “professional” organization. What does this mean to you?
  6. Please describe the structure around which your collective conducts its activity.
  7.  To what degree is this a self-determined structure? In other words, was it determined by any external factors? And, if so, how did those factor suit the needs/desires of the members of the collective?
  8. How many people participate in the decision making process for both daily activity and long-term planning? How many of these people are involved in developing and delivering the activities undertaken?
  9. What are the general interests/occupations of those involved in your decision-making process?
  10. Do you have a Board of Directors/Trustees who are legally responsible for the activity of your group
  11. Do you have any paid staff?
  12. Do you have a primary location from which you conduct your activity? How well does this suit your needs/desires as a collective?
  13. Is your group a registered non-profit organization and/or charity according to the laws of your country?

Community and Activity

  1. What type of activities does your group organize and/or participate in?
  2. Who do you envision are the receivers of the activities you organize?
  3. What kind of feedback do you get from the communities you seek to engage?
  4. Are your relationships with your audiences long or short term?
  5. Do you ever collaborate with other groups? If so, what type of groups, and how often?
  6. To what degree have you been recognized and/or acknowledged by larger/more recognized institutions either arts-related and/or educational?
  7. Do your feel your work is relevant to other regions?
  8. Do you feel you could accomplish your work in other regions?
  9. Do you have relationships with groups in other regions? If so, do you consider these groups allies?
  10. Are you aware of any regional bylaws that either help and/or hinder the  development of grassroots spaces for socially and politically engaged cultural production?

Resources and Funding

  1. How do you gather the resources needed realize to the activities you plan?
  2. Is your group eligible to receive public funding from either arts councils and/or publicly funded foundations and/or trusts? If so, what are the conditions of your eligibility?
  3. Do you receive support from any publicly funded organizations? If so, what kind? Local, regional, national, international? Is funding made available direct from the government/agency or is it arms length/peer assessed?
  4. Do you receive support from any privately funded sources? If so, what kind? Corporations, Foundations and/or trusts, individuals?
  5. Do you collect membership dues?
  6. Do you receive donations from individuals?
  7. Do you engage in the sale or rental of services, merchandise, equipment, or space? (i.e. social enterprise)
  8. Do you engage in self-organized fund-raising projects (i.e. event-focused sales, auctions, lotteries)
  9. Do you welcome/encourage in-kind services and/or bartering?
  10. Do your source of funds dictate what type of activity you can/not undertake? If yes, do you pursue alternate/independent sources of funding to maintain control over your programming/activities

Tracking Shifts

Since the time your group was established, have you noticed shifts pertaining to the following issues? If so, please explain how your are dealing with them.

  • Quantity of bureaucracy/administration/paper work
  • Expectation to conduct “professional” activities
  • Expectation to function like a business
  • Amount of time spent applying for funds/reporting on use of funds
  • Amount of time spent fund-raising from non-governmental sources
  • Need for sponsors to realize goals
  • Need for external partners that don’t self identify as politically-engaged/radical to realize goals
  • Amount of compromise required to realize goals in whole or in part
  • Need to change the group’s decision-making structure to accommodate expectations
  • Cost of activities
  • Cost of overhead (i.e. meeting/presentation space, administration, insurance)
  • Capacity to access equipment or resources to realize goals
  • Concerns about stability as a collective and/or individuals
  • Concern that cuts to cultural funding/austerity measures will impact your ability to produce work/conduct activities
  • Expectation to generate/produce programming/activities you don’t identify as part of your original mandate
  • Pressure to create programming for audiences in ways that distract from your mandate/vision/goal/purpose (i.e. programming for young children)
  • Pressure to quantify visitors/number of interactions
  • Pressure to quantify value of your activity to justify funding
  • Pressure to validate your work in relation to the concept of economy
  • External censorship by funders and/or other partners required for production
  • Internal / self-censorship
  • Concern about legality or risk associated with activities
  • Pressure felt by those with greatest decision-making responsibility
  • Need to revise mandate
  • Pressure to re-define objectives of the group

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