Considerations

The fact that this e-resource is incomplete makes it somewhat premature to offer this section, which was presented in a slightly different context at a symposium in May 2011. Preliminary edits were made approximatley one year later, but still posted until August 2013. Additional changes might be forthcoming.

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All politically motivated arts collectives face distinct scenarios relative to their cultural, political, and geographical conditions, so these suggestions are offered as points for further discussion, not directives…

  • Establish and assert your purpose and goals; revisit them regularly to check if you’re veering off unexpectedly. Perhaps you need to reconsider your aims and the way you present them to your communities. For example, do you find you’re re-phrasing your mandate in order to qualify for support, whether it be granting agencies, local businesses or peers? Maybe that’s okay, as long as you’re true to yourself in the places that matter. However, if you’re deliberately concealing aspects, maybe this is a problem? Winnipeg based transformative theatre group, Sarasvàti Productions, decided to avoid the word feminist in their mandate to assist their chances of qualifying for certain types funding. It was a challenging, strategic decision. If you’ve faced a similar situation and made a similar decision, consider about how it has helped and/or hindered your primary goals. How might it affect the goals of parallel groups?
  • Be critical of your organizational structure in relation to your goals. Is it truly reflective of your objectives? For example, if you are concerned about equity, is our organization non-hierarchical? And what do you to to ensure equity is maintained, even during crisis?
  • Further concerning structure, if you are a registered non-profit and are mandated to have a Board based on a pre-determined model, it can be helpful to work with people from different backgrounds (professional, cultural, etc.) but you must ensure you’re working with people that share your values and respect your goals. They should be supporting the objectives of the organization, not holding it back.
  • Creating change, particularly within a rigid society, means taking risks. These risks may vary from social marginalization to legal detainment. Gather as much information as possible and calculate risk based on desired effect. If you do something now and it has a negative impact, could it prevent something more tangibly significant from happening late? Another question is to ask yourself, in advance, what type of risk you are willing and able to take. Do you have dependents? Do you have prior experiences that could make you more vulnerable. Working in a group situation, all participants must take the time to learn about and respect one another decisions. There are often different types of roles for different people involved in different types of actions, whether it be postering, a banner drop, a theatrical intervention, a sit-in, or anything else for that matter. Remember that “everything we take for granted: the weekend, gay rights, contraception, women wearing trousers, the right to strike, to form a union, to print an independent zine. Every thing was won by disobedience, by people breaking laws that they felt were unjust” (A Users Guide for Demanding the Impossible, p 52)
  • Be aware of external and internal censorship or other cases where your activities might be redirected. Discuss this with the other members of your group, and decide how you want to respond. Is the problem certain to affect the core intention of your work? Depending on the situation, you might find it best to create a work around while maintaining a certain “impression”. Alternatively, you might wish to publicize the censorship as a form of institutional critique. Conduct a cost/benefit and/or risk analysis before making your decision. Figure out what you stand to gain or lose based on your considerations. Is the risk involved with speaking out on particular issue greater than the chance to push forward on the work you’re actually trying to do? Beware of factors that might be trying to distract you, but aren’t really capable of stopping you.
  • Working with curators or other arts administrators that don’t understand your motivates and are seeking to contain your work within parameters that compromise your integrity? Don’t let it slide. Ask why you were invited to participate in the project in question and offer to clarify your position. Find out why the curator/administrator in question feels compelled to transform the meaning of your work. Don’t be afraid to position this as a matter of ethics and integrity. If the question pertains to censorship, see the note on censorship above. If the question pertains to security, through discussion first, challenge the structure around which these decisions are made. If the issue is strictly pragmatic, is there a way around it? Is there a useful way to call attention to the strange, controlling, petty issue at hand? Remember that curators are not “the boss”. You have every right to practice your work in a way/context that does it (and your motivations) justice. Feel free to take Malmö Fria Kvinnouniversitet advice and “Just Say No!”
  • In a case where funding applies, consider whether dropping the source might actually better for your work and morale in the long run than compromising your values right now.
  • Remember that there are always other ways to make things happen! For example, social enterprise. Without subscribing to an unethical capitalist ethos, it is possible to offer goods and/or services that people need and appreciate to fund your progressive creative work. This is possible in any number of ways: silk screening second hand clothing, refurbishing found objects, and yes, even baking.
  • Crowd sourcing through websites such as indiegogo.com or kickstarter.com can be a double edged sword. The first site mentioned was used with success by Liberate Tate, but there are clearly problems in cases where for-profit initiatives seek donations (rather than investments intended to deliver return), and non-profit and/or radical initiatives are compared as if all things were equal in what amounts to little more than a popularity contest. Be thorough about what you need, who you’re communicating with, and what they’ll get. Do your research to find the best possible venue for your appeal, and be sure to respect your personal efforts by carefully considering what you’re giving away as donation incentives in return for what you’re getting. When is your time better spent directly on your cause rather than rallying around your cause? For example, making a video to raise money to make a video might not serve your interests. Everything needs to be considered case by case.
  • Seek support through community level fund-raising initiative such as the community art dinner programs, FEAST in Brooklyn and Sloop in St. Louis. Field Theory in Australia involves subscribers purchasing artist multiples, the proceeds of which forms a grant. The Collective Foundation in California assembled a library for auction, the proceeds of which, again, went toward a grant for artists.
  • Find and/or create cooperative networks that connect people with resources and people looking for resources including skills and energy exchange, bartering, and materials. You might need 1000 widgets; someone might just have 1000 widgets they’re trying to shed. Various cities have websites such as Freecycle.org. Research to find out what is located near you.
  • In “Solidarity Economies”, Euclides André Mance describes a solidarity economy as a material base of post-capitalst society. “Millions of people across the world practise solidarity economy. They work and consume in order to produce for their own and other people’s welfare, rather than producing for profit. In solidarity economy what matters is creating satisfactory economic conditions for all people. This means assuring individual and collective freedom generating work and income, abolishing all forms of exploitation, domination and exclusions, and protecting ecosystems as well as promoting sustainable development (What Would it Mean to Win, p. 67). On that note, remember that when it comes to changing the world, competition is not the answer. Leverage your assets, skills, networks: seek partnerships with like-minded self-organized groups. You don’t have to work together all the time, but keep in touch, because you never know when you could accomplish something mutually beneficial for you and others.
  • Figure out ways to make your work and survival coalesce – waiting tables for a living might drain too much of your energy, but working in an area where you can build skills or access equipment to facilitate your primary practice as an activist artist/organizer will help you feel more balanced, prevent burnout, and maybe even help you get things done!
  • Take into consideration what John Holloway reminds us, which is that since we still must have food and shelter to survive, there are rarely opportunities to live and consume with total purity. So, let’s not beat ourselves up to the point of cynicism each time we can’t perform our ideal communities and selves and let’s not let the pressure of big dreams for change stop us from realizing meaningful, hopeful experiences. What we do is a matter of intent aligned with integrity, and being able to honestly assess when we are really doing our best under the circumstances we face. On the other side of the same coin, it’s okay to find a little bit of comfort in spaces that generate moments of otherness, so we can “walk opposite direction” (2010, p. 261) as those moments are glimmers of something else. A similar thought is shared in A Users Guide for Demanding the Impossible: “the future isn’t just something we plan for, it’s something we create right now It’s easy to feel paralysed by the complexities of the world, to feel like nothing you do will ever make a difference. Those in authority want us to feel that way, even though they tend to be the ones in the minority. But when we look back at history we see that every movement, every single shift in society began with a small group of friends having an idea that seemed impossible at the time” (p. 46). We can find pleasure in creating communities of refusal and, even though that is rarely our ultimate dream or goal, it can be a source of energy and that counts for something.
  • On the topic of resisting co-optation, Holloway writes: “The fact that capitalism is a law-bound society, a society with its laws of development, means that it is characterized by rigidities. It is not the infinitely flexible society it sometimes seems to be. Sometimes it seems that it is capable of absorbing everything we throw at it, of turning Che and Marcos into designs for t-shirts, of turning the great revolt of 1968 into a new style of domination. And yet it is not so. Capitalism has limits, must follow certain rules, of which the basic one is Accumulate, accumulate!” (2010, p. 147). Explore and expose those limits by pulling them closer to you and making them by own by using as little as possible, by communicating instead of marketing, or possibly by rejecting trendy design. Each project, each campaign, each action will have its own considerations and possibilities.
  • If you’re doing it now, just keep doing it. If you haven’t yet started, don’t let the possibility of challenges hold you back. If it feels right, embrace Holloway’s idea that we’re ordinary people without a single right answer, ”just millions of experiments” (Holloway, 2010, p. 256, 258).
  • If you feel you can’t or shouldn’t continue, then stop. It is better to pause, re-group, and find another way to start again than allow internal or external influences such as ego or insecurities about how others perceive you dictate your engagement. Not everything can or should last forever, and there is more integrity in disbanding by choice than losing sight of your goals and values without control. Stepping back is not necessarily defeat.
  • Find time to take care of yourself and your community. Drawing fun, positive actions and experience into your work will help achieve balance. This could range from a picnic in the park to a larger, more public event such as, for example, VIVO’s Safe Assembly pillow fight. Like putting your oxygen mask on before attempting to help others, tending to your own physical and emotional health will help you think well and be well, both things leading to positive energy, creative thinking, and a sense of ability. Cheer each other on; cheer yourself on.

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