Definitions
Original Event
Context
Economy
Networks
Ownership
Art District
Community
Saturation
Space and Time
Research

Background

The promotional text for the event during Bergen Assembly was as follows:

The enactment of Bergen's Kunstplan in 1997 was followed by 18 years of rapid developments to the city's cultural infrastructure. A pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit has driven these developments, and enabled a new ecosystem of artistic production to grow, in spite of disruptive market forces. How can this energetic and vibrant spirit continue to thrive and to serve the artist community on its own terms, in an increasingly multifaceted cultural economy? How does the politics of property ownership affect Bergen's cultural infrastructure and creative spirit? And what alternatives might be explored?

Looking at these questions within an international as well as a national and local context, the event aimed to develop a broader understanding of where we might be heading, and what might be an appropriate vocabulary with which to communicate our positions within this dynamic landscape – particularly as we approach the re-evaluation of Kunstplanen in 2017.

The program:

Veronica Robles Thorseth gave an introduction and there were presentations by Florian Malzacher and Leo Preston.

After the presentations there was a conversation and discussion moderated by Melanie Fieldseth with special guests Evelyn Holm, Grethe Melbye and Iver S. Findley. The audience was then encouraged to discuss in groups, and to explore the claims and questions on the tables, before the discussion was opened up to the whole floor.

Research

During a three-week research/preparation trip, Leo and Veronica visited various institutions around central Europe that may or may not be perceived as radical.

During this trip, they identified 8 relevant strands of thought, and developed a claim for each of these strands. Each claim was formulated along with some questions, to be used as a starting point for the discussions at the Partisan cafe.

  

Gathering of local information (contextual / infrastructural):

In order to provide contextual information that might enhance an open and informed discussion, Wrap collected facts from a wide range of arts institutions in Bergen. Simple details about institutions administrative models, as well as their situation regarding property and economy were gathered using a questionnaire. The questionnaires were displayed on a wall, and later added to a folder at the Partisan cafe, with other background information from the event.


The following conversation took place in response to the title, which was mentioned in an early research-related post on Facebook:

Pedi Matthies August 19 at 10:26am: and? what does a radical art institution look like?

Artist Gardener August 19 at 5:25pm: Process led, pedagogic, hybrid, ecologically sustainable, culturally challenging, rolling leadership, community facing on the micro/macro scale.... are some thoughts Pedi Matthies what do you think? Leo Preston Veronica Robles Thorseth

Pedi Matthies August 19 at 12:14pm: that sounds good! but, just for the discourse, what makes it radical?

Pedi Matthies: Merriam Webster dictionary definition of radical:

1 :  of, relating to, or proceeding from a root: as a (1) :  of or growing from the root of a plant <radical tubers> (2) :  growing from the base of a stem, from a rootlike stem, or from a stem that does not rise above the ground <radical leaves> b :  of, relating to, or constituting a linguistic root c :  of or relating to a mathematical root d :  designed to remove the root of a disease or all diseased and potentially diseased tissue <radical surgery> <radical mastectomy>

·     2 :  of or relating to the origin :  fundamental

·     3 a :  very different from the usual or traditional :  extreme b :  favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c :  associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change d :  advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs <the radical right>

·     4 slang :  excellent, cool

Artist Gardener August 19 at 12:26pm: well.... process led for starters, process over product, brown box vs white cube - a basic and important position to allow artists essential room to explore new territories and audiences access to the journey as well as the destination....

Artist Gardener August 19 at 12:28pm: what are your thoughts Pedi Matthies what could make an Art Institute Radical? Can an art INSTITUTE be radical? Is this the territory of other platforms and programs?

Pedi Matthies August 19 at 1:09pm: I really don't know if art CAN be radical anymore. After all, we live in postmodernity....

Artist Gardener August 19 at 1:34pm: The concept of Radical throws up lots of interesting conflict >> a good spark to ignite dialogue...

Veronica Robles Thorseth August 20 at 11:15pm: Thank you for your thoughts! Something we have talked about lately is the context. How every place, city and it's context - cultural, geographical, traditional etc - would affect what radical might be in that specific place... Quirks, details and “in-between” gestures/collaborations of art/aktivism/politics within a institution seems to me important for something to be radical/give new initiatives.

Leo Preston August 19 at 3:44pm: We have been thinking of radical as relating to thoroughness. The word originates from the Latin "Radix" meaning root, and I think it's interesting to think about how an art institution processes local impulses and enables growth. Hopefully not just institutional growth, but a meaningful and sustainable growth in the production and dissemination of art/culture/knowledge. I think this means that it has to be receptive to the rapid changes that take place in society, and that it has to be thorough in its approaches. To stay relevant, receptive and open to changing contexts, it has to be in a process of constant renewal - after all, "radical" is about challenging the "usual or traditional".

When we think about what a radical institution might "look like" I often think that it might be mobile, temporary, or even virtual (like a network, a web-site, a movement etc.). In a time when artists, curators and other parties are exploring new modes of communicating and extracting value from project based approaches, maybe we can even begin to think about (radical) arts institutions as works of art themselves? Of coarse one might argue that we are stretching the definition of an institution...

Leo Preston August 19 at 3:52pm: Thanks for this thread, and for your very sharp observations Dimitri Launder and Pedi Matthies!

Artist Gardener August 19 at 4:31pm: agreed... and certainly not stretching the definition of radical. ;-)

Pedi Matthies August 20 at 9:43am: Seriously, Leo and Dimitri Launder, this is a rewarding thinking thread. Leo's description is excellent and encompasses all aspects. To use 'radical' like we would perhaps LIKE to use it, you know really RADICAL, man, that would end up along the lines of Pussy Riot or that Russian artist, who always gets arrested, whose name I forgot. So radicalness, in our desired sense, pushing, transversing boundaries, would probably have to encompass moraly right, but illegal actions. If that is fine art anymore, I doubt, best creative activism..?

Artist Gardener August 19 at 1:35pm: Area10 Project Space Peckham was an 8 year program I co-founded exploring some of these practices Pedi...

We realised very early that it was important to clarify how we wish to define both the words Radical and Institution. Our definitions (as presented in Veronicas introduction) are as follows:

RADICAL

Radical has two meanings:

1, Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something. Particularly relating to thoroughness. Comprehensive approach.

2, Characterized by departure from tradition - innovative or progressive.


Relating to an arts institution: In a state of constant renewal through critical thought. Challenging traditional institutional approaches to art.


The word radical comes from the Latin "Radix" meaning root.

Interesting to think about how an art institution processes local impulses and enables growth. Hopefully not just institutional growth, but a meaningful and sustainable growth in the production and dissemination of art/culture/knowledge.


We have also thought about being receptive to the rapid changes that take place in society. And being open to risk taking.


INSTITUTION

An institution is: An organization founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose.


In this context (arts): A specific organization charged with at least one of the following responsibilities: nurturing, promotion, facilitation, communication, development, or production of art.

It is assumed that such an organization is based around a core set of resources (staff and/or property) and a defined direction/ purpose.


The original event at the Partisan

Introduction:

Veronica Thorseth explained the motivation and intentions of the project, as well as the structure of the event.

We think radical institutions are important, and hope this event will create an interesting discussion and inspiring new impulses. There are already radical impulses in various institutions and institutional practices in Bergen, what we would like to explore here is new possibilities. When we were invited to the Partisan cafe, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to create an event that discussed thoughts around property and arts institutions. The world of property and politics have affected both our own projects, and many other projects in Bergen. Our questions seemed urgent, and demanded to be shared with a broader crowd and in a broader context than what we could provide alone.


The Presentations:

Leo Preston gave a performance / presentation set to music and film. His texts included a rhythmic summary of historical highlights from the Bergen art scene, a personal story about his own artistic vision and experiences from the reality of implementing his goals in small increments, and a reading of the eight strands of thought with related claims that were formulated for the event. The personal text has later been published by BIT-Teatergarasjen as part of their project DIGITAL SPEAKEASY, presenting texts on Utopia:

http://bit-teatergarasjen.no/digital-speakeasy/digital-speakeasy-leo-preston/


Florian Maltzacher presented various artist led organisations from a project he initiated in January 2015 with Joanna Warsza and Jonas Staal, Artist Organisations International in Berlin: http://www.artistorganisationsinternational.org

The guiding idea was the phenomenon that more and more artists found organisations - not to support their work or as a pragmatic necessity - but as the artistic work itself. He also related this to institutional critique and thoughts about radical institutions.

Snippets and impressions from the discussions:

Part 1 - The discussion between invited guests and mediator Melanie Fieldseth

The discussion kicked of with this question:

If creating radical arts institutions is the aim, what impedes this, and what helps/pushes for this in Bergen?

Evelyn Holm: The goodwill from politicians might well disappear. The question then is not just how we finance art, but how we develop alternative strategies for building up culture without goodwill?

Evelyn Holm: There is a danger that artists in Bergen become complacent.

Grethe Melbye: One has to invest time.

Grethe Melbye: It is important to work with planning, and work within the system.

Q: Should we look for alternative sources of funding, and where might this come from?

Evelyn Holm: I think crowd funding can be a good idea. One problem is that we are not so many people in Norway, there are few potential sponsors.

Iver Finlay: Private funding is a possibility. But it is limited… It's a dance with the devil.

Q: Could we conceive large traditional institutions as hubs for other artists and their initiatives?

Iver Finlay: A model we are working with and try to pin down, is that individual artists are stakeholders in the organization.

Iver Finlay: What large arts institutions say they do, and what they actually do, does not always coincide.

Iver Finlay: Politicians should remember the necessity for different sized organizations.

End comment:

Evelyn Holm: It is important to investigate the whole infrastructure of the arts scene in Bergen today. How are the infrastructures? Where are the big main roads? The smaller roads and the hidden paths? The idea of everything between the seven mountains as one arts district is something that should be explored. It should come from the artists.

From the open discussion

Florian Maltzacher: What is urgent?

Thinking radical might help, and trigger imagination.

The world is not in a good place; we need to explain why we need arts institutions and art.  Not talk about what we need, but what does society need? What do we want to do with this institution? Maybe we need to get a bit ridiculous in the situation we live in right now.

Eva Rowson: Thinking about radical from the very kernel, thinking about the inner workings of the administration.

Florian Maltzacher: We need to be more specific, who are we communicating with, who is going to be in the institution?

Melanie Fieldseth: Who wants to take the initiative?

Eight strands of thought, each with a claim / set of claims and some questions:

These strands of thought were identified, and the claims were formulated by Wrap in preparation for What Might a Radical Arts Institution Look Like in Bergen?

THE CONTEXT:

Location

·     Bergen's population is 265,857. It's small size, and relatively high concentration of professional artists makes it an easy place  for newcomers to navigate, and get to know other artists.

·     The surrounding mountains are a beautiful place to go for walks. They also restrict urban expansion. The city centre has a particularly low concentration of residents, compared with most other cities, which is often sited as a problematic situation for cultural development.  

·     According to Internet sources Bergen is the rainiest city on the European continent, with close to 3000 mm rainfall per year. This limits the cities prospects for outdoor events, and creates a very particular atmosphere.

·     Bergen does not experience cold, dry winters. It is not naturally an attractive place for winter tourism.

·     Bergen has no river, but two lakes.

·     Norway is situated on the periphery of Europe, and is currently an expensive place to hang out by international standards.

Cultural / historical

·     Bergen has a proud cultural heritage as an important trading hub, and much of the city is owned by local families with backgrounds in shipping. Conservative roots can give rise to a radical counter culture. They might just make it harder, however.

·     Bergen is internationally renowned for several of its black metal bands.

·     Norway is known for its fast growth since the 1950's.

·     Norway is known for political and corporate transparency, and for its place in the Nordic model of social democracy.

·     Norway does not have it's own standards for health and safety in theatres or galleries.

·     Shops in Bergen only offer an extremely limited selection of materials and tools. Norway does not produce many materials or tools beyond what is commonly used in major industries.

·     Norway is a member of the Schengen zone, but not a member of the EU's free trade zone. Artists are regularly forced to buy online from other countries, and their materials are delayed by a particularly complicated postal system and tax procedures.

·     Norway suffers from Janteloven (the law of "Jante" - ask a Norwegian).

Art / political

·     Bergen Council is widely respected for the work done by the division for culture and its excellent work with developing an arts plan in collaboration with the art workforce. The plan gained bipartisan consensus and has run for 20 years.

·     In spite of Bergen's enlightened cultural policy towards independent art production, there are still enormous misconceptions concerning professionality, quality, integrity, experience, and how these phenomena are distributed between "institutional" and "non-institutional" structures. These misconceptions represent a significant obstacle to the future growth and success of Bergen as a city of culture.

·     Bergen is known for great festivals, and a thriving contemporary arts scene. It is sometimes also given credit for a collaborative spirit between different arts institutions and artists. The later, however, is regularly disputed, and there are many cases where collaboration between institutions is poor.

·     There is no comprehensive listing of cultural/arts events in Bergen.

·     Bergen City Council is a 49% shareholder in Bergen Sentrum AS, whose purpose is to enhance the city centre as a focal point for commerce and culture. This company has, on behalf of it's commercial members, published 1 edition of a large colour magazine called byLIV, a "shopping and trend magazine with a focus on central Bergen's urban qualities within fashion, interior, food, wellbeing, culture and nightlife." The magazine gives an unbalanced picture of the city; where many of Bergen's most interesting and unique cultural platforms are excluded in favour of material that conforms to a clichéd, mainstream aesthetic.


Questions:

Where should a new radical arts institutions priority lie in Bergen?

What stands in the way of development, and what pushes for development in the unique setting that is Bergen?


THE INSTITUTION IN SPACE AND TIME:

Bergen's cultural infrastructure exists within a two-tear system consisting of:

1.     Permanent public institutions that were designed as a means of bringing professional art to the people.

2.     Precarious institutions that are developed as a response to changing social conditions, and new artistic practices.

The permanent public institutions occupy prominent and spectacular positions in the landscape, and are associated with great historical masters of the arts.

Not every institution is entitled to permanence. There could be room for permanent institutions, and temporary institutions that respond to a particular outcry or issue.

An arts institution should be concerned with renewal, thoroughness and social relevance. In addition to permanent institutions, and physical institutions, we should also think about:

Temporary institutions

Pop-up institutions

Conceptual institutions

Electronic institutions.

It may be beneficial to consider rotation of staff between different physical institutions/work places, to spread ideas and knowledge between different (physical) working environments.

Questions:

How can public institutions stay progressive, relevant, dynamic and inclusive?

How could one look at public institutions less as museums, and more as a support hub /apparatus?

What about separating staff and physical infrastructure? Might it be better to rotate the workforce within the whole physical infrastructure?

What are your thoughts on the institution as a work of art?


SATURATION:

The last 20 years have seen the arrival of a number of small institutions, artist led spaces and initiatives, such as BEK, Wrap, Lydgalleriet, Østre, Bergen Kjøtt, Flaggfabrikken, BRAK, Proscen, VISP, Cornerteatret, Litteraturhuset and more. These initiatives have made Bergen a more interesting and attractive place to live and work for artists and their audiences, and have played an essential role in developing Bergen's identity as a city of culture. Some of these initiatives exist in a state of precarity.

Maintaining institutions, nurturing and developing their potential, has a different resonance from the practice of creating them. It is common to see artists replaced by administrators, and initiators replaced by job-applicants.

This situation presents two different challenges that relate to sustainability in different ways:

On one hand we need to think about how to stabilise the more precarious institutions them selves, providing them with predictable, long-term prospects. On the other hand we need to think about how to sustain the creative and dynamic impulses that these institutions grew out of - in other words how to avoid that they get complacent, or stuck an uninspiring cycle of administration for the sake of administration.

There is a danger that institutions which exist in a state of semi-precariousness find themselves chasing the safest funding opportunities for projects that may not relate directly to the principles upon which they are intended to act.

Questions:

Has Bergen reached a point of institutional saturation - meaning that for new institutions to be created, others must die - and what might be some constructive strategies to ensure that Bergen can develop a sustainable, inclusive and inviting environment for all manner of artistic practices, without squandering resources on irrelevant institutional practices?

Professionalization could on one hand be seen as a natural process of development, but on the other hand it is often seen as being a flattening process, which produces less personal and/or experimental work. What can institutions do to combat this negative "flattening" process within their artistic leadership?


ECONOMY/MODELS OF FINANCE:

Traditionally, public funding has been perceived as being accessible, democratic, and informed by a thorough understanding of the arts field. However, the growing need for new modes of production, and new independent platforms for disseminating art, has brought with it the development of creative crowd funding strategies, and a perhaps renewed interest in the private arts patron (or philanthropist). Private patronage of the arts is based on a personal interest in a particular artist and/or project, and typically comes without imposing any external agenda.

In order to truly nurture artistic autonomy, and a thriving, diverse arts scene, Bergen should work towards preserving it's thorough and comprehensive municipal funding policies, whilst identifying and developing channels that enable better access to alternative sources of funding for the arts.

The way arts institutions position them selves within this landscape of private and public funding streams, will significantly affect the way in which they are able to operate.

Alternative funding streams of the future might include a lottery dedicated to the arts, subscription to some form of newsletter and more...


Questions:

How might an institution work towards a more open and adventurous relationship between art production and private funding?

Would it be appropriate and/or helpful for art institutions to develop new systems of infrastructure with the goal of ensuring that both public and private funding resources are administered in a way that responds to contemporary developments within the art world and external social influences?

What does autonomy really mean in relation to private and public funding?


COMMUNITY & COMMUNICATION:

There is a huge diversity among the way in which different artists approach their practices. This diversity has expanded dramatically with the rise of new artist led initiatives and institutions.

The artist's ability to rapidly adapt and respond to new situations and social impulses is something that Jan Ritsema believes makes him/her the model citizen of the global neoliberal regime (not a good thing). These abilities are also something that is still regularly overlooked or underestimated within arts education and representational institutions.

The ever changing modes of production and approaches to work and life that emanate from within the freelance art sector, produce a valuable body of knowledge. This body of knowledge, and these artistic practices and modes of thinking, need to be identified, nurtured and communicated.  

The way our arts institutions and practices are placed within a city, affects the place of art in that cities social consciousness.

In the future, the transmission of art, ideas and cultural practices in Bergen could be assisted by the assimilation of big shared kitchens, mobile creation stations and other low-threshold spaces for participation and interaction that connect people in meaningful ways with the deep, thorough and autonomous practices of independent artists.

Questions:

Bergen has a firm tradition of segregating professional arts and cultural practitioners from amateur arts and cultural practitioners, at the same time as it has a major problem with the perception that art produced outside the big institutions is dubious. Is this segregation a good idea in its current form, or should it be re-evaluated?

How might a radical Arts institution in Bergen contribute to a better perception of the arts?


ART-DISTRICTS/KUNSTAKSE:

Bergen has at various times identified a number of art-axes or "kunst-akser" where various institutions appear to form an axis. These seem to develop organically, and to be identified after the fact. It is interesting to notice where cultural institutions emerge, and how they can contribute to a cultural symbiosis, but the "kunst-akse" that people once talked about along Nøstegaten (from USF to Teatergarasjen) is an illustration of how unstable such axes can be.

There are several clusters of art institutions in Bergen, but it might be more productive and interesting to think of everything situated between the seven mountains as one art district.

An art district would enforce strict planning criteria to ensure that a certain percentage of land used for new development was dedicated to cultural activity.

An art district would ensure that all arts activity and institutions were listed, and communicated properly within the tourism sector.

It would ensure that there were comprehensive, inclusive and accessible listings of all cultural activities.

In an art district any empty site (land prior to development) would be offered up with an open call for artists to develop short term projects there.

In an art district the size of central Bergen (with it's lack of cultural density) there would need to be pop-up initiatives, mobile communication stations, a cultural speakers corner...

There would be collaboration, cross-pollination, exchange, trans-institutional participation...    

One could also consider the proposition of a virtual art district.

Questions:

What do you think about the suggestion of defining the whole of central Bergen as an art district?

How could the practices of initiatives like UROM (at the library) the library's public creative resources (like vinyl LP cutting, 3D printing) help to better bridge the gap between the "recreational avant-garde" and engagement with professional arts events?



PROPERTY/OWNERSHIP:

The most common ways that art institutions house themselves are:

Renting space from a private landlord.

Renting space from the city council.

Renting a building from the state (Statsbygg).

While renting from private landlords comes with the uncertainty of short term leases, and the risk that landlords may sell their property's to unsympathetic new owners, public ownership may also come with certain unhelpful conditions which amount to a type of "silent curatorship".

Artistic/curatorial autonomy may be best achieved by eliminating any kind of third party ownership, and this could be achieved in various ways such as:

·     The city council stands as a guarantor for the purchase of a building (meaning that the council will take over the building and responsibility for the mortgage if the art institution defaults on mortgage payments).

·     The city council lends enough money to the institution for that institution to get a mortgage to buy the building (This could even be a way of enabling an art institution to buy property from the council, as in the case of The Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle).

There may also be other ways (South East Dance in England is an example).

The culture department in Bergen Council is not designed to deal with issues regarding property.

To avoid the type of problem regarding the demolition of Teatergarasjen, and subsequent failure to secure a new theatre, or the tedious and almost devastating negotiations between Bergen Council and Wrap's private landlords, it may be helpful to consider ways of strengthening interdepartmental collaboration within the council. It may, for instance be sensible to have a legal consultant attached to the property department (EBE) who's primary role is to advise and assist in matters concerning property for arts institutions.

Bergen's independent arts institutions may also benefit from a shared space, perhaps owned by a membership organisation, dedicated to commercial ventures that enable art institutions to raise money, while also raising awareness of their artistic activities.

Question:

What do you think about this?


NETWORKS & POWERRELATIONSHIPS STRAND:

In some ways networks can be perceived as residing “above” the individual institution (a sort of institution for the institution) at the top of a pyramid where the independent artists are at the bottom.

Networks can be an empowering way of finding new audiences and of sharing knowledge. They can also be used to increase the value and prestige of particular art projects, to maintain the status quo, increase institutional power, and exclude projects that fall outside of a particular set of agendas.

An institution can be run anywhere on a scale between total dictatorship at one extreme, and total democracy at the other. Networks, however, are a collaboration. They could, at least theoretically, be democratic, organic, artist led, and maybe even informal.

Questions:

Are formal networks a good idea, and why?

What are your thoughts about networking in a radical institution or alternatives to networks?

What Might a Radical Arts Institution Look Like in Bergen? was an event held at the Partisan cafe on Monday the 5th of September. It was a collaboration between Wrap and freethought, and was invited into curator Nora Sternfeld's Dancing Tables series at the cafe, during Bergen Assembly.

Supported by Arts Council Norway, Bergen City Council, and Fritt Ord.

The initial event sparked further discussions, and a follow-up discussion was held at Bergen City Hall in order to identify relevant standpoints and concerns that were shared by Bergen based artists, arts administrators and institutions. Several mutual concerns were uncovered which led to further discussions, eventually concluding with proposals which were sent to Bergen Council for consideration in relation to the renewal of Bergen's Arts Plan.