eipcp Policies European Cultural Policies 2015
08 2005

From Self-Organizing Towards Progressive Cultural Policies

Branka Curcic

Branka Ćurčić




Culture and art have never been marginalized from power, and we can especially see this in a time when we can observe the rise of cultural industries, economic globalization and market based monopolies that do not disregard the field of culture.

The diversification of cultural production has been changed into a corporatization of culture that is based on interest and avoids any question of socially based relations. "This cultural production strategy is significantly turning to the political right"1. It has become an orthodoxy to think of culture and economy as operating together in a very general sense - this is blatantly expressed in arts and business funding opportunities for cultural activity, as well as in so-called "enterprise culture"2. Often it looks like the process of regulating cultural policies is actually an integral part of the capital apparatus. Still, in the landscape of regulated European cultural policies and mostly capital-led cultural production, art and culture need to regain their role of legitimizing social and humanistic values.

Site-Specific Conflict Policies

The cultural space of the former Yugoslavian states has been influenced by different cultural strategies of different state regimes. This influence started with the cultural policy of the Yugoslav Kingdom, which was based on the strong dependence of artists on state services. This influence continued with the Soviet administrative and state based idea of socialist culture after World War II, and into a period of a slight "westernization" and decentralization of cultural activities after 1950. At the end of the nineties, measures taken for the region's economic and political "normalization" produced a need for a new national cultural policy. The instability that marks the economic and political scene in Serbia and Montenegro has been inherited by the field of culture as is evident in the state institutions' insufficient ability to deal with the demands of the transitional period.

It seems like there are some unexpected similarities between the ignorant attitude towards cultural production present in the predatory breakthrough of neoliberal capitalism and the state's awareness of the necessity of a good and functional cultural policy. There is a concrete example of conflict led politics and copyright law penetration into the region that is visible within the process of European Union integration on May 1st 2004. "The copyright industry has claimed that some East European countries have an economic interest in copyright infringement and that they do not have the will to enforce Intellectual Property laws that will be damaging to them economically." That was the excuse for the EU to finish a new intellectual property directive by accession time, "so that East European countries won't have an opportunity to participate in its design"3. We should start from the point of view that copyright regulations, ownership and the modes of the distribution of cultural products is a centrally important part of the regulation of the cultural field, so that state insufficiency is evident in the practical implementation of these regulations. Specifically, copyright law in Serbia was enforced more aggressively as a part of the packages of criminal laws introduced during the state of emergency after the assassination of the prime minister in 2003. These laws have been enforced occasionally, but most often when some international funds have been promised and are about to be received.

Cultural diversity has become a synonym for cross-disciplinary work and the intersection of different fields of social, political, economic and art theories and practices. In Serbia and Montenegro the cultural field is often neglected without the need to reconsider any of the existing aspects of commercial or non-profit cultural production. On the other hand, social, educational and economic programs are progressing much faster, gaining the role of more important, legitimate and more relevant aspects of contemporary society. In Serbia, economic reforms are run through cooperation with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and similar organizations that partly secure "financial stability, facilitate international trade and promote high employment and sustainable economic growth"4. It's very difficult to expect that in the cultural field, the IMF would encourage cooperation that would result in anything other than a well regulated "enterprise culture".

Almost all state funded and independent cultural institutions primarily operate with a microscopic impact and on a short-term basis with regard to mutual cooperation, collaborative production, funding and international networks. There are some models that give a different perspective to Serbian cultural strategies and developments. There are some independently funded cultural institutions whose primary activity is art production, but which deal at the same time with "unpopular", or rather informal ways of education, successfully connecting those two fields. Some of those informal ways of education are, for example, "hands on" workshops about Free Software focused on different target groups: pupils, students, artists, journalists, etc. Some examples of these independent organizations are REX - Cultural Center of B92 from Belgrade, New Media Center_kuda.org from Novi Sad, Center for Contemporary Art from Belgrade and Multimedia Institute from Zagreb5. On the other hand, these institutions are actually performing the role one would expect of state funded institutions, often running educational programs, which are not in their specific focus of action, but which are still certainly needed. These examples must not remain isolated in the future. They must have a high degree of communication with different projects and different institutions, especially with official cultural institutions, whose voice is still heard by the government although their operability has been atrophied.

A certain absurdity adheres to the public funding of these institutions. Governmental cultural institutions are passive in this situation, and they rely completely on state funds, which are given to them by inertia. There is no need for any change, any adjustment of their activities according to governmental reports and evaluations of their work. Thoughtful evaluation is usually lacking and this could be seen as a part of the non-existent, overall cultural development strategy. Unlike these governmental institutions, government supported, independent institutions and individuals have to fight for public funds, to apply constantly without any guaranty that they will receive funding. Again, the stability of their funding does not depend on evaluation processes and actual results of their projects, but rather on their persistence in constant negotiations with governmental bodies. That is one of the reasons why independent cultural institutions are, in many cases, turning to international funding sources, foreign cultural centers in their own countries, embassies, etc. Again, the most unenviable position is the position of the independent artist. As individuals, they can usually ensure modest funds coming from specific funders that include support for individual artists in their funding strategy. An example of this modest funding for artists is found in the way the Pro Helvetia office in Serbia and Montenegro works. Some independent artists are trying to gain private, commercial funds as another option. But, in order to ensure some public funds for their projects, independent artists are usually required to position their work in relation to either a governmental or an independent institution; to present themselves as a part of collective, collaborative work or as part of a network of many different actors within the project.

Consensus and Cooperation

In order to influence the future planning of more structural cultural policies, there is a need for more constructive cooperation between independent centers and governmental agencies. In the past, these kinds of projects were realized occasionally and on a short-term bases, with a lack of a more structural cooperation. There is an example of this kind of cooperation between the Information Technology and Internet Agency - an official body of the Ministry for Science, Technology and Development of the Republic of Serbia - and the independent organization New Media Center_kuda.org. In 2003, they worked together to successfully realize the exhibition "World-Information.Org"6 in Serbia and Montenegro. This model of cooperation is feasible and viable, if there are common interests and an awareness of its importance for the different parties and for the development of this model. Part of the problem here is that the initiative for a model of cooperation like this will usually only come from independent organizations and not from governmental agencies.

Collaboration should be based on consensus - the practice of basing policies on what will gain wide support. Of course, there also has to be a consensus about the consensus, meaning that some basic rules for mutual collaborative work must be established. In the field of visual arts, abstractions should be replaced with more concrete examples of individual-institutional cooperation, which is fostered from both sides. Inevitably this discussion would include artists, independent art initiatives, art institutions, educational institutions, funders, and media representatives, as well as social, economic and political researchers, in order to raise massive public debate about the subject. However, before that discussion can take place, a certain level of self-organizing has to be achieved. During the 1990s, the state based association of artists from socialist Yugoslavia eroded into formal, non-functional and "existing just on paper" organizations. There is one exception, the association of artists from Belgrade that did organize themselves independently and won back the basic regulation of social and health insurance that had not existed since the beginning of Yugoslavia's deterioration by negotiating with political decision makers.

Many, Self-Organized Voices

In the present, generally non-regulated state in Serbia and Montenegro, it is difficult to predict the future modes of artistic and cultural funding. A guess is that state finances will stay slightly planned and based on the inertia of giving "small pieces of the cake" to hundreds of institutions, in order to maintain the status quo. In contrast to that, the major structural funds will still be provided through international public funds based on extremely regulated cultural policies. Still, there are examples and there is the conviction that a certain level of self-organization and self-management of artists-individuals around similar, recognized interests could present foundations for much stronger associations that could significantly influence mainstream policies. One example of this self-management is the Novi Sad city network of independent cultural organizations and individuals called "Dizalica"7. This network is created as a multifunctional platform, that should act as a "public voice" through different political and artistic public actions on the one hand, and on the other, to act as kind of council body influencing the creation of the city's cultural policy.

"There are some steps that every individual or group that wants to liberate itself has to take. First, you have to dismantle the instruments of domination, you have to abandon the idea of using them for better things ... you have to find alternative ways of cooperation and negotiation ..."8. For a long time, art practice has been considered an individual activity. In the present, complex art system that relates to different aspects of contemporary society and networks of power, there is a need for cooperation and connection in temporary and informal groups in order to achieve common aims based on common interests. One of these common interests is the regulation of funding strategies. Many voices are always more influential than one, individual voice. Therefore, negotiating with decision makers as a group rather than as individuals will have more chances to potentially influence the development of policies that are in the interest of artists.

Individuals and independent art associations should preserve their status of being "innovators" and producers of open policies, constantly appealing, proposing and performing different models that will achieve a balance between vivid communication and cooperation and state based cultural and educational institutions.

Recently, there have been many proposals for a more specific tactic of "anti-culture" or subversive art and cultural production that also has a good chance of being universally understood. It seems that it is "no longer enough to incorporate some actualities in the artistic statements, than rather to detonate, challenge those actualities"9. But, there is always a slight fear that progressive tactics and strategies as well as cultural policies could be easily absorbed, digested and adjusted into the capital led system. This could also be seen as a process of applying the principle of "corporate social responsibility" to the field of cultural production, which would turn more radical social and cultural changes into nothing more than correctness.

A clear distinction should be made between those aspects of cultural production that need to stay non-profit and those that are already seeking direct profit, meaning that there is a need for education in the way that the art market functions for all of those parties that play some role in it. This level of complex collaborative work should result in the turn from an art market as the most important regulator of aesthetics and trends in the art field10, to a more human and more socially based art of representation.

Edited by R. LeE Montgomery and Aileen Derieg

This text is published under Creative Commons License:
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5,


1 Joost Smiers, "Arts Under Pressure, Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Age of Globalization", 2003.

2 Geoff Cox, Joasia Krysa & Anya Lewin, Introduction to "The (Digital) Culture Industry", Economising Culture, DATA browser 01, 2004.

3 "Creative Commoners and the Dystopia of Control", interview with Alan Toner, in Munich, February 2004 / published in the reader "Trans_European Picnic: The Art and Media of Accession", kuda.read series of kuda.org, 2004.

4 Part of the definition of the filed of work of IMF, http://www.imf.org/

5 REX - Cultural Center of B92, Belgrade , http://www.rex.b92.net
New Media Center_kuda.org, Novi Sad, http://kuda.org
Center for Contemporary Art Belgrade, http://www.dijafragma.com
Multimedia Institute, Zagreb, http://www.mi2.hr

6 Project "World-Information.Org", http://www.world-information.org

7 "Dizalica", Initiative for the Reconstruction of Culture and Society, http://www.dizalica.org

8 Cristoph Spehr, "Free Cooperation", an interview realized as a part of the exhibition "Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies", project realized by Oliver Ressler, 2003 - 2005. http://www.ressler.at

9 Esther Leslie, "Globalica: Communism, Culture and the Commodity", Economising Culture, DATA browser 01, 2004.

10 Marina Grzinic, "Performative Alternative Economies", Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies reader, published on the occasion of the exhibitions "Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies"by Oliver Ressler held in Novi Sad and Belgrade in Serbia and Montenegro, May - June 2005. Reader edited by kuda.org, 2005.