[-empyre-] can we avoid the corporate pyramid scheme model: independents

Julian Oliver julian at julianoliver.com
Thu Sep 22 20:58:52 EST 2011

..on Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 08:52:10AM +0300, Cynthia Beth Rubin wrote:
> The discussions on "who owns the city" are far more interesting than this one - so just one more post to clarify somethings about ISEA structure that I feel are needed to insure incorrect assumptions do not continue unchallenged.
> To continue thoughts of previous email - just because a few hard working people who give themselves over completely to a conference manage to pull it off successfully, you assume that there is a big huge organization with tons of money behind it.
> This is a bizarre assumption.  Had they failed to create a successful event, would you have assumed otherwise?  I agree that somethings need to be changed - but why blame "the victim" - that is people who worked night and day for months to pull off an event with almost no funding?
> Somaya - thanks for your comments here on organizing a huge event.  They are right on.
> The tipping point is there because  ISEA has gotten so popular and large that now the local artistic directors are forced to contract with outside companies who do much of the work that people attending a large academic conference expect --- providing badges,  registration packets, tech support, etc.  Personally I would prefer not to see this contracted out, but this would take, ironically, a larger organization.  
> To clarify further:
> -  ISEA is split between a small, lean, light-weight organization that is ongoing (one person who works one day a week through release time/in kind funding).  
> - for ISEA2011, there were two local coordinators/directors who sacrificed to make it happen. 

I don't see anyone casting blame as such. No one doubts the huge amount of work
and personal sacrifices people have made to pull of something as complex and
encompassing as ISEA. The staff I've met have been very hard-working,
professional and dedicated. 

People clearly do feel something is awry however regarding ISEA's economic
model more generally. In the 6 days I was there I heard many people talking
about this issue. Of course it has people speculating as to 'why' and 'for
whom', precisely because it is so unusual. For myself and others contributing
installations to the festival, there was a lot of confusion as to why
contributors are paying their own way to contribute to ISEA.

In the EU at least (where ISEA HQ is as I understand it) it is implicitly
understood as minimum that a contributor's airfare and accommodation are
covered. Very large festivals I've shown work in around the world do this:
Japan Media Arts Festival, FILE (Brazil), Transmediale (Germany), Ars
Electronica (Austria) not to mention a few dozen smaller festivals I've shown
at over the years. Many even pay a fee on top. 

Why? Perhaps they understand that a rigorous, diverse electronic arts scene
greatly benefits from makers and thinkers being able to share and demonstrate
their work. With the right model, the festival itself benefits in turn.
Importantly (for a variety of reasons) there is no tangible electronic art
market - there are no dealers to gamble covering participation in the hope of
sales. Media-artists are largely on their own economically.

ISEA's position here is difficult for people to understand precisely because it
is very rare to find artists and speakers bearing such costs in most other
festivals. The festival really is almost unique in this respect.

It is my feeling that ISEA's current model is more akin to the academic
conference, rather than that of an electronic arts festival.

Kind regards,

Julian Oliver

> On Sep 21, 2011, at 11:42 PM, Nicholas Knouf wrote:
> > Hash: SHA1
> > 
> > Thanks Julian for your clear points regarding the lack of financial
> > support for the _participating_ artists.  This is a shame.
> > 
> > And we still, unfortunately, do not have a breakdown of where
> > exactly the extremely high presenter's fees are going.  This is
> > something that I brought up months ago in the nettime thread that was
> > referenced earlier.  Other professional societies in the States often
> > present a post-mortem budget breakdown and I want to call strongly for
> > such a breakdown here.  I hope other members of the various ISEA
> > committees can let us know if we can expect this or not.  It is, as far
> > as I am concerned, a prerequisite for my future participation/support of
> > ISEA.  In addition, I am still unclear regarding the bureaucratic
> > structure of the ISEA organization itself.  The ISEA website says that it
> > now has its headquarters in the UK; does this mean it is a UK-based
> > non-profit, or is it still a Netherlands-based one?  In these countries,
> > is it possible to get tax returns to get a feel for the financial
> > structure of the organization?  In the US this is one of the main ways
> > for mapping the influence and expenditures of non-profits.  I'd be
> > interested in any information regarding these issues from the ISEA board
> > members.
> > 
> > Best,
> > 
> > nick
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > On Wed, 21 Sep 2011, Julian Oliver wrote:
> > 
> >> 
> >> With high entrance fees and neither flight or accommodation covered,
> >> 'independents' such as myself will always be discouraged from attending. I know
> >> many people that would've liked to contribute and/or visit ISEA this year but
> >> without a university or media-lab covering costs they simply cannot justify the
> >> personal expense.
> >> 
> >> Independent makers and thinkers are not merely those /without/ institutional
> >> affiliation; rather they're often practitioners that consciously operate
> >> outside an institutional frame. Such people are great in number, authoring some
> >> of the most rigorous electronic art and theory today, celebrated in books,
> >> festivals and museums worldwide. They may have day-jobs or merely live on a
> >> very small budget, relying entirely on artist fees, talks and the occassional
> >> commission.
> >> 
> >> If ISEA's economic model cannot assist and/or make it easier for independent
> >> contributors (let alone lower costs for attendees themselves), it is in no
> >> place to claim canonical representation of the state of electronic art today.
> >> Leave that to other festivals. Rather, ISEA would better be cast as an
> >> instititional meet-and-greet or forum for pursuing professional agendas.
> >> 
> >> A little imagination wouldn't go astray here: with such stunning weather
> >> wouldn't it have been great to have the festival under large canopies or tents
> >> down on the water side? Perhaps it could've been smaller and more tightly
> >> curated such that it could fit in a smaller venue.
> >> 
> >> Parallel talks and panels are always frustrating, especially given the complex
> >> social relations and critical interests endemic to conferences and festivals.
> >> It is sad for a conference schedule to propagate as stress within what is
> >> otherwise a warm and stimulating gathering of minds. A festival that makes it
> >> easy for people to meet, demonstrate and discuss is, in general, a cherished
> >> festival.
> >> 
> >> Cheers,
> >> 
> >> -- 
> >> Julian Oliver
> >> http://julianoliver.com
> >> _______________________________________________
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> >> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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> >> 
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