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

Danny Butt db at dannybutt.net
Thu Sep 22 23:15:14 EST 2011

I'd just say that Cynthia and Somaya's posts are not actually "far less interesting" than other content to me; they speak to the material resources that allow the emergence of the intellectual and aesthetic formations we situate our practice within. It's easy enough to critique this or that mode of operation, and both easy and difficult critiques should take place, as neither aesthetic nor academic modes have much to offer without the culture of critique. 

But as anyone in the organisational hotseat knows, the pragmatics that underpin organisational/institutional exigencies do not always conform with one's best hopes for praxis. The question then becomes, what are the values that underpin the pragmatic decisions that must be made? In my experience these often sit with an individual (Director/Producer) and their team, sometimes inexplicitly. Some of my favourite events have been organised by people who have been the least "explicit" about the formal aspects of their organisation - the event itself has had the imprimatur of their aesthetic that can perhaps be captured in a write-up, but usually you "had to be there". 

The base of the resources going into an event like ISEA appear to me to be the in-kind contributions from various academically-affiliated practitioners who then require certain kinds of participation (papers) in order to be able to contribute those resources of their time and travel; and these lend a certain cover to the much more variable economics of putting together the exhibitions. There are of course other models for an ISEA-like event (the biennial or art fair symposium; the residency; the think tank; the UN-style colloquium; the wholly independent "free" gathering) but these seem to me to require quite different structures than what ISEA currently does. I think  that a continuing discussion about those structures could be extremely useful, not just (mainly?) for ISEA but for those of us who are/have been/will be involved in different ways in bringing practitioners together for events. Perhaps for that discussion ISEA should be a starting point or case study, rather than the destination?



+64 21 456 379

On 22/09/2011, at 5:52 PM, 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. 
> The current website of ISEA is a bit out of date - because there have been no funds to update it.  This site was done free of cost by Bonnie Mitchell and volunteers at Bowling Green University (it may have been a student project).  I did the previous website working with some students in a workshop sponsored by the Rhode Island School of Design.  The students could not finish the site during the workshop, so I stayed up for weeks finishing it myself, with no pay beyond what I was paid to teach the students.    
> As a board member, I  insisted on a multi-lingual site.  . At one point ISEA did have paid staff in Montreal, so we had french version already, that made this seem possible.  I  farmed out the other translations to volunteers within ISEA, and did missing parts of the French myself (there may still be errors in that) and then plugged in translations by hand (we are talking 10 years ago, old HTML) Where translations are incomplete, it is because no volunteers came forward for those sections.
> Think of about the implications of the assumptions that any success must have ill-will and huge money behind it.  
> I understand that the donated corporate meeting space may have caused confusion.  I also understand that the website fails to say "we are poor" - and that this kind of transparency might be best -- but those who know about fund-raising might advice otherwise.  Nick is right - the facts are not at our fingertips. 
> How does any organization play that game - appearing to be "together" and professional to attract participants and secure funding, while really being light weight?  These organizational choices are way beyond me - it would be interesting to hear form others who face this dilemma,  Because even in small, DIY artistic projects, we all face this choice.  As individuals, we can structure our lives to be further outside the system, but can an organization do this? ISEA was, at the outset, very much outside of the system.  In 1991 in Gronigen we were about 100 people who went there in the coldest days of November, when hotels were cheaper, flights on low-season schedule, and we were small enough to use just a part of the meeting space that we had.  
> I am done with this topic (at least for now).  Much more interesting ideas are emerging.
> Cynthia
> 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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