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

Nicholas Knouf nak44 at cornell.edu
Fri Sep 23 05:33:16 EST 2011

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Thanks for the clarification on the structure.  This is not entirely
clear from the website and it would be good to have it there...but of
course I understand the severe lack of financial and institutional (academic or
otherwise) to provide time and resources for this.  As someone who has
organized numerous smaller public events over the past decade I
certainly understand the extra time and money that goes into events such
as this.  My critiques should not be taken as attacks on the work of

It still would be interesting to hear about the local budget from the
local organizing committee.

I do want to make clear that I don't assume any large organization with
large amounts of resources behind it.  My references to academic
organizations in the US refer to the smaller ones: Society for
Literature, Science, and Art (SLSA) and the Society
for the Social Study of Science (4S).  With respect to 4S, the president
and the editor of their journal are given some form of in-kind/time release (as far as I know); I don't know about other members of the organization.  But both of these organizations are rather small, as far as academic societies in the US (such as MLA, AAA, CAA).

Nevertheless, there is one major difference between these organizations
and ISEA: they charge dues.  While I do not want to produce another
barrier to participation---far from it---I do wonder what would be
possible if ISEA were to be a dues paying organization.  How could the
fees be structured to allow participation from those who might not be
able to afford even a small amount?  What could be possible with the
extra funding from dues that is not possible now?  Would it mean that
artists would get their expenses covered, rather than just the keynote
presenters?  Would it mean that artists would not have to worry about
their works being stuck in customs, as Kirsty Boyle had to (is still doing?)?  If so, I would not hesitate to pay them.  I raise this
issue as a way of trying to think about how to create sustainable,
organized networks.  Would dues enable the community to have more
control over decisions such as whether or not the conference takes place
within a corporate entity?  Or what what types of fee structure are
created to the conference itself?  These are nitty-gritty questions have
have real operational impact.  And the members of ISEA are certainly
creative...there is no reason why decisions regarding these issues could
not become an artistic project in itself.  As others have mentioned,
ISEA seems to be at a precarious position right now; there's no excuse
for not thinking expansively regarding potential responses to the
similar concerns we all share.


On Thu, 22 Sep 2011, 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
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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