This is a repost (with permission) of Martyn Reed’s powerful recent post on Facebook. Reflecting at first upon Nuart’s recent struggle with Stavanger authorities to overturn a decision to significantly reduce funding for the globally important Street Art festival, Martyn calls for artists of all kinds to organise together collectively as a radical act so that we create the changes needed in our post-Covid lives. His writing is inspiring and honest – something we can all learn from.

Martyn Reed describes himself (on Facebook at least) as an ambivalent curator, writer, researcher, artist/producer and a specialist in event mismanagement. He is founder of Nuart Festival, Nuart Journal and Numusic.

Jeez, the things I spend my time on. but hey, I think these things are important. Particularly in the midst of a global pandemic that is re-shaping our values and needs.
I’ve been pondering recently on why the council’s cultural bureaucrats singled out Nuart for significant cuts earlier this year. One of only 2 organisations they proposed cuts to and the ONLY visual arts festival in the region. It’s possible they just think I’m a troublesome asshole and this was a symbolic slap on the wrists from the establishment to show us where “power” really lay, but decision making processes outside of fascism are rarely that simple. Thankfully, after much lobbying to Politicians and the Cultural Board, the proposed cuts were reversed. Not I might say, without taking up a significant amount of energy and free labour that could/should have been directed into the production and planning of the event, and still we’re without an explanation. Now, we’re aware that many in the visual art field are uncomfortable with the very public nature of “Street Art” and how the attention it attracts amongst the general public, is seen as detracting from their own practice and interests, I guess comparisons could be made between the rise of Hip Hop and dj culture v’s Rock Music and live venues.
Losing cultural capital can be painful for the privileged. I remember a conversation some years ago with the program leader for NRK P3 , he told me they were deciding if they were “going to go with “Drum n Bass” , they hadn’t decided yet. I recall thinking “ wow, It’s not your choice matey”. It’s happening, whether you like it or not. A few years later and every Jazz festival in the country was programming it whilst the likes of Bugge Wesseltoft and Nils Petter Molvær were integrating it into their work. New forms. But “power” never gives up power without an exchange or a fight. In an industry where social and cultural capital is king, (all those vernissage, all that wine) you can expect significant pushback if you challenge the status quo. But here’s the thing, the cultural department are not tasked with “defining” what is relevant art and culture, but rather -in nurturing and supporting it, in caring for those young emerging artists, movements, collectives and forms and helping them towards reaching their full potential for the benefit of all. Cultural support for the Free Field needs to be based on care and mentoring and exchanges of knowledge, not capital and power. We need to build hierarchies of competence, not maintain hierarchies of power.
I learned many years ago, that the relationship between those that allocate cultural funding and those applying, wasn’t based on a charitable model, even if that seemed the case, but based on an exchange. That many of those who allocate financial capital, need a form of capital in return, industries low in financial capital are usually rich in social or cultural capital. Whether this is invitations to open events, to hand over bouquets, prizes, awards on stage or simply to socialise depends, but a return is expected. You won’t find these criteria on any application forms or any formal courses lead by those tasked with maintaining the status quo. But it’s implied. Conform or be marginalized. In this system, it’s important to evaluate what we lose, what seeds are not planted, what flowers fail to blossom and what competences are lost. 2020 saw Stavanger lose two significant galleries and “Screen City” a major visual arts festival -with little to no fanfare. Why is that? It’s been sometime since we had a cultural department with the confidence to recognise that competences lay outside the system, not within it. How and why do we not evaluate what has been lost?
By all means support and strengthen cultural institutions, but also recognize that this is not where art and culture is created, or where art responds to current socio-political events and challenges. They’re not centers of production, merely centers of dissemination after the fact. They’re not the balconies from which artists and the public sing during crisis, merely places to look at the balcony when the crisis has passed.
Corona has seen on average a 70% collapse in attendance across all cultural institutions, from Kunstmuseum to Konserthus. Like the vast oil tankers that fund them, they are slow to divert course, slowing but floating on for kilometers (years) before being in a position to change direction.
You know what didn’t collapse? production and creativity in the free field, in those forms and actions that exist beyond the clutches of “professionalized” cultural gatekeepers, beyond social and cultural exchanges designed to maintain a status quo that simply isn’t tenable under current conditions. You know which movements audiences haven’t collapsed, whose capacity to engage the public in meaningful conversations outside of the institutional context hasn’t abated, street art’s, graffiti, street musicians, street vendors alongside digital artists and organisers the world over. These have all proliferated. It’s here, free from hierarchies of power, that new cultures and competences are being birthed.
This may sound like a clarion call to deregulate, to embrace the creeping and seemingly inevitable encroach of neoliberal ideologies into the arts. To instrumentalise or die. But it’s far from it. In a capitalist society that wants to see us all become our own marketable brands as artists (and increasingly as CEO’d individuals), we need to organise together collectively and do so as a radical act, not to supplement, but to challenge, not to aspire to, but to question, not to run parallel to, but to affect, not to seek comfort, but to make uncomfortable, not to wait for change, but to create it!
So let’s roll up our sleeves, get weird, remain uncertain, find others like you and connect.

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