Media Art Funding. An international survey.
Commissioned in April 2011 by Les Jardins des Pilotes and conducted by Annette Schindler, the international media arts funding survey aims to give an international overview on the funding situation of media arts. The survey does not, however, offer a comprehensive list of funding structures and their history in the different countries.
It is no mere coincidence, that the study was commissioned at a time of massive funding cuts for culture in the Netherlands and the UK. It raises the question whether the fundamental changes taking place in these countries, as well as the ongoing discussions about media art funding in other countries, are part of a broader development, and how such a development might be connected to the current state of media art as an artistic field and as a discourse. The goal of this survey is to understand if the shifts we observe have a common direction, and if trends can be recognized across several countries.
In order to gain some insight into current funding structures and the debates that accompany policy changes in the field, 23 interviews with experts in media art from 13 different countries were conducted in the course of April and May 2011.
The results of these interviews lead to a number of general observations regarding the artistic field and discourse of media art (Chapter 2, below). Also, the individual situation of each country is being described, reflecting at times a somewhat subjective perspective from the point of view of the interviewees (Chapter 3, here
). The survey is published in the format of a Wiki in order to have to possibility of updating the information or adding new information about countries that were not included in the original research process.
Media art is at stake. Changes take place at a high pace, intensity and depth. These changes concern many aspects of media art: its public finding structure and its conditions of production, its self-understanding as a field of art and a discourse. The direction that these changes take, are far from being homogenous and streamlined across the countries included in this survey.
The funding situation varies from country to country, it ranges from a good overall situation, through weak support structures, to the discarding of entire networks of institutions. In order to gain a critical understanding, funding needs to be discussed in relation to each individual country and its cultural politics. No general or overriding findings can be drawn with regard to the development of media art funding.
However, the assessment of media art as a field of art and a discourse registers across the board as one that is ridden by doubt and ambivalence. Accordingly, the respective statements made by the interview partners appear to be relevant across national borders. Therefore, their evaluation will comprise the main part of this chapter.
2.1 Public Media Art Funding
2.1.1. Funding Cuts
Both in the Netherlands and in the UK massive funding cuts for the arts are currently being enforced. All fields of art suffer from these cuts, but the field of media art with its small scale infrastructures is particularly vulnerable to these cuts. In both countries a large number of institutions will probably have to close down, their activities will be discontinued. Within the international comparison of this survey, the Netherlands and the UK take the most extreme position of disadvantage for media art. In no other country negative developments of this scope seem to be looming.
In Switzerland, within a larger shift of cultural funds between different cultural fields, media arts funds have been discontinued. Meanwhile visual arts also had to accept some cuts as an effect of organizational changes within the national funding structures. Comparably, in Vienna (on city-level) a reasonable portion of funds for media art were lost as collateral damage of structural changes.
For all the countries that are experiencing cuts in media arts funding, the underlying politics are rarely outspoken. Cuts are presented as a result of structural changes with no explicit intention to damage media art; or as the consequence of general budget shortage, in spite of the fact that the arts funds never comprise more than a minimal percentage of the deficit.
Some of the interview partners do read between the lines of cultural policy makers. They claim that media art is considered to be part of a mainstream art discourse, perhaps due to the fact that technologies have become 'normalized' as part of everyday culture. Therefore media art is considered no longer to be in need of special funding. Also, the contrary opinion exists: media art never succeeded in positioning itself as an important art form toward the politicians, and therefore it was never equipped with sufficient arguments to defend its support in critical situations. In one example (Australia), the reason for a structural change in media arts funding are justified with the argument that “new technologies were no longer considered an art form in and of itself, but rather to be integrated into many different art forms.” (Sowry)
2.1.2. Funding Continuity
Most other countries included in this survey report more stability and continuity in their funding structures for media arts: Italy and the USA traditionally have a low level of arts funding, including for media arts. In both countries financially the situation has barely changed in the past years. The possibilities for media artists have neither decreased nor expanded.
In Finland, media artists and institutions are welcome to apply for funding together with visual artists and have reasonable chances of receiving public support. In Finland, the defenders of the media art field are successful in maintaining and partially even increasing a separate funding structure for media arts. In Australia, media arts are fully integrated into the visual arts field and funded within it.
Funding structures specifically for media art exist in France on a national level, and in Germany on a regional level. They are not described as generous, but as sufficient.
At the top end of the media art funding scheme ranks Canada which has a sophisticated and successful funding system which covers artistic production, research, institutions and more: a multitude of funding possibilities in various contexts and no clouds in the sky for future developments.
The situation in Japan is hardly comparable to the other countries, specifically since in the course of this survey, “3.11” has changed much of the cultural landscape. Media art in Japan has had a closer connection to creative industries than in other countries and might therefore be less dependent on public funds and less vulnerable to changes in cultural politics.
2.1.3. Media arts within cultural politics
In many countries, the arts in general and media arts specifically seem to be instrumentalized politically in two directions. The arts are often not supported because they are not seen as a necessary part of society like public transportation, but they are treated as a mere pawn of political interests. While some politicians use the arts to sharpen the cultural profile of their region / country, others target the public funding of the arts as elitist and gain a populist profile by cutting such funds. In France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, in individual local communities, politicians may choose to put media art specifically on their agenda, and with this commitment make a big difference for its local acceptance and funding. These local benefits are fragile and can change rapidly with new political constellations.
Where media arts still functions as a separate field with its own specificities, it is vulnerable to cuts. As a small and somewhat marginal field without much lobby support, it’s easy to cut. On the other hand, because of its many interfaces to other fields – film, design, production of knowledge, technology, activism, contemporary art, theatre, research and experimentation, etc. – media art practices have options to connect to such fields. Under certain circumstances, the industry and technology connections give media arts some political legitimation beyond the arts per se. Theoretically, this makes media art somewhat less elitist: In the the currect restructuring in the Netherlands, media culture – and thus some media art institutions – get away with smaller cuts because of their connection with research and innovation, this however at the price of disconnecting entirely from the arts field.
Fundamental differences in the cultural policies are ‘arms-length policies’ and peer-based evaluation (e.g. Finland, Switzerland, Austria), as opposed to more hierarchically driven systems, where cultural policies are not executed by people connected to the actors in the field (France, UK, Italy). It could be interesting to evaluate if these two systems differ in their cultural and political sustainability.
2.2 Media Art as a field and discourse
2.2.1. General Observations
Besides collecting information about media art funding structures, this survey also inquired about the status of media art in a more general sense. „We also want to address the intellectual challenge of a cultural situation that is markedly different from the 1990s when many of the earlier funding programs were developed in the spirit of digital technologies being innovative per se. How does the position of "media artistic practice", crucially based on digital technologies and their cultural meanings, change in a phase when digital technologies become generally available and culturally normalized? How do discussions about funding policies respond to these changes?“ (quote from the survey-questionnaire).
In his statements, Felix Stalder summarizes poignantly some of the dominant opinions held by media art practitioners regarding the status of their field:
“Normalization of technologies
New digital media have normalized all too rapidly. They represent the mundane, no longer anything innovative or promising. Novelties are no longer expected from the technologies themselves, currently they come from pre-formated platforms like Facebook, or they appear as a smartphone app. Also artists use these tools without scrutiny. With the new possibilities of social networking we create our own environment. No longer is there a need to step outside of it and confront ourselves with unknown issues. Thus, the tolerance for irritation fades away. In an environment abundant of information we have to filter quickly and achieve fast search results. Irritations will drop out of this system rapidly.
Importance of expertise
The normalization of digital media has happened too early. Media art and media culture are not accepted by the mainstream art world. The esthetics of media art is not recognized by contemporary art experts, for example. If no specific media art expertise is present in art juries, media art works will be overlooked.
Abandoning the media art field
For a younger crowd, media art has a 90's aftertaste, which they want to avoid. So in the course of time, this category will not be useful any more. Hence, the media art discourse continues to be dominated by an important pioneer generation and barely expands beyond it.
Strengths of the media art field
Media art as a field has a greater variety of interfaces to other cultural fields that don’t consider themselves as art fields. Classical art is more homogenous, established, producing one “rock star” after the other. Media art ensures the transfer between fields, e.g. between extreme pro and extreme contra copyright. Media art at its best is genuinely interested in the process of making art, rather than the art system with its legitimation hierarchies. Media art renders media culture visible and understandable in the art field.
Opening the discourse
In return, media art also no longer can confine itself to its narrow discourse and few prominent exponents. Specialized institutions recognize the need to open up their programing to a wider field of art. This becomes visible for example in festivals such as 'transmediale' (Berlin) and 'Shift' (Basel).“
The following chapter consists of important statements of interviewees, which do not feed into the countries funding description (in Chapter 2), but which have relevance to a broader discourse of media art.
Defending media art as a field / discourse
Mike Stubbs (UK): “The media art niche should stay intact, artists need this space for free experimentation and innovation outside of the art context”.
Inke Arns (Germany): “Media Art as a field offers possibilities, which do not exist elsewhere. The field is not art market-oriented: An important factor of freedom.”
Alessandro Ludovico (Italy): “What is characteristic of media art: collaboration, mutual support, solidarity. Factors not easy to find in other discourses.”
Juha Huuskonen (Finland): “Media art is its own practice and scene and therefore needs its specific funding. This opinion is widely accepted in Finland.”
Konrad Becker (Austria): “Video art used to be its own category, which was suspiciously eyeballed by the art market. Over the years, it became more and more mainstream, an increasing number of artists started using video, but without the political impact its pioneers used it for. Thus the medium video became uninteresting to those pioneers. Media art has not quite arrived in this state yet. Its tools don’t seem to lend themselves so easily to the more decorative needs of the market.”
Mike Stubbs (UK): “We need to respect how artists choose to describe themselves. Today, we observe, that the label ‘media artists’ loses its relevance for an increasing number of artists. Their priority is to be successful in the art world and make meaningful, socially relevant work. The label ‘media artist’ does not support this intention. In spite of this I am convinced, that the media art niche should stay intact, because it allows for free experimentation and innovation, which is not accessible from other fields”.
Dominik Landwehr (Switzerland): “The visual art field is often too strongly conditioned by the market. Everybody strives for the money. The field of media art may offers the possibility to stay off the negative effects of this conditioning. Perhaps media art will find its place in a critical distance to the field of the arts. Nevertheless, it is questionable if the term 'media art' is still useful. Some artists consider it a disadvantage to be labeled as such. More important than the label is the quality, esthetic or social.”
Abandoning media art as a field/discourse
Natalie Magnan (France): “The utopia of being autonomous as media artists, of running seperate networks on one's own servers, of resistance, activism and critical discourse within these networks has fallen down. Younger people use Facebook without questioning it. But in Egypt they were also able to organize a revolution through Facebook and other mainstream media. Yet the work of older media activist was precious during those times, as they provided modem access and facilitated communication with countries who shut internet down.”
Valerie Perrin (France): “For a younger generation of artists who belong to the digital natives, using media technologies is just one of many materials to use for art. It is no longer a specific discourse for them.”
Vicki Sowry (Australia): “Using new technologies does not lead to an art form in and of itself. Instead, this practice exists within all art forms.”
Per Platou (Norway): “The media art bubble is imploding. In order to be taken seriously, you should avoid using the media art label. It has become obsolete to pamper media art as a niche. It would be more helpful to have a strong statement in the visual art world, and a good link to the academic world.“
Per Platou (Norway): “You don’t have to be a media artist to do circuit bending, they do it in kindergarden”.
Eddie Berg (UK): “For media art to remain sitting on the edge of visual arts bears the danger of staying marginalized. The funding situation can be changed, if media art succeeds in negotiating a common set of goals with visual arts. For our society, media art is as significant as TV or cinema. Presenting itself in this way would carry us much further than splendid isolation.”
Media art and Institutions / Collections
Almost all interview partners mentioned, that media art is not collected at all or only very marginally. In a handful of cases, established art museums have acquired singular works. These tend to be works by already established visual artists applying electronic or digital media, than by media artists who shaped the media art discourse early on. It is acknowledged that the process of acquiring and archiving media art is still complex and burdened with impassibilites (see research project on that content matter: http://www.ooart.ch/publikation/)
Inke Arns (Germany): “The festival is a problematic format: It keeps media art in an infantile status, where it serves for entertainment and therefore is not taken seriously by other art contexts. Artworks can often not be presented adequately in this format.”
Juha Huuskonen (Finland): “Media arts is less driven by galleries, but more by festivals instead. It has many connections to the fields of research and education, to creative industry, prototyping as well as to free non-commercial experimentation.”
Jean-Damien Collin (France): “For media arts, as for other art forms, the relevant impulse should not be to make an exhibition or to run an institution or a festival, but to have an impact.”
Eddie Berg (UK): “The degree to which an institution exerts some influence and builds its sustainability is very strongly linked to its collecting activity. Lux owns a large collection which also contains donations of entire private collections and artists oeuvres. Holland has always carefully dealt with media art heritage. Although these institutions may be small, they have an influence, because everyone makes reference to them. The fact that e.g. FACT does not have a collection weakens its influence and its legitimation. Building a collection could help to move on to another level, taking on a higher degree of responsibility for preservation and restoration of cultural heritage and therefore a much stronger sustainability. A collection also shapes the history of media art in Britain and builds connections to art-historical, social and technological academic research. A national collection of media art and the knowledge of its conservation and preservation is strongly missing in the UK.”
Inke Arns: “As long as media art is not accepted more widely, as long as traditional museum don’t take responsibility in conserving media art, a separate niche is needed.”
2.2.3. Additional factors relevant to the status of media art field
This survey did not specifically study the life cycles of media art institutions in the participating countries. These could also give some indications of the status of media art in the various countries. Probably, in the UK and in the Netherlands, media arts institutions will have to discontinue their activities. Other countries have well established media art institutions, regardless of their general funding level (for instance, Espace Multimedia Gantner in France, Ars Electronica in Austria, ZKM and HMKV in Germany). Even new institutions have been founded recently in spite of overall deteriorating funding structures.
Media art and commercial spheres
To various degrees, there are links between media art and creative industries. These go from claims to the inseperability of the two spheres, such as in Japan, to claims that there connections are at best indirect, as in Austria, Germany or Switzerland. The creative industries operate by industry development and economic management rationales. For media art, however, in many countries economic figures are no relevant factor. This may be the reason why the connection between creative industries and media art often fails.
List of questions
sent out to those experts, who accepted participating in the survey:
Media Art Funding
This study does not aim to compile a comprehensive inventory of funding structures. We are interested to know in a more general sense how media arts are currently finding financial and other support and to understand the political reasons behind the current funding situation. We do want to address the intellectual challenge of a cultural situation that is markedly different from the 1990s when many of the earlier funding programmes were developed in the spirit of digital technologies being innovative per se. How does the status of "media artistic practice", crucially based on digital technologies and their cultural meanings, change in a phase when digital technologies become generally available and culturally normalised? How do discussions about funding policies respond to these changes?
- We consider it a given that digital technology and media use have become mainstream in our society and that they coin our very understanding of social networks, public space and exchange, information supply and many other things. Please describe, how in your perspecive the status of media arts has changed in this environment. (access to more established institutions? – better recognition in the institutional / commercial art world? …)
- Please describe the current public funding structures for media art, which you know of or have experiences with. (more funding possibilities than 5 or 10 years ago? Less? Integrated in other funding f.e. for visual arts? Which kinds of support: awards? Subsidy? Production-support? Acquisitions? Other?)
- What is the relationship between public funding for contemporary arts in general and media art/culture in particular? Or between media arts and creative industries?
- Can you recognize a cultural political strategy behind the media art funding situation in your country?
- Can you recognize a shift in cultural policy, considering that media art and digital culture are becoming more mainstream, more generally available and culturally normalized?
- What do you consider positive about the current funding situation, what negative?
- Which changes would you like to see happen in public funding?
- What solution do you see for problems in your current funding situation?
- Do you know of other examples of public funding which you consider positive?
(The survey continues here
This survey was commissioned by Les Jardins des Pilotes and co-sponsored by Institute for Cultural Studies in the Arts ICS of the Zurich University of the Arts. Conducted by Annette Schindler. Many thanks to all interview partners who have contributed so generously!
If you want to comment on or add to this survey, please, write to ab (at) jardinsdespilotes.org
with your remarks, or for wiki-access.
The association Les Jardins des Pilotes is dedicated to the presentation and production of outstanding pieces of art. It was founded in 2008 and is represented by Andreas Broeckmann and Stefan Riekeles. http://jardinsdespilotes.org