Room for failure and for care: summary panel discussion A Fair New World?!

Our new research trajectory A Fair New World?! kicked-off at Theaterfestival in September 2020 with a panel discussion with Philippine Hoegen, Jivan van der Ende, Aurelie Nyirabikali Lierman, Myriam Van Imschoot and moderator Carolina Maciel de França.

What has the lockdown meant for artists and the self-employed in the arts, and how do they look to the future now? What are the priorities to achieve the coveted Fair New World? What do the solidarity initiatives that came into being during the lockdown have in common?

The demand for a Fair New World concerns change, organisational management, people, equality and inequality. Last year, SOTA (State of the Arts) brought together hundreds of articles and perspectives on fair practices inside and outside the cultural sector in a Fair Arts Almanac. What came to the fore was the growing precariousness in which people live and work.

The lockdown intensified this and gave rise to SOS Relief (State of Solidarity Relief), an online platform where people with financial means are put in contact with people who are in dire financial need. Everything is done on the basis of trust. And it turns out that people are generous: there are more givers than people asking to receive money. The amounts needed, however, are greater than what people usually give: today 300 people await some 100,000 euros.

YouTube Art Space is an online exhibition platform, set up shortly after the start of the lockdown by multimedia artist Jivan van der Ende in order to keep in touch with peers, and to be able to continue to exchange work. While Jivan had a great need to keep working, for composer and voice artist Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman the lockdown came at a time when she felt a need for peace and calm, but was never able to say ‘no’ to the many projects: her situation was so uncertain and her desire to continue to work artistically so great that she did not negotiate the conditions she deserved.

Since the crisis things have changed: peace has come, despite a full calendar. She used the newly available time among others to find digital tools to help her manage her budget, time and stress, thus helping her to better choose which projects to start and which not to accept.

Myriam Van Imschoot points out that we have neglected to develop a culture of caring for one another, and are now stubbornly trying to pretend that the crisis is “almost over”: we’re trying to get back to the way things were as soon as possible, with the same quality. We are “beating ourselves up with this”, while we could also seize the opportunity to pause and move in the direction of a Fair New World

We need to see the crisis as a vulnerable moment, to create an environment where people can try things and fail (…). No culture has been developed to say: this is a crisis and we are now going to use it to create space for failure based on a shared vulnerability. For me, the Fair New World begins by dealing with each other differently in this crisis.

And also – it turns out – by dealing differently with the notion of quality. The art public is not so concerned with our focus on professionalism and artistic quality – the success of one is the failure of the other – and according to artist Philippine Hoegen, the current selection mechanisms for funding also need to be critically examined:

The logic of expertise, a group that decides who deserves to receive a subsidy and who not, that whole way of thinking … to make progress, a Fair New World will need to change that.

Theatre-maker and moderator Carolina Maciel de França points out that all speakers spoke in one way or another about the room to fail, and about (self) care. We also must be patient with ourselves because the transition to a Fair New World?! will be a long process. The fact that people have been pushing for this for so long, and that you yourself are part of a system that you want to change, doesn’t make things any easier, adds Philippine. There is tremendous pressure to get back to business.

Room for failure and for care, examining the notion of “quality”, enhancing trust and a culture of caring: these are a number of common threads that we remember.

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