Subsidies as a means of care

a wishlist

By Anyuta Wiazemsky Snauwaert

Dear future Ministers of Culture,

In November 2021, IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) published a very well-researched reflection about the future of subsidies for Arts and Culture. Supporting relevance: Ideas and strategies for inclusive, fair and flexible arts funding by Fatin Farhat and Milica Ilić, is an inspiring document that we highly recommend to internalise before you start your term – if you haven’t done so already – and offer it to your employees on their first working day.

Let us quote from the introduction: “Arts funding, its guiding values and modalities affect working and living conditions of art professionals and influence their capacity and freedom to produce truly relevant work. Funding can play a significant role in diversifying the arts field and making it more accessible. Funding affects the relations and dynamics within the sector, stimulating a fair collaborative spirit, or undermining it.

Today, amidst the crisis and a large-scale reflection on how not to waste this crisis, simply ‘more money’ for the arts is no longer enough. It is urgent to ask the question: How is this money used, what impact does it have on the sector, on individual professionals, on their careers, on their artistic offer – its relevance and diversity, on the audiences and societies at large? How does this money contribute to the sustainability of the arts sector and sustainability of the broader ecosystems we live in?”

There exists a perception that art and culture are separate from other sectors and social struggles, political movements, civil society, questions of economics, safety, health, education. However, we must argue, the contrary is true: all different fields of society are interconnected; each sector is important and has its own function.

What art and culture can contribute to society is as valid as the contribution of the public health sector or that of education. The cultural sector deserves fair governance, funding, attention from ministers and officials responsible for it. Extension of fair practice to the cultural sector would benefit society as a whole in so many ways: providing more equal access for more individuals regardless of their background, promoting equality and providing a platform for self-expression, giving hope amidst crisis, creating space for imagining favourable futures, caring for meaningful connection between individuals.

Artists in different disciplines have been exploring, experimenting and working together with communities in different countries for the last three decades, and examples of how art directly or indirectly contributes to societies are numerous.

The publication by IETM is refreshing and a must read, not in the least, because the recommendations also offer a contemporary approach towards a visionary cultural policy as such. The selection of ‘good practices’ presented in the publication show the positive impact cultural policy can have on the sector if developed in collaboration with artists and artworkers and in close relation to their day-to-day working reality. Because it is not only the money that counts. Respect, empathy and understanding of the daily reality of artists and their needs make a huge difference – in the degree of fairness – when it comes to subsidies.

On behalf of State Of The Arts and the NICC, we’ve also conducted a small-scale questionnaire to collect good practices from the world of art funding. The feedback was provided by people involved in different subsidy instruments in Belgium and internationally. The findings confirm the following IETM recommendations:

Restructure relations between funders and applicants/beneficiaries

to question and deconstruct relations of power; to investigate a more partner-like relationship with the funding beneficiaries

Identify blind spots in funding and propose financial solutions

to actively seek the artists, artworkers and communities that remain underrepresented in funding processes and devise specific strategies to include them;

Coordinate actions between funders

to seek to reduce the burden of the funding processes on artworkers and organisations by holding regular consultations with funders and adjusting calendars, tools and jargon used

Include artists and artworkers in funding schemes

to benefit from the expertise of professionals working on the ground in devising and implementing funding schemes

Refocus assessment on the content

to judge projects by the quality of the ideas (content) rather than the capacity of applicants to present them in an appropriate form

Encourage cooperation rather than competition

to infuse collaboration with and between artworkers in different phases of funding to support learning and reinforce fairness

Support experimentation

to encourage and nurture the experimental nature of the artistic process

Feed funders’ knowledge on artistic work

to understand artists and their artistic projects in order to serve them better

To conclude

we want to propose a mental image. Imagine subsidies as a means of care: financial support makes it possible for me, the receiver, to dedicate time and space to care for things that matter to you, dear subsidy provider. To what you think is relevant and beneficial! To what you care for.

From this perspective, the whole procedure – starting with thinking about who should be at the table when creating subsidy instruments, during the application process and ending with after-care and evaluation – should testify to deeply-intertwined care. Care for society, care for each other, care for the sector, care for the good outcome of the projects we organise.

By the way: the word ‘subsidy’ derives from the Latin ‘subsidium’ which stands for ‘help/assistance’.

Yours sincerely,

Anyuta Wiazemsky Snauwaert
Coordinator of NICC

NICC (New International Cultural Centre) is a not-for profit organisation based in Antwerp, creating spaces for interaction between visual artists, institutions and society, with specific attention to the position of the visual artist, on a local, regional and international level. The organisation plays an active role in the support and self-realisation of the professional visual artist. Its aim is to function as first contact and representative for visual artists, striving for a qualitative social framework enabling the visual artist to develop his/her practice in a professional and autonomous way.