Solidarity after

By Zeynep Kubat, rekto:verso, Hicham Khalidi

The minister of Education (Ben Weyts) will no longer give money to some art schools who give post-degrees. The person who is being interviewed thinks this is sad because this gives artists time to find a good place to work and discover who they want to be as an artist. Post-degrees are very good to do research and learn ‘through’ art. He says this was a political choice. Art is about who you are and who you want to be in this world.

In late January 2022, Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) announced that he will not renew the management agreements of a.pass and HISK. The decision will mean the end of these organisations. The protests did not fail to materialise. What does this austerity policy mean for the future of the arts sector? Hicham Khalidi, director of the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, outlines the broader picture and calls for solidarity.

To develop a professional art practice, you can go to art college where you go through the traditional path from bachelor degree to master degree. After your studies, you can then join residencies that offer studios for young and mid-career artists, or you can go to a post-academy. Here, you get the time and space to make art and do research, and a quality label on your resume. Moreover, some post-academies are recognised as official programmes where you obtain a certified postgraduate degree – like you do at a.pass (Advanced Performance and Scenography Studies) and HISK (Higher Institute of Fine Arts). The Jan van Eyck Academy is also a post-academy, and it has developed into a progressive, international residency in recent decades.

Hicham Khalidi We differ from post-academies like a.pass and HISK, which are subsidised by the education ministry. They are allowed to issue an official certificate; we abandoned that certification in 1987 and then switched to the international residency model which is subsidised by the culture ministry. On the other hand, we share the function of facilitating the development of art practices. We do not simply offer a key to a studio, only to leave artists to their own devices. We form a community that helps art practices spread in different ways and in different domains. Where does an art practice stand now, and where is it spreading to?

Zeynep Kubat What do post-academies or residencies contribute to the broader arts sector?

Hicham Khalidi The importance of an international residency is to help artists by creating an environment where they can develop themselves and their practice. In addition, residencies make work visible in the sector. All kinds of players in the arts sector come to see work in development. You build an international network. All residencies have a different way of working: while one place is more network-oriented, another will focus more on artistic research or studio practice. Institutions in Flanders and the Netherlands have already proven themselves tremendously useful in the international field. The list of artists coming out of HISK is incredible! Most of these artists have good careers and are often exhibited.

Zeynep Kubat So how does such a big subsidy cut affect individual artists?

Hicham Khalidi It has gigantic consequences. Residencies and post-academies are often linked. The moment you remove a few partners from the ecosystem of the arts, you actually remove part of the humus that makes the arts sector fertile. The effect of severing that connection is much greater than you think, and it goes much further over time because you also cut into the invisible work that those institutions do. If an organisation is concerned with survival, it can no longer be concerned with content. You can’t do research, you can’t do programming, you can’t keep studios open, you can’t help artists. You then have to reorient the whole ecosystem. Surprisingly, the idea of the arts sector as an ecosystem was endorsed by the N-VA in recent years. They adopted that terminology only to then pursue a contradictory policy. I don’t get that.

Zeynep Kubat The minister had a bite-sized solution to the problem: the encapsulation of a.pass and HISK in one of the art colleges or universities. Why was this received with such jeers by the arts field?

Hicham Khalidi Post-academies are constantly rediscovering the arts. They are solving needs that have to do with practice and content development. The blending of theory and practice is essential for quality art. The traditional academic route can never offer it because the conditions and practices there are different. Moreover, in Minister Weyts’ discourse, it seems as if the operation of post-academies is disconnected from academia itself, which is not at all true. a.pass, for example, offers an extra research programme for PhD students. So, on the one hand, we have had this way for a long time and, on the other hand, universities cannot take over the tasks of a residency – not even financially. Mixing the artistic and the academic is not efficient at all. Of course, I can understand that as a policymaker, you have to make choices, but this is not the right one. It shows that the minister doesn’t know what post-academies do or how important they are.

Zeynep Kubat At Jan van Eyck, and also a.pass, there is an explicit focus on artistic research practices. So, where is the line between a residency, a post-academy, and a doctorate in the arts?

Hicham Khalidi In the 1980s, despite criticism from the educational sector, artistic research became very much en vogue. At Jan van Eyck, we interpret this meaning differently by viewing the making of art itself as a research practice. Here, you can also feel the difference between a.pass and HISK. a.pass puts artistic research even more in relation to theory. There is hardly any other place that does this at such a high level in the field of performance and performing arts. HISK puts more emphasis on the platform function. You can also see that in their presentations, which are beautiful and finished. For us, making and thinking are inseparable, as it were. At the Jan van Eyck Academy, we use multidisciplinarity to break down the barriers between education and culture. That’s why we need each other: each place can offer something that the other doesn’t have.

Zeynep Kubat Why not just merge the academic and artistic domains if this movement has already in part been happening?

Hicham Khalidi Who hands out a certificate or diploma and who doesn’t essentially doesn’t matter. Northern Europe is renowned for its postgraduates and post-academies. With that popularity and qualitative output, these institutions pay back investment costs to their governments by a wide margin. That’s something the minister should take a closer look at because he’s confusing different functions in a large ecosystem. This is not just about quantitative, but more importantly, qualitative output. Within the sector, everyone knows that if you have done Rijksacademie, Jan van Eyck, HISK or a.pass, you are actually already ‘in’. We do the preparatory work for presentation institutions. It is certainly not the case that we determine what quality is and is not. I think more in terms of broadening and developing. This quality standard has grown out of the fact that we, as a guiding institution, know very well what is going on in a particular art practice. You can’t expect that from universities because they have no connection to that practice.

Zeynep Kubat The current popularity of artist doctorates is partly due to an acute need for time, space and money to develop a practice. Not unlike the minister’s disorientation, we could ask if there is a confusion among artists about the existing structures for development.

Hicham Khalidi Of course I think there is also confusion among artists about what structure is appropriate for them now, but it is legitimate because they should have the freedom to develop a practice anywhere. They start from the content rather than the institutional structure. Deepening your practice involves continuous development, asking questions like, “What kind of world am I in?”, “What does art mean to me?”, “What does my work mean to other fields such as science or to the public?” Whether you’re doing an undergraduate degree or a PhD, you’re working on issues that you’re interested in beyond measure as a person and that leads to broad insights. A residency is a framework that can also offer that space for issues, and in fact already does so for future artists. As an artist, you try to mine the ways in which you are connected to the world.

Zeynep Kubat Jan van Eyck also went through a difficult period after a major subsidy cut in 2012. Do you see similarities with the situation in Flanders?

Hicham Khalidi In 2012, we had 45 staff members. Now, we are 25 and doing almost one and a half times more work. That has a huge effect on your staff, structure, and what you can and cannot offer. We are incredibly behind technically, structurally, but also in terms of content, on the actual issues that put us in relation to the world – from inclusion to climate. This is similar to how we are running behind due to 20 years of neglecting to think about climate change. Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research once said that we do not live in a time of scarcity but of excess. Now is not the time for austerity. On the contrary, we need to maximise variety, diversity and what can come from it. There may be thousands of ideas that never get developed if you save, but one of those thousand may have been an answer to an important issue. I’m not saying you should instrumentalise art, but I am saying that we need to start looking at the potential of art differently.

Zeynep Kubat The minister is now cutting not only the quality of the arts but in the long run, the metaphors that help shape the future.

Hicham Khalidi Exactly. It’s completely illogical to start cutting off something that is actually already working well and is good for society on the basis of a quantitative story. I get that it’s crazy to suddenly think in terms of excess when we’ve always been taught to start from the idea of scarcity. But we have to move forward, we have to start developing things. There is no difference between practice and theory in that sense. We all express ourselves in a different way, from different frameworks, and that kind of excess and diversity is just what we need. Every artist draws inspiration from all sorts of domains. The problem is that we see culture as a category and not as an inherent way of experiencing the world – that alone makes culture become part of you. Then, from any position, you carry art and culture. Whether you do that in a normative or plural way is a political choice. After all, politics is not divorced from the cultural field, from support, from opinion. It is important what we understand as culture, so we can use it for society. We created this world from our thinking, from our imagination, so we can also represent it differently.

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