We didn’t survive art school
to be given up on now

an open letter

By The GAP group

Dear art schools, dear art institutions, dear Flemish policymakers:

We have a problem. You often seem to think that it’s our problem. But we actually think it’s yours as well. Can we please work out some solutions together? Be welcome, as a start, at our monthly SOTA café’s at Beursschouwburg . We have some proposals to discuss.

We, recently graduated students, have been studying at your art schools for four years. A great time we had, but it was also a tough nut to crack. Finally, we crossed the finish line. Our school celebrated our Master in the Arts degree with us slammed out the door to concentrate on a new generation of artists in the making. From one day to the next, many of us were confronted with a situation that is often explained to us as ‘the harsh reality of being an artist’. As if that is a given reality that we just have to accept?

We don’t. As graduated artists, we feel left alone in the wide gap between art schools and the working field. We experience this as carelessness of both art schools and institutions – and of Flemish policymakers. If you all are really serious about your mission of ‘guiding students to contribute to society in a creative way’, ‘supporting emerging talents’ and ‘the artist as our cornerstone’, you should invest in bridging this gap.

The depths of ‘the gap’

What we call ‘the gap’ is the liminal space between graduating and having your first production, exhibition, album, or performance: that crucial period of time where you have to start building the foundations on which you will later build your career in the arts. We see it as a gap and not a bridge because not everyone will be lucky enough to reach ‘the other side’ and work as an artist.

This gap, this period after school, functions as a moment of filtering out everyone who lacks the means and resources to succeed – things like money, social status, ability, studio space, a paid rent, a network through family… Schools fail to prepare their students and accompany them to a place of stability in their work. The art field forgets to welcome new artists into their communities.

For many of us, the gap after school is a moment that reinstates the existing inequalities of society.

For many of us, the gap after school is a moment that reinstates the existing inequalities of our society. When you leave school, you lose many of the necessary conditions you need to organise your practice and make the kind of autonomous art you are taught to value. You lose a space to work, you lose a community of peers, and you lose mentors and teachers.

This means that in order to start working, you must recreate all of these conditions by yourself. This often coincides with the moment that your parental support ceases. From one day to the next, you are expected to pay your own rent, your own bills and buy food before you can even begin thinking about how you’ll pay for a studio or rent rehearsal spaces. This means that you’ll have to work a part-time job, which is often unrelated to the arts, before you can even begin to imagine how you’ll practice your art.

Perseverance and faith in one’s qualities and abilities comes with a good support system around you.

In this period, you also realise you are lacking a lot of knowledge. Knowledge you never learned in school, but which is necessary to get your practice up and running: how to apply for funding, how to price and sell your work, how to get the attention and support of institutions, cultural centres and/or galleries. Because you are a young artist, you don’t know many other artists as you lack a community and a network. You don’t know where to turn to ask for advice because your teachers are no longer there for you. Although there is solidarity among many artists, the door into communities can be very difficult to find.

There is also a psychological toll to pay while travelling ing through this gap. It is easy to mistake the lack of attention you are receiving from the art field as proof of the poor quality of your own work. Receiving a ‘no’ – or even no answer at all – creates isolation and loneliness. Perseverance and faith in one’s qualities and abilities comes with a good support system around you. Isn’t that the version of reality we should strive for?


Laetitia Gendre

The deeper problems

No, we are not asking to have our hand held all the time. Yes, we know that we learn most by doing it ourselves. Indeed, as students, we need to take responsibility for our education, meet professionals, get tips and tricks from a course in ‘entrepreneurship’, subscribe for that practical workshop. We admit: a part of the problem is ours to tackle. But a bit more care and support could be essential factors to kickstart this.

Art schools, institutions and policymakers have the crucial responsibility to address their deeper issues.

Art schools, institutions and policymakers have the crucial responsibility to address their deeper issues. Art schools don’t (manage to) embrace the concept of aftercare. Too often, they only show interest in sharing success stories of alumni to promote their own institution in the rat race with other schools of art. Instead, they should support less glorious but more realistic stories. The art field functions through informal networks based on privilege. Many art institutions have incorporated neoliberal and patriarchal beliefs about ‘being the best’ far more than they are aware of. Cultural and educational policies in Flanders gradually cut the subsidised budgets of art schools and institutions to tackle ‘structural problems’. Our ministers believe that entrepreneurship is the solution.

As long as ‘the reality of making art’ is about business and not about the surplus value of imagination, many of us will remain in the gap.

Dear Minister Weyts: the dark truth is that half of your ‘starting capital’, as you call us, never gets started at all. Dear Minister Jambon: your Vision Paper on the Arts shows your full awareness of this gap: “Graduates of higher art education are currently insufficiently prepared for the ins and outs of the sector. (…) It is irresponsible not to pay attention to basic economic principles. Elementary business management, the social legal position of the artist, and administrative law should be included in the curriculum”. You propose a bleak vision of the arts.

Instead of pointing fingers at each other, let’s take our mutual responsibilities.

These ‘basic economic principles’ are not the solution, but exactly the problem of today’s art education and production. As long as ‘the reality of making art’ is about the simple business of being visible and successful ‘on the market’, and not a risk investment in the surplus value of imagining how to do things differently, many of us remain in the gap. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, let’s take our mutual responsibilities. Let’s do it together. We know that every individual in this ecology is trying to make the best of it within the given circumstances. But we believe we can do better. Do you, as well? How could this gap become a bridge? How can schools support their students to begin a career after they have graduated? How can the art field welcome newcomers into its ecology? How can this knowledge circulate better? Could this be an opportunity to strengthen the solidarity that already exists within the field?

Sincerely, The Gap Group


Only complaining is not in our nature. We are well-educated and can think of possibilities. We have seven proposals for ourselves and our fellow emerging artists, even if they have never been in an art school. If you want to discuss and help refine these proposals, please join us for a next Open Session with State Of The Arts: How to bridge the gap between art school and working field?

1. mentors after

For newly graduated artists, a friendly hand on your shoulder can be a reassuring backbone to guide you in the first pivotal years of building a career. But where to find that hand? You can continue to beg important people for coffee dates by mail, hoping to set up some conversations. But more often than not, these pleas fall on deaf ears, and we are ignored or pushed aside.

We propose a mentorship system in which active people in the field take up the mantle of ‘mentor’ for art school graduates. They can advise us on how to work financially, artistically and structurally on our budding careers. They can share their network and lead us to the right people for specific questions. They can inform us about opportunities they see passing by or give feedback on an application. For every young artist, this mentorship can be different.

The added value of this mentorship is its tailored guidance and dialogue.

Assignment of these ‘mentors’ can be organised through schools. School should provide students with lists of people that are open to mentorship.
Institutions like Kunstenpunt or Cultuurloket should set up a pool of arts professionals who are willing to be paired up with graduated students.
The Flemish Minister of Culture and the Flemish Minister of Work, Economy and Innovation should set up a fund for starters and pay freelance mentors from this. Anyone who can hold the door open for us – even just a tiny crack – is most welcome.

If we contact them ourselves, we might have the chance to actually get an answer.
The added value of this mentorship system is its provision of personally tailored guidance. Even the best workshop or information website can’t match this. Simply because mentorship is a dialogue!

2. peer groups in every city

Each city could have a self-organised peer support group of young artists who meet regularly and according to the needs present in the group. For instance, around the different times of application writing, young artists could gather once a week to work on applications in the same room, where experienced grant writers can provide support. Last summer, Timelab, Kunsthal Gent and Gents Kunstoverleg organised a Schrijfmarathon. How to organise this more structurally?

Another shared practice could be regular feedback sessions, where once a month artists can check on one another’s progress. They could follow up on certain goals and professionalise, gather contacts of institutions and share their growing networks. Or, they could share experiences from the gap to comfort and help each other. These gatherings resemble the online Morning Coffees and Night Caps of Kunstenpunt, but we’d rather do it live. More than just a help desk, these peer groups would be work sessions.

It could be important to have monthly rituals.

These groups could work in two ways: first, a yearly calendar could be installed like a fixed schedule or curriculum, where each meeting deals with a particular topic for emerging artists. Second, to create room for flexibility, every meeting’s programme could include a simple monthly inquiry on everyone’s needs.

These groups should be mainly self-organised, but an art school or cultural institution could provide space and support in coordination for their city. It could be relevant to meet once a week, but not everyone needs to attend each session. Nonetheless, it could be important to have monthly rituals such as emotional check-ins and a progress round on projects. Everyone who wants to offer support to realise this idea can contact us via the information below.

3. informal

Much of the information and knowledge you need to begin your work in the art field is informal. This means that you cannot find it online or in a textbook as it’s shared by word of mouth. Often, this knowledge is also learned by doing and through facing challenges. Rarely, however, such knowledge is written down, collected and shared on a wider scale – because it seems irrelevant, or there is not enough time. Of course, there’s information available on different websites like those of Kunstenpunt, Cultuurloket, Flanders DC, Sociaal Fonds Podiumkunsten, trade unions (ACOD Cultuur, ACV Puls), and others.

Where and how can more informal knowledge be shared and collectivised?

We imagine an open forum for informal knowledge. Anyone should be able to add content, personal tips and tricks. It should have a search option, for an easy access of relevant information. Who takes the first step here? Cultuurloket, Schools of Arts or SOTA?

4. affordable work space

To make art, you need easy accessible and cheap space to work. Art schools, municipalities, cultural institutions and residencies have that space. They also offer it to students and emerging artists. Nucleo in Ghent and Morpho in Antwerp, for instance, offer around 25% of their available atelier space and extra guidance to starters. Their long waiting lists make it very clear: there is a growing lack of affordable space for young artists.

If cities care about their local cultural capital, they should engage owners of empty buildings.

Especially after COVID-19, there’s a growing amount of unused space in every city – from empty office buildings to abandoned hotels. How to connect the dots? Municipalities and governments should focus more on the temporary use of empty buildings.

If a property is made available for temporary use for at least one year then the municipality offers to cancel the tax for unused property. In Ghent, for example, this yearly tax is between 2.800€ and 4.400 €, depending on the scale of the building. Only buildings with access to electricity, water and heat are taken into account. A standard contract has to be signed between the owners, the municipality and the artists. The Union of Flemish residencies UFO, and the union of Flemish municipalities and cities VVSG, should support these moves and start negotiations!

5. affordable

Mental health is an issue that goes beyond the art field, but it’s an important part of the gap. As access to mental healthcare is more open for the privileged than for those with a lower income, it is important to share mental health resources. Being an artist is a challenging job that requires a great deal of sacrifice when it comes to stability, security and self-worth. We imagine a website with references of therapists who offer affordable services. Art Schools should offer alumni the possibility to consult the school’s psychologists up to three years after graduation.

6. financial support

We hope that the current proposal of Minister Frank Vandenbroucke on the revision of the artist’s status will be embraced by the whole federal government. This proposal foresees that, from 2024 onwards, all graduated students at Belgian art schools (and people with similar experiences) could receive the right to temporary unemployment compensation for starters for three years, during which they would have to follow ‘career coaching’. Graduated students can use this time to do fairly paid artistic work and meet the criteria to get an official compensation for artists. During this period, it should be possible to have 1bis-contracts.

It’s about offering young artists equal rights to build up the same social security as other employed workers.

This federal proposal is a special support for starters and not a privilege. It’s about offering young artists equal rights to build up the same social security as other employed workers in Belgium. We do not understand why we have to wait until at least one year after graduation before we are eligible for application for the new Grant for Emerging Talent in the revised Flemish Arts Decree? It is exactly in that first year when the grant would be useful to bridge the gap.

7. warm welcome festival

Each year, art schools organise a graduation show: a big exhibit in which graduating students show the work they have developed throughout the year. It is a way to display their talents, skills and creativity and introduce themselves to the field. Imagine now that the art field would do the same in response: organise a three-day show or fair to introduce themselves to new alumni. We would call it ‘The Warm Welcome into the Artist’s Life Fair’. Its purpose would be to exhibit all the necessary conditions to work in the arts.

A festival that would be a ritual to take care of the artistic biosphere together.

The fair would have different stands and a big party at the end. Graduating students and alumni are interviewed and accompanied to find the right stands in accordance with their artistic practice, their needs for workspace, their financial means, etc. This interview could archive their talents, skills and desires as a contribution to collective care for the field.

Some helpful stations: - Find a space to work (e.g. studio, atelier, rehearsal space, workshop space). - Make a financial plan with someone for the coming years. - Meet different institutions and venues where your work can be produced. - Meet different residencies where you can do work and sign up for one. - Meet different collectives that exist. You can join an existing one looking for new members, or you can learn how to create one. - Meet a possible mentor that accompanies you for the first two years after graduating. - Sign up for an activist work group working on different fronts: more funding in the arts, fair payments, improved working conditions, etc. - Enter a work trade/skill exchange system where you can exchange services with other artists.