Today I’m using my blog to dissect and reflect on a discussion I was party to about The Trash Culture Revue, what it stood for and the perception of it in a certain persons mind within the arts community in Cork. I was told – albeit, indirectly – the other day that The Trash Culture Revue was exploitative and upset the status quo of other arts institutions in the city. Not in those exact words you understand, but that was the general thrust of the conversation. Before I go on let me first state that I wasn’t actually there. The conversation was held between my partner on The Trash Culture Revue and ‘another person’ (who will remain anonymous – infact lets call them Anon for the rest of this article).
Anons argument was firstly, that because none of the artists and performers in The Trash Culture Revue were being paid we were, by extension, exploiting them for our own gain. Secondly, because we were producing a series of events under a different economic system i.e. a gift economy system and had decided to host the events at the same time as a large, established arts festival in the City we were deliberately upsetting the status quo and thus creating unnecessary conflict and discord. Thirdly, that the State agencies that fund the Arts in Ireland (primarily the Arts Council and Local Authorities) would suddenly twig that artists and producers can actually make work for nothing and would therefore stop funding artists altogether. In other words, the very existence and success of The Trash Culture Revue and mutantspace.com would lead to the State being able to legitimise their cutting of funding to certain arts organisations, festivals and individuals. Ridiculous.
When I was told about this discussion by my partner my first reaction was shock, then laughter, annoyance and finally disappointment.
Let me first layout where we both stand, Anon and I. Let’s get the facts straight. Anon is to all intents and purposes a business man. He makes money out of overcharging artists for a city centre space, a large space that has a number of studios and rehearsal spaces.
Furthermore he demands from his tenants, in addition to their money, a certain amount of their free time and resources all of which go towards the overall running and upgrading of his centre. This demand is dressed up in the guise of collective responsibility and community action. It is nothing of the sort. It is a requirement not an option. There is no free choice.
Finally, Anon is renting some of his space to the very same arts festival that he claims we are upsetting by hosting The Trash Culture Revue during the period in question. Let me be clear here, the arts festival in question is so much bigger than we are. We are but a fly on the back of an elephant. Inconsequential. They’re full – time paid professionals who produce and programme international, national and local artists. Their Festival goes on for two weeks and is one of the larger arts festivals in the country. We, on the other hand do this in our free time with no money. We rely on the gift economy system for everything to work.
On the subject of state funding, mutantspace.com is not opposed to state funding per se it is opposed to arts organisations only making work on the basis of funding. Artists make work because that is their nature and you can’t escape your nature. Those that ONLY make work on the basis of funding are not artists. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many organisations, festivals and individuals who need funding to realise their projects – that’s a matter of simple economics – run their organisations, companies, programmes, etc all of which would not happen if there was no state funding. However, there are many out there, especially in the last ten years who have been assimilated into a funding dependant culture. These are the career arts workers within the sector. They are part of an industry. They are part of a system, a cog in the machine. mutantspace.com fundamentally opposes this mentality, philosophy, dependence. Not on any theoretical position but on a principle borne out of twenty years of experience in the arts – of being part of that system. So, if that means we upset some people within the arts industry then that’s fine by me. The more of these careerists we upset the better. Anon is a careerist dressed up as an arts activist and communitarian running an alternative arts space.
The irony of all this is that I quite like Anon, I like what he has brought to the city, I admire his hard work and relentlessness in the face of the large obstacles that he needed to get over in order to achieve what he has because what he has done is no mean feat. However the more I learn about his organisational structure – as the veils are lifted slowly over time – I get annoyed, angry and pissed off. And now he’s making disparaging remarks about The Trash Culture Revue and by association, mutantspace.com. We’re exploiting people. I am now an exploiter. I lie and cheat and take advantage of people for my own personal gain.
So, do I understand why Anon is upset? I suppose so. Am I surprised people are making disparaging remarks about what we’re trying to do? Not really. I’ve probably said this before but the arts community is full of deeply conservative, narrow minded, short term thinking individuals. What makes them worse than your average blue shirt is that they have an ego. It’s a dangerous combination.
Am I upset being tagged an exploiter? Absolutely, definitely. I resent it most vociferously. And if Anon had brought this argument up with me I wouldn’t have been as calm and polite as my partner. Right from the beginning, I set up mutantspace.com as a resource for everyone, built on the collective. Built out of the skills and resources of all those that chose to be part of it, no matter who they were or what they did, professional or amateur. There is no distinction in mutantspace.com.
mutantspace.com offers an alternative to the status quo and gives people the opportunity to create their own space and produce their own projects and events. To make this resource work effectively I had to remove the reliance on money as productions of any sort cost money and that is something many people don’t have access to. To make that a practical reality I had to set up a different economic model, a gift economy system. To do that I created a system in which people pooled their own skills and resources into a bank that was then freely available to all members of the resource (you can get more info on the site).
I have spent much money and time on both mutantspace.com and all the events leading up to The Trash Culture Revue. Everyone involved has had a choice and I hope they have all benefitted from it. To be labelled an exploiter makes me seethe. Which finally leads me to asking you the following; do you think I am an exploiter? For all of you involved in The Trash Culture Revue, do you feel exploited? Am I taking advantage of you?
For me The Trash Culture Revue is an affirmation of what individuals can do collectively. It is a reminder that we are not subject to bureaucracy or the status quo. That we can make and create our own space to fail, experiment and play in, our own space to learn and explore in.
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