In 2019, we (Gala Moody and Michael Carter aka OFEN Co-Arts Platform) made the work New People on four performers of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
New People, a fifteen minute performative experiment was the result of several months research into performance as social practice. It had been our utopian wish that we could create an ensemble dance work using socially sustainable ways of collaborating. Although we welcomed failure as part of the process, we found that we were in fact successful in creating the working methods that fostered well-being and solidarity in the group.
Our new way of working satisfied all of the aspects that we had previously enjoyed in creating art but also opened up further potential in what’s possible in a creative process and went far beyond what the old systemic models were capable of by including well-being, fairness, ethics, diversity, sustainability and flattened hierarchy as integral aspects of the artistic and working processes.
This work led to a year long research during 2020 into the potential role of arts organisations in social change. We imagined an institution that developed their mission with social change, well-being, and environmental sustainability at the forefront of their concerns (rather than economics). We used our experience as dancers to imagine what it would be if institutions put artists’ rights and fair conditions as their priority as well as relinquishing their current level of power. We laid out the steps necessary for such a place to really make structural change, for example; to have diversity on the level of the board (50% non white/non male + dis-(able)d representation) and on the executive level (womxn/non white in positions of power) in order to make change of any relevance. It became also apparent that directors of art institutions should be artists rather than managers/curators. In order to have an ethical methodology rather then just reinforcing and sustaining the habits of power, one must be able to deeply understand and empathise with the realities and precariousness of artists, and to understand deeply, not just superficially, the role that process, time, and conditions have in the quality of the artwork.
The capitalist system does not work in the favour of the artists, a one size fits all- neoliberal model of engaging with artists just creates an elitist and able-bodied/minded industry. Art and culture has the power to make societal change and to pioneer anti-neoliberal methods. As the status quo in arts institutions makes executives hugely powerful as gatekeepers in the industry, it is these same leaders who must prove themselves in solidarity with the precarity of the industry. There is no reason why artists should only be awarded the minimum wage to present their work in theatres where theatre directors are earning ten to twenty thousand euro a month.
So what are the benefits of change?
Arts institutions will reflect the greater populations and become a place for all people and not just the culturally elite and wealthy. Art making will be enriched by more diverse voices and will therefore have a higher level of artistic achievement and quality. Theatre and dance making, always a collective practice, can have collective co-authorship, which might lead to greater economic stability for all involved.
Responsibility for our job, as well as actively participating in the development of the potential (evolutionary purpose) of the organisation, i.e the “direction” of an arts institution is not set in stone. People within the organisation have their own trajectory (evolutionary purpose) in life, and would be able to follow that with greater autonomy.
Arts institutions then become places that are utopian, they do make structural change in response to climate change, they do make systemic change in response to racism, they make hiring procedures in response to inequality, they create transparency in response to unfair working conditions. They are held accountable and they hold themselves accountable, to be fair and be an example to the society they are in.
– OFEN Co-Arts Platform, 21 September 2020.