5 Cultural Policy Resources in South East Europe
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15.03.2003 | author: Emil Hrvatin
Margin, niche or mainstream?
Policies for Culture Journal, Spring issue 2003
Emil Hrvatin
is Director of Publications at MASKA Slovenia Performing Arts Network and Performance Artist, Ljubljana.
Points of departure for a debate regarding the Slovene cultural policy and the attitude of the art and culture sector towards non-governmental organizations and independent creators.

In the eleven years since its independence the state of Slovenia has succeeded in reforming large social systems such as healthcare, education, retirement, private property and the tax system… One of the few areas that remains untouched and is operating within practically the same systemic framework as in the previous regime is the area of culture. Both the State and local communities still see culture as a transfer of financial, infra-structural and human resources to public institutions that perform a representative function.

In the last ten years, the distribution of, for the most part, financial resources has become somewhat more dynamic, thus supporting the cultural and artistic productions of NGOs and of independent artists. But the decision-makers in matters of cultural policy still have not taken the decisive step towards a modernization of the system that would put different elements in the field of cultural production on an equal or, at least, on a more equal footing. The Ministry of Culture, as well as the City of Ljubljana, slightly increase the funds earmarked for the programmes and projects of the NGOs and independent artists every year, but these increases do not reflect the changing dynamics of new and contemporary works that spring from the different kinds of cultural production now being developed. In real terms, in the last five years, the funds for specific projects; events, shows, etc., have been shrinking while costs continue to rise. This has had an impact, not only in terms of production (decrease of reruns in local communities), but also on the ability of artists to be creative (if we take performing arts as an example, projects are logistically increasingly less demanding, more and more shows feature only one or two performers…). On the other hand, a whole range of artistic content has appeared that cannot be integrated in the customary methods of cultural production (i.e. new media and interdisciplinary arts). Visual arts have also completely changed. They now include the media, technologies, installations, etc.

Also, cultural policy does not take that decisive step in the new proposed law of integrating the production of the NGOs into the system. The proposal provides for the possibility that the NGOs compete for programs on an equal footing with cultural institutions, but their starting points are fundamentally different. The State and local communities have legal responsibility to finance the permanent, non program-related expenses of public institutions that also manage the infrastructure. It would be completely absurd to expect that the programs of public institutions should not be financed in accordance with the institutions’ size.

And yet the problem is not that public institutions are privileged and the NGOs are not. The cultural policy creates this bipolarity and, in some way, also maintains it. The cultural system needs to become more dynamic, so that various forms of cultural production in which the public manifests its interest can gain acceptance. A modern, dynamic and flexible cultural system can be created only by granting concessions, long-term contracts and the management of public infrastructure to subjects whose work realizes the public interest, regardless of their status.

The problem that arises in this context consists in the financial consequences of the change of such a system. It is known that according to UNESCO standards Slovenia should devote 1.5% of its budget to culture. But in fact this share is smaller than 1%. The State and the local communities do not undertake systemic change because it would entail either an increased share of the State budget for the cultural budget or a redistribution of the existing cultural budget. Neither of the political groupings that have been in power in Slovenia so far, or that have been in charge of the Ministry of Culture, has taken this step. The question is how was it possible to reach a consensus regarding the crucial reforms (healthcare, education, tax reform, private property…) that concern all citizens, whilst there was not enough political will to reform the cultural system likewise in a way that would reflect the state of affairs? Is the culture lobby that seeks to maintain the status quo so strong and homogenous in every political grouping?

A frequent question, and at the same time the answer from culture lobbies and implied, in the end, by cultural policy, is why the State and local communities should support the NGOs’ cultural and artistic production in its current scope in the first place. This question undoubtedly reflects, in the field of cultural politics, a lack of vision and understanding of the intricacies of artistic and cultural production, which is in constant flux. The State and local communities respond to contemporary cultural and artistic production primarily only when certain subjects experience acclaim abroad. This means that they value cultural and artistic production from the viewpoint of the representation of the country or the local community.

The answer to the above question certainly isn’t a narrowly political one but rather a broadly political one. It is significant that contemporary artistic forms such as contemporary dance, performance art, new media art, and new technologies’ art, as well as the art of marginal groups, minorities and different life style groups, are all produced in democratic environments. The phenomenon and the development of new art forms is an indication of the openness, plurality, democracy and tolerance of an environment. This is not only about artistic and cultural production but also about the needs of citizens that can in no way be met only through the programs of public institutions. Contemporary democratic societies are articulated through the plurality of needs that are expressed in the public interest in the area of culture as well. The Ministry of Culture recognizes the ‘otherness’ of the production of the NGOs and characterizes it in the introduction to the proposal of the new law as a ‘niche’ in the cultural system, which meets certain cultural needs of the citizens that would otherwise go unfulfilled. The understanding of a certain type of cultural production as a ‘niche’ points to the hierarchical nature and awkwardness of the cultural system and not to its openness and commitment to an equal opportunity of access to public support, which is an important category from the human rights perspective as well.

What we expect and what the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations and independent creators from the field of culture and art will strive for is an articulation of the political will on the level of the makers of cultural policy that will make possible a long-term, developmental and dynamic cultural and artistic body of work.

On a practical level this means:

1. equal opportunity of access to public funds;
2. equalization of working conditions for independent creators and NGOs (solutions to infrastructural problems – there isn't a single European capital either in the East or the West without a Centre for Contemporary Arts);
3. equal opportunity for all subjects in cultural production in the evaluation of their work;
4. the formation of mechanisms of social protection for independent creative artists (i.e. unemployment benefits that some EU members know).

Data that need repeatedly emphasizing

In the year 2002 the City of Ljubljana earmarked a total of 369,724,625 Tolars for 76 NGOs and 15 independent creative artists. At the same time it budgeted 2,487,222,811 Tolars for 25 public institutions. It is significant that the projects and programs of 76 NGOs received only as much funding as the programme of the Ljubljana Festival.

Because the State set up and is funding most of the cultural institutions, the NGOs are the sole organizations that represent the exclusive domain of live cultural production. The cultural institutions that were founded by the City are either libraries or purveyors of artistic and cultural events. In the year 2002, NGOs and independent creative artists, for all the live creativity within their production, have at their disposal only 11.7% of the City's entire cultural budget. Within that, when we speak of funds earmarked for programs, the NGOs share among themselves amounts of up to 30%, while the funds that go for investments amount to 0.8%. The NGOs do not manage a single site of public infrastructure, and no provision exists for one, either now or in the future, in any of the City's legal acts. The fact that the most vital part of live culture does not even have the most basic infrastructure and is often forced to rent space at commercial rates puts this work of creative production in an impossible position.

At the State level, the report of the Ministry of Culture for the year 2001 states that the share of funding allotted to the production of the NGOs and independent creative artists is 5% of the budget for the performing, musical and visual arts. Let's illustrate the discrepancy in the example of performing arts: public institutions have produced 75 shows while the NGOs have produced 65 projects. The former’s share of the budget for performing arts amounts to 95.7%, while 4.3% goes to the NGOs' projects.

Neither the State's nor the City's policy of culture shows even a trace of [positive] development. The vegetative state of the non-government sector is [simply] prolonged with the help of symbolic injections. We expect from the makers of cultural policy that they will take note of the findings of surveys, expert advice etc. regarding the needs of contemporary art, of its creators, viewers and others involved in its formation and dissemination, and convert those findings into a political will to change the current inertia, and lead contemporary creative activity to blossom.

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