Report – First meeting of mobility alliance partners

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« This artistic mobility plateform is a great initiative attempting to bridge the gaps in mobility funding. A lot still needs to be done in the area of mobility funding; RCF and its partners have set the first steps and are working towards future collaboration. »

In 2015 the Roberto Cimetta Fund, international association funding Euro-Arab artistic and cultural mobility, decided to launch this initiative to widen the funding possibilities of exchange for artists and cultural operators travelling between the Euro-Arab geographical zone and other parts of the world. The initial investigation of partners had been made already in June 2014 through a “conversation” between mobility funders in Tenerife in collaboration with the Association of Cultural Managers of the Canary Islands. A declaration was drafted that was translated into 10 world languages. Artistic Mobility Alliance is a second step in alleviating funding obstacles by grouping together mobility funding partners to address the challenges together and define common working tools. Facilitating and providing equal access to this mobility, through allocation of individual travel grants, is a way of ensuring that arts and culture flourish in the four corners of the globe, increasing the autonomy and emergence of artists and cultural operators, and allowing for international artistic exchanges to develop. This meeting was made possible thanks to the financial commitments of the Asia-Europe Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts and Korea Arts Management Service as well as the logistic support of Theatre Entropia and Theatre 104 in Athens, Greece.

The partners of this alliance met for the first time in Athens on 30th & 31st March 2015. 41 participants from 19 countries took part (Australia, Belgium, Croatia, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Lebanon, Malta, The Netherlands, Palestine, Pakistan, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia). The partners of the alliance are: Arts Network Asia, Asia-Europe Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts, India Foundation for the Arts, Korea Arts Management Service, Puglia Region, Roberto Cimetta Fund, Russian Theatre Union, Valletta, ECOC 2018. Potential partners, funding bodies and arts organisations involved in international exchange also took part such as the European Cultural Foundation, Art Moves Africa, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines, India for Transformation, Vasl Artists’ Collective, Kulturanova Foundation. The Anna Lindh Foundation is also a potential partner but could not attend the meeting.

“RCF allows for a forum of wide-angled and forward-looking discussions with a view to achieving tangible results in the fields of exchange, collaboration and networking”

The meeting started with introduction sessions allowing participants to present themselves. A reader sent prior to the meeting provided information about the topics and the participating organisations. Three interactive workshop were organised to share knowledge via specific angles of approach: a disciplinary approach focusing on mobility in the performing arts, a geographical approach focusing on the notion of proximity and decentralisation, and a third approach focusing on the mobility of cultural operators and entrepreneurs and the relationship with local cultural development in world regions. The following day participants meet to discuss intensively the setting up of the alliance and the models of implementation to be adopted. A specific report has been drafted for the members of the alliance defining the mobility routes to fund, the common values and ethics of the alliance, the communication strategy of the group, and the implementation of the open calls for travel grants.

DSC_7293 Ferdinand Richard, Chair of the Roberto Cimetta Fund, defined in his opening remarks, a general framework for the discussions. Currently, the leading global cultural industries are monopolising the market due to a complete revolution in the nature and function of the cultural object and in the nature of distribution channels. These industries attack the diversity of local markets, which are seen as fragmenting the global market; monopolisation is for these industries, the best way of making business. The strategies of these new bulldozers are counting on rapid capital circulation and short turnover of products. They neglect small highly specialized markets; these do not appeal to their eager appetites in market shares and instant benefits. Cultural assets and tangible benefits can be found in such specialized markets. Cultural engineering, capacity building, core art skills, social dialogue, bottom-up mushrooming, are developing in these markets and are central elements of cultural or artistic production, not yet controlled by these new massive operators. Cultural micro-businesses incubators, micro-funding schemes, shared co-working spaces, fablabs, local institutional networks to support cultural start-ups, direct on-line markets, short distribution circuits, peer-to-peer exchanges of all kinds, are processes that lead to a dignified, independent, autonomous, diversified free market, to freedom of speech and peace-keeping which are key to any business even those of leading global industries.

At another level, local authorities everywhere have been investing in cultural practitioners and agents through educational and cultural policies for a number of decades now, developing skills, arts production, arts education and creativity. However, the economic potential and attractivity of major cultural capitals is draining cultural professionals away from the local level to major hubs around the world. This “exporting” of artistic talent and cultural management skills evidently represents a loss in investment for local authorities. Artistic and cultural mobility should not be considered as a one way ticket outside of the local community but as a return ticket, directly linked to local development at the starting point. Seen from this angle, artistic and cultural mobility is also a major asset in peace building between cultural subjects since it brings understanding of world regions and cultures back to the local level. Local conflicts are often the result of disputes between neighbours rather than international crisis, as often presented through mass media. Individuals travel to develop their understanding of the world, establish partnerships with their counterparts and share knowledge and values. Such mobility is essential as it forms the basis on which we build and interconnect our societies and establish peace. Individual mobility is both purposeful and project oriented; the traveller must be capable of learning from others as well as questioning beliefs or stereotypes. The initiatives, India for transformation in Delhi, and Safar Fund, in Amman (Jordan) have both centred their mobility programmes on this understanding of travel as a process rather than a means of producing an end result. This is one of the common values that Mobility Alliance members agree on.

The possibility for citizens to be mobile differs from one country or political context to another and is affected by geopolitical divides. Mobility is not guaranteed even though historical. We need to take care of it, to make it a political responsibility, to have it funded by private or public sources. In this regard Eunhee Kim, representing Korea Arts Management Service, underlined the importance of developing ways to share our projects on mobility needs and to make sure we evaluate the impact that this mobility actually has. Artistic Mobility Alliance members agreed that in our era of mass media manipulation, of which one of the consequences is a distorted representation of cultural references, the only real way to know other cultures is to travel. Similarly social networks connect people worldwide but only travel can provide human-to-human contact to really know one another and build trustworthy, long-term partnerships.

 For an institution funding mobility, the return on investment has to be clear and if possible proven. This is what we call the “pay back” effect. Artistic Mobility Alliance values mobility as a round trip concept, directly linked to local development at the starting point, in the country of origin. The pay back effect can be measured through the way in which the traveller returns and makes use of his or her learning experience, in a networking fashion for the benefit of connecting artists and operators, production and distribution outlets in the local community of origin. Evaluation is therefore not on the result of the travel seen as a product but on the values shared, on the partnerships built and on the ideas and projects that emerge.

 Sustaining the pay back effect should be the role of local governing bodies and can be done through cultural policymaking. Building up artistic teams at local level and connecting them with other local suppliers in the social, environmental and production fields for the benefit of local markets is also key. Mobility funding is bound to other development funding such as micro-banking, production funds and sustaining grants. Similarly, if we extrapolate this theory on a global level, sustaining the pay back effect everywhere is only possible in the framework of worldwide fair exchange where reciprocity and mutual respect are the rules of the game. We have been used to unfair exchange for far too long. Fair exchange needs to be set up if we want sustainable development. Building the conditions of this multilateral, fair exchange will have positive, conducive effects on cost-effectiveness, mutualisation and innovation.

New models are already developing in this regard particularly in the Arab, Balkan and Indian regions through innovative organisations such as Kulturanova Foundation in Croatia, Zoomaal in Lebanon or India for Transformation. Platforms of exchange such as Istikshaf and Cimetta Forum are interconnecting mobility actors and their concerns in the field of small and medium sized enterprises as well as civil society activism. Although cultural entrepreneurs are constantly developing innovative strategies for market-based survival, the very nature of Art means that art practices will always be outside the frame, in a niche, or marginal, not conforming to current market paradigms. For the Artistic Mobility Alliance, supporting the artistic quality of a travel project is essential and evaluating this quality must be done via expert evaluation committees such as the one set up within the Roberto Cimetta Fund.

Mobility funding is part of structural funding contributing to a holistic approach to local art practice development and sustainability facilitated by a diversity of actors from local chambers of commerce, local authorities to clusters or collectives, to new platforms of monetary exchange and participation such as crowd funding. In this context the accountability tied to the funding process can be ensured via virtual platforms that build up local communities of support/access audiences and provide visibility as well as via cultural indicators that measure local cultural development as the concrete outcome of arts mobility.

Artistic Mobility Alliance is also concerned with mobility of artists in conflict zones. As Collette Brennan explained from the Australia Council for the Arts, Mobility Alliance members must develop an understanding on the ethics they share particularly in unstable environments in which the volatile circumstances at work in these conflict zones can lead to traumas and unhealthy situations on the return. Vasl art collective in Pakistan has learnt to become resilient in a context of target-killing, repression and danger, believing that the ties it develops with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are key in conflict resolution processes. This local cross-border mobility and cooperation is as important as international mobility. Establishing ties with local neighbours through local diplomacy is often key in unlocking tricky, longstanding divides that national diplomacies fail to solve. Funders can perceive the interest of funding such mobility since it provides artistic and cultural insight for them in a difficult territory. This insight allows for a cultural diagnosis in the zone, which can lead to further concerted mobility and development funding based on the analysis provided from the terrain.

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However, the Alliance readily acknowledges that most arts and mobility funders do not yet understand this need and that still today most arts mobility funding is provided to major cities such as Amsterdam, Paris or London that are the “golden triangles”, the consequence of which is a territorial favouritism and branding that is detrimental to other geographical zones in economic and cultural terms. Building cities that are open to foreign artists and have the infrastructure to welcome them for long periods of time should be seen as a political necessity of regional development not only in Europe but in all parts of the world, as a tool for stability and development. Short-term mobility to cities that do not have long-term welcoming infrastructure should simultaneously be supported as a means of starting up such long term processes.

Geographical directions of the exchange are determined by the choice of the individual practitioner who knows the destination/s that can enrich his or her well-planned cultural and arts projects. For an artist, acting outside the border, seen as an imposed barrier of political and financial agendas, is linked to acting outside the system, as a counter discourse. Destinations that were not “attractive” suddenly become so; the crisis in Greece has attracted many artists from abroad. In this context, mobility allows for a counter narrative to the dominant discourse and to our phobias. What was peripheral becomes central. Valletta, ECOC 2018 is an example of a peripheral zone if we look at the general map of the European Union, but can be considered central in the Euro-Arab geographical mobility map. Decentralisation in this context is a key political tool of which mobility funding is a central asset. By linking mobility to proximity we can develop a counter narrative to globalisation as witnessed in the opening statement of this report.

The alliance agrees to continue the work initiated in future meetings notably in Seoul and Bangalore in the following months. During the second semester 2015, the Roberto Cimetta Fund, Russian and Korean partners will launch a pilot call. All the partners agree to launch a cultural mapping process to identify mobility needs and provide statistical data to demonstrate the demand. Partners will identify emergency issues to be dealt with through the Alliance. The cultural mapping project will search for complimentary research groups and funding for the research. Mapping of local authorities providing support frameworks for international artistic exchange and co-construction will also be lead so that the diagnosis made can lead to concrete outcomes favouring long term arts mobility and exchange processes.

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