The fear that new institutions will be imperfect, in their turn, does not justify our servile acceptance of the present ones.
Ivan Illich, 1969.

Artistic Institutions, as many other institutions nowadays, are facing important and multiform crisis and one could even say that the current organisation of the performing arts’ field, as it emerged in the 80’s and 90’s, seems to soon come to an end.

It was a time where Flanders invested (a lot) to organise the best possible conditions for Good Art to appears, numerous types of grants have been accessible and a lot of bottom-up organisations took off the ground to accompany every step of the artistic creation process, from pure research and experimentation to the best possible ways to share the creation with various audiences.

But in the mean time, within the current political realm, and surely since 2008, the reality is that what was at the very core of our beautifully professionalized field is being slowly syphoned off: project fundings are disappearing, coproductions are becoming rare, artists are creating in long term precarity, being structurally underpaid, overworked, over-dependant in the development of their practices. And the supportive organisations (workspaces, production and presentation houses) are not having the means nor the function to compensate this escalating scarcity. One could even say that, looking at how our field is functioning nowadays, knowing who’s effectively having the autonomy of development, how decisions are being made, how the cash money is percolating down to the artists, etc… , that the primarily goal of the arts institutions - that was to support the emergence and the diffusion of Good Art- could almost appear as a peripheral question (who has heard of the unfamous 20% in Flanders?). So what are the arts institutions actually protecting today?

As Bojana Kunst is preciesly describing in her article “The Institution between Precarization and Participation” (in Performance Research: On Institutions, 2015), the current neo-liberal way of governance through social insecurity, flexibility and continuous fear are forcing the arts institution (as any other institution) to be part of the normalization of precarity.
Kunst explains: Arts institution are perpetuating and reproducing the neoliberal ideology by using precarity and vulnerability as main social capital (a.o. in their relationships with artists as content providers), but they are also forced into protective practices of their own working – being asked to continuously reach out to others, becoming clearly marked as social (or public) places were (disappearing) social practices are being exposed and eventually preserved. The development of participatory arts performances is, following Kunst, showing the need for arts institutions nowadays to prove that audience has been effectively involved and reached.

Still with Bojana Kunst: As self designated knots of communication between communities, and spaces where social or political changes could be experimented, arts institution could be the place where various forms of domination are challenged. But the paradoxical reality is that most of the arts institutions are, in their very organization, in their non public, invisible and private space, persistently staying immune to the (sometimes micro) political effects of their own artistic projects, being in no way influenced or modified by the experiences they are instigating, making sure they would not endanger their status as receivers of public or private money.

However, reproducing the same old pattern in the institutions we inherited, would surely lead us all to a dead end. As to decide to stay blind to what clearly comes onto us, it seems urgent to question the very working of the institutions, look for new models and decide we could as well refuse to accept that “this is how things are done”.

However, the question doesn’t seem to be whether we should leave the institutions or not. Enough examples have been given of the necessity to instigate changes simultaneously from within and from without the institutions as interconnected sites where the responsibilities and roles of the institutions can be investigated. Quoting Andrea Fraser (2005) mentioned in the article “Settings and Steppings” by Gigi Argyropoulou and Hypatia Vourloumis (in Performance Research: On Institutions, 2015), “it is not a question of being against the institution. We are the institution. It's a question of what kind of institution we are, what kind of values we institutionalize, what forms of practice we reward, and what kind of rewards we aspire to” (2005: 278).

In search of structural alternatives BUDA would like to take the opportunity of the festival BUDAVISTA#10 to open a temporary space between reality and fiction, in which we’ll invite thinkers, directors of institutions and artists to work together on the Fantastic Arts Institution.

First, we’ll try to see through our habits, look at the current problems from various angles and invite some inspiring examples of institutions to listen about how they are “making institution” differently.

Then, we’ll possibly try to (mis?)use our radical imagination skills to come up with possible other institutions models, deciding that we could as well become “future factory” (Seba Hendrickx) and use science fiction, futurology and “as if” strategies to unleash our collective imaginations. For this part, we’ll try to walk the difficult line between what could indeed become real and what seems today to be pure utopia - but could still be strongly desirable in a near future.

We’ll ask ourselves questions about Power, Money, Work Rhythms, Decision Making, Spaces, Curatorial Practices, Communication, Shared Responsibilities, Equal Payment, Exclusiveness vs Openess, Publicness, Transparency, Fluidity vs Stability, Soft vs Hard, Flexibility vs Solid, Small vs Big, Quantity vs Quality, Etc etc etc.

And we’ll raise all those questions, knowing, of course, that our search for the fantastic institution should stay away of all utopian quest for perfection – this poison that makes all finished things dead. Following D. Haraway in her call to “Stay with the trouble”, the fantastic institution is probably (still) a quite problematic one. But how fantastically problematic? This is the question.

So, Who’s afraid of the Fantastic Institution?


Agnes Quackels 
artistic leader BUDA Arts Centre