Maria Miller the UK’s Culture Secretary wants the arts to make the case for their economic value. This is problematic primarily because the arts, culture, creativity – whatever you want to call it –  deal in learning. The transmission of an idea from one person to another and the digestion of that idea by said person. You see the painting it makes an impression. You hear the music it moves you. A line from a play which worms into your head, and sticks. You bake the cake, you eat it together. You read the book, you discuss it.  It’s notoriously difficult to find proxies for the value of these transactions. Their effects are often as important as they are vague. There’s a Schumacher quote we use in The Invisible Hand, ‘if economic thinking pervades the whole of society, even simple non-economic values like beauty, health or cleanliness can survive, only if they prove to be ʻeconomicʼ.

In the face of this kind of attack we’ll expect to hear arts advocates tell a story of two parts about art the economy.

The first part is that creativity drives the growth of Great Britain’s companies and their profits. Concepts for TV shows which are sold around the world. Advertising agencies which sell amazing ideas and communications to the world’s best companies for huge fees. One Direction. Danny Boyle’s films. Wallace and Gromit. Burberry. Creative ideas that pay.

The second part of the story is about the money which needs to be invested in a soup of creativity, culture and artists that sustain this creative economy. Subsidies for museums and galleries. Public funding for libraries. Commissions for artists and theatre festivals. Fingers point to the library that Zadie Smith went to, the theatre’s Lee Hall hung out in and Damien Hirst’s grant for Freeze.

Government invests in the arts, the arts support ideas which make the economy grow.

It makes sense.

But it’s a shame because it misses another story about art and the economy.

This story sits somewhere between these two… it’s not about subsidising inputs in the name of ‘outputs’. But rather about the people in the creative sector who use money as a tool to make and distribute their culture and ideas. People who will never create enormous profits, nor will they need subsidies. In the same way as social enterprises reinvest their profits in a social objective, these people trade profits for higher-audiences, higher-ideas and higher-aspirations. People who put on plays that will attract smaller audiences, but might tackle more important social issues. Promoters who put on musicians who break new ground, but might never become particularly viable. Football clubs, festivals and alternative schools that mark down their ticket prices, to make them more accessible to wider groups of people. The Fora do Exio network of self-organised festivals in Brazil. People like the SKART collective in Belgrade, who collect 100 dinars (about 1 euro) at each of their poetry nights and use it to print up the poems performed at the night and in turn are distributed at the next one.

There are basically alot of people out there who are subsiding the arts through their labour.  Arts organisers who trade down their wages, their profits, their ticket prices in exchange for better art, more interesting culture and sometimes bigger audiences. They are motivated by a heady mixture of art, performance, exhibitionism, expression and community – not money.

The problem is that if you conceptualise the policy response to the creative economy as subsidising the arts to create the ideas to make the profits, this stuff in the middle gets hammered. It neither wants explicit subsidy, but nor will it ever make a profit. But it will get taxed like it’s a straight-up business and overlooked as proper art, as it doesn’t seek subsidy.

That matters because it is in this ‘economy’ that ideas are really circulated to the great benefit of the economy and wider society.

We need better stories about it, and better ways to understand what it needs.

The economy is for us, we are not for the Economy.
Robert Reich`

Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.`
John Maynard-Keynes

The paper is divided into three sections. The first looks at what’s wrong with ‘the economy’. The second looks at how art is responding. And the final section looks at what this means for the ‘cultural sector’ – that’s the mish-mash of artists, museums, galleries, companies, arts centres and production houses who are the makers and custodians of our cultural life.

Here is an shortened version of the first section

The word economy is derived from the Greek words Ecos meaning ‘house’ and Nomia meaning ‘counting’. Economy refers to the act of ‘sharing out the house’.

But in our times economy has come to mean much more.

Economic growth is the maxim of politics, pushing all other stories of progress into the shade. If GDP isn’t growing, neither are we. In the pursuit of growth orthodox economists are seen as providing objective truths about the world, crowding out philosophers, religious leaders and artists. Their pre-received wisdom – that we are utility-maximising, self-interested individuals – has become a kind of folk common-sense in the workplace, trickling into the management of public-services, leaking through friendships, conventions and marital commitments. In the most market-orientated economies – all must prove to be ‘economic’, behaviour scientifically ‘incentivised’ and as far as possible, government should stand back and let markets sort it out. With a monopoly on what it means to be human, the advance of the market-economy is neither an idealistic nor a pessimistic way – it is the only way; there is no alternative.

Since the financial crisis of 2008 questioning of the economics profession, economic theory, measures of growth and the extent to which markets benefit society has spread. It seems that we have never had more cause to suspect that the machinations of ‘the economy’ are out of kilter with human and environmental needs. Circumstances vary from country to country but common grievances reoccur. Those who have long believed that the market economy isn’t fair – are today joined by others who now believe that it simply doesn’t work. Their criticisms reoccur in five related areas.

1. The socialised consequences of privately-made problems

The market-economy creates problems, and then enables the costs of those problems to be transfered those who did not create them – the $11 trilllion global bail out being the case in point.  Nicholas Taleb Nassim author of ‘The Black Swan’ blames the financial crisis on an absence of ‘skin-in-the game combined with too much money and power at stake’. There are parallels here with the market-economy’s inability to ‘price-in’ the natural resources, on which we rely. The best models say that 1440 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide can be released between 2000 and 2050 before irreversible climate change is triggered.  We have already released 420 – 28% of the total. With global emissions currently rising at 3% a year, the carbon carbon budget will be gone within twenty years. It will no doubt be the high consuming richest fifth of global society who will be best able to avert the consequences of climate change.

2. Inequality

The most free-market orientated economies are the most unequal. Captured in the image of the 99%, this is now the de-facto source of popular dissatisfaction with the market-economy. It is also a point which will be labored in a forthcoming film ‘Inequality for all narrated by Robert Reich. There is no shortage of statistics to draw on here.

3. The corrosion of norms, culture and tradition

Economists like to believe that economics is separate from culture. That markets simply sit on top of traditions, customs and beliefs without corrupting them. But for many, the economy just won’t keep to itself. Michael Sandel argues that we have drifting from ‘having a market economy to being a market society’. Canadian essayist F.S. Michaels believes that we are living in an economistic ‘monoculture’ where ‘being rational, efficient, productive and profitable’ have become ‘the ultimate expressions of being the world’. She fears the reign of one story and the metaphors it forces us to live by.

‘It’s not that the economic story has no place in the world and in our lives – it does. But without these other stories that express other values we have found essential throughout history, we imprison ourselves. When the languages of other stories begin to be lost, we lose the value diversity and creativity that keeps our society viable. We’re left trying to translate something vitally important to us into economic terms so we can justify even talking about it…We end up missing what it means to be human.’

4. The rejection of unquantifiable goods

Economists struggle to value learning, care and the development of human relations, because we do too: in the moment, it is hard to know the importance of experiences, words and people – hence E.F. Schumacher’s concern that ‘if economic thinking pervades the whole of society, even simple non-economic values like beauty, health or cleanliness can survive, only if they prove to be ‘economic’.   Russell Akoff’s f-laws are another helpful reference point here which state that ‘because we cannot measure what we value, we settle for valuing what we can measure.’ The concern is that the illuminating measures of economic growth, cannot shine light on qualities we have always valued and in the darkness, they have withered.

5. Hollow Politics

Unwavering faith in the economy and power of economics has drained the imagined and real-power of governments. The more politicians refer to the ‘economy’ as an etherial, untouchable dictator of political decisions, the less people believe politicians have the power to make a difference to their lives. The result is a crisis of collective-purpose and into this vacuum the forces of anti-democracy, indifference & extremism are drawn. Right wing extremist party Golden Dawn in Greece now commands 7% of the popular vote, while the radical nationalist party Jobbik in Hungary holds 12% of seats in the Hungarian parliament. Where extremism has not taken hold, voters are turned-off, disturbed and baffled by their politicians. Others wonder plaintively whether, by viewing politicians as nothing more than the mid-wives of material-prosperity, that maybe we have come to be governed by the politicians we deserve.

Thinking has become impossible

And yet despite so much concern about measures of economic growth, unease at unchecked advance of markets and the tension between capitalism and democracy – the economy and the logic of orthodox-economics reigns supreme. The Economist magazine continues to publish 15-page specials on new national ‘growth-models’ with no mention of how growth can be squared with climate-change. Politicians tremble before the supernal-judgement of credit-ratings agencies. And we are more likely than ever to have qualified economists as Prime Ministers.

Meanwhile governments cling to the hope that printing money, austerity, cutting social-security, forcing down wages is what is required to return the economy to growth and ultimately spread-wealth. The debate in most countries is about the extent to which these policies need to be pursued, rather than whether there are alternatives – today or in the future. Few politicians have the required candor with citizens, who have been conditioned to see them as managers, to try anything else. None are willing to clearly express the limits of markets in society. None will talk of whether environmental concerns can be squared with economic growth. Or whether growth can really ameliorate democratic and social concerns. None dare whisper the ‘inconvenient truth’ that ‘no growth risks economic collapse and unemployment, full-on growth risks the ecological systems on which we depend for survival and increasing inequality’. 

For many, economics has become a dogma to rival the religious dogma that The Enlightenment and indeed, economics itself sought to expose 250 years ago. The difference between value-judgements and facts, between the interests of elites and the interests of us, between how the world is and how the world might be is harder to see – as the film-maker Adam Curtis reads it: ‘thinking has become impossible’.

 The rise of the Social Economy?

The lack of space in mainstream politics has forced debate elsewhere. Helped by an upswing in technical innovation a counter-culture that aims to surface the interests who benefit from decisions taken in the name of economic growth, to question the role of the economics profession and to rediscover ways of ‘sharing out the house’ is emerging.

It has its symbolic face in the Occupy movement which spread to 951 cities in 82 countries in 2011 and continues today in the spirit of The Indignants, UKUncut, the Avaaz network and in countless other small organisations and movements. More prosaically, there is much soul-searching within the study of economics. Will Davies, editor of online journal Open Democracy’s Uneconomics series of articles puts it this way,

It is time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth about the public status of economics as an expert discipline: it has grown to be far more powerful as a tool of political rhetoric, blame avoidance and elite-strategy than for the empirical representation of economic life. This is damaging to politics, for it enables value judgements and political agendas to be endlessly presented in ‘factual’ terms. But it is equally damaging to economics, which is losing the authority to describe reality in a credible, disinterested, Enlightenment fashion.

In behind the frontlines in economics and activism others argue that the counter-culture is within the real economy itself. Paul Mason an economics correspondent for the BBC is optimistic that the continuation of the Occupy movement may not be a direct confrontation with politics and power, and wonders whether it may find form in new organisational forms emerging within the economy.

‘What if – instead of waiting for the collapse of capitalism – the emancipated human being were beginning to emerge spontaneously from within this breakdown of the old order? What if all the dreams of human solidarity and participatory democracy contained in the maligned Port Huron Statement of 1962 were realizable right now?’

In this vein Robin Murray has long argued that ‘A New Social Economy is taking shape while Manuel Castelles has also recently written about how the current financial crisis has provoked ‘non-capitalist’ forms of economic behaviour.

Economists are questioning themselves. Activists are on the streets. And maybe behind them there might just be groups people who are forming networks, associations and constitutions that will re-shape the economy. It is hard to know now what these forces amount to. Is this a counter-culture that will identify and challenge power, a cyclical period of consternation prior to a resumption of old growth patterns, or the dent of a blunt protest as power trundles inexorably east? It isn’t difficult to find those who will argue for all of these positions.

What is interesting for us, is the connection between these forces seeking to re-imagine the economy and currents within art and culture today. The discussion of economy is multi-faceted – it is cultural, it runs through politics and it is about fundamental values. It forces people to think-differently and to see the subjective nature of what is presented as objective truth, and to locate what is valuable, to question whether the metaphors we use everyday are the right ones – all aims to which artists can be particularly well suited.

At present artists seem keen to point at the things the economy doesn’t; the human qualities and values lost in market transactions, those who prosper and those who lose if the logic of government policy is to satisfy the markets at any cost, the other ways people can exchange  without resorting to money.  This is a spirit that comes from, pragmatic artists threatened by recent cuts in art funding, disillusioned artists reacting to the unchecked advance of the market economy over a longer time period, and an age-old clash between arts’ humanistic values, and those proposed by a cold economic rationalism that can only see art as an input or an output of a machine-like economy. This adds up to an attempt by large sections of the artistic community to symbolically and politically wrestle the artistic, artful intent from being seen as a cause or consequence of economic growth, to determine how and why growth happens. To corral the power of art towards society and democracy, away from sectional interests and possibly, to a more balanced political economy.

Here are three stories about the workings of this ‘invisible hand’, based on conversations with IETM members and other artists.

Artists escape the Economy

Artists attack the Economy

Artists replace the Economy

This is one of a series of three posts about how IETM members and other artists are responding to the theme of economy in their work. In this post we’ll look at the connection between art and activism that challenges the economy. For other posts in this series see Artists Attack the Economy and Artists Replace the Economy.

‘Companies may not be going directly towards political, social or economic themes in their work, but more and more they are proposing shows that are more connected to the public – I can feel this change.’

Claudine Van Benenden is the director of Nosferatu – a theatre company based in Yssingeaux, France.  She is currently producing a play – The Collective Story of Women – about a strike organised by the predominantly female workforce of an underwear factory in Anjou. The script for the play is being crafted in a series of workshops with the women from the factory and a playwright. It is a parable about lives in the midst of an economic upheaval, who wins and who loses.

Art aims to truthfully connect with people through ideas – whether that’s in performances like the Collective Story of Women or in books, clothing, painting, music or conceptual art. Its goal is a social one – a process of people learning about one-another. When Claudine stages her play, people in Yssingeaux will find out more about the women in the factory, how they’ve organised themselves and the nuances in their stories lost in the TV news and in the women’s campaign messages.  Artworks like this provide a sort-of ambient ‘social-learning’ – as David Gauntlett says, ‘making is connecting.’

This purpose to connect with others is present in commercial activity but in firms, connecting with audiences is balanced with other goals: dividing and utilizing labour, segmenting and identifying customers and investing and maintaining capital. Running a sweet-shop, a recruitment agency or a hotel might be similar to functioning as an artist, or running an arts organisation – but it is not the same as making art. Relationships are a means to profit in a business, but in art they are goal in and of themselves.

Pesnicenje (‘Pugilism’) is a poetry night run by Skart, a Serbian collective of artist-designers, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month in Belgrade. Each week Skart take a 100 dinars (approximately 1 Euro) on the door from each member of the audience. With around 150 people attending each month, this is just enough to fund the publication of a 28 page pamphlet – which is then distributed to everybody who comes back the following month, in exchange for another 100 dinars. And so it continues. Since Pesnicenje started four years ago Skart have published 41 of these poetry pamphlets. Their print run currently goes to 700. This is a helpful example of a minimal-money approach, whereby money is useful to the point that it enables poetry.

Some art critics have started to identify a ‘social turn’ [pdf], which has seen people like Skart and Claudine turn away from the distorted values of the art-market and towards more collaborative ways of working, less representative forms of production and ways to work with people. This social turn in visual and performing arts is reflected in a similar emergence of the ‘social’ in designpolicy-making and the creation of brands.

When Claudine says that she thinks that other artists in her network are trying to engage with the public she is putting her finger on a trend that many others feel.

Curator Nato Thompson describes socially-engaged practice as taking ‘living’ itself as a ‘form’. Practically this means that artists switch sculpting objects, choreographing dancers and constructing media for gathering people in their day-to-day lives. As he sees it socially-engaged practice, is against distilling the world into objects to be interpreted by audiences, but rather seeks to be situated in the real-world, to operate in politics and involve groups and communities.

In 2009 the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, offered the residents Culican vouchers for electronics goods in exchange for guns. He arranged for the guns to be publicly steam-rolled, melted at a local foundry and then hewn into shovels. These shovels were exhibited and distributed to local tree-planting projects. Another example of socially engaged practice is Learning to Love You More – a website run by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher which ran between 2002 and 2009. The website enabled the artists to pose a series of 70 intriguing and quirky assignments with clear instructions – ‘climb a tree and take a photo, ‘interview someone who has experienced war’ and ‘feel the news’. Over the course of the project 8000 people completed assignments and the website has been committed to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Today the world is replete with examples of work like this, that blend symbolic, unusual acts, with real acts that aim to temporarily suspend, draw attention to or ameliorate social problems and injustices.

Some argue that projects like his are not ‘representational’ enough to be considered as art, others that it offers a false promise of social-change and instrumentalises the people it claims to help. Others doubt whether it really is liberating people from the political and financial forces it seeks to critique and derides the ‘hit and run’ approach of artists coming into communities to make their project and leaving.

But it is the impulse and sentiment that motivate socially-engaged art that are important. As the art-critic Claire Bishop puts it, socially engaged practice arises from a concern to ‘rehumanise a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalist production’  and to heal ‘the damaged social bond’. Socially-engaged art, and this concern that many artists feel to actively work in society, and put social relations on a platform, should be seen as a fragmented, but significant ‘social pressure’ pushing against the economy and its view of people as competing, rational, self-interested, utility maximizers.  It is these kinds of socially-engaged art practices that have lead Cognitive Psychologist Tim Kasser, to identify the power of art and culture to develop intrinsic’ values.

It isn’t easy though. Jazmin Chiodi is a choreographer currently working as an artist in residence in Tipperary. She runs an annual festival and hopes one day to establish a local centre for dance. It’s a slow, but incremental process. She visits women’s centre’s and mental health groups, works with schools and community organisations and she hustles for audiences in shops.

‘I didn’t necessarily set out to be working with the community, but I enjoy it and it’s almost the most important part of our work here with the festival. If we weren’t starting from where people are in their day-to-day lives people they wouldn’t be that interested – there would be not connection’.

Artists, and particularly those who today choose to work in socially engaged ways value people, before profit. In this sense, they attempt to escape the economy. In Skart’s poetry pamphlets, in Claudine’s theatre projects, in Jazmin’s efforts to use dance in an unusual context there is a working logic of trying to make maximum social-connection at minimum financial cost. It is unlikely that this dispersed ‘social pressure’, this way of doing things, will ever become a formalised political-movement, with a unifying set of demands. But just because its power ‘soft’ does not mean it isn’t present. What’s more this different approach to doing things might explain why artists are increasingly making more visible alliances with those other people, seeking to directly challenge the power base of the economy. And why art and culture, as they have been so many times before, could be the glue that holds people together as they make the transition to different patterns of living.

It is these two themes that come next.

This is one of a series of three posts about how IETM members and other artists are responding to the theme of economy in their work. In this post we’ll look at how art and activism connect to challenge the economy. For other posts in this series see Artists Escape the Economy and Artists Replace the Economy.

‘We have politicians who have stopped creating political thought – they have degraded themselves to the level of accountants. It’s unacceptable.’

Marilli Mastrantoni is the creative director of Theatre Entropia – a theatre company based in Athens. Her new project is a series of research forums in Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Greece and Germany. They will climax in an unusual forum called Sotiria (trans: Salvation/Rescue) that will gather policy-makers, financiers in Greece in 2013. ‘If the politicians cannot, we need to produce this dialogue as citizens’.

The global-financial crisis has brought a new tension to the relationship between capitalism and democracy. Across Europe voters are being asked to endorse governments to enact obscure policies, that few citizens can understand, but many economists demand in what the sociologist Woolfgang Streeck calls the drama of democratic states being turned into debt-collecting agencies on behalf of a global oligarchy of investors.’

Marilli calls it ‘a crisis of democracy itself.’ Her project is balanced on the fault-line between the votes of people, and the needs of markets. ‘It’s as if at one moment economy and politics are unrelated’ she says, ‘But then, when a decision needs to be taken, they are very much related’.

The project is called ‘PIGS’ – the pejorative acronym used by the financial markets to refer to the struggling economies of Southern Europe. Instead of condemning actions’ she fumes, ‘you condemn a whole territory’.

Theatres, galleries and universities across Europe are full of artists making work riffing on the themes of money, finance. Plays such as Money – The Gameshow currently showing at The Bush Theatre London, Chris Kondek and Christiane Kuhl’s Money: It Came From Outer Space; Anna Moreno’s Bamum Effect Katerina Kyriacou’s Money Project all deal with theme of money, animating and giving life to the sentiments and feelings of journalists commentators. This work is important in that it brings the issues to life that determine the balance between the power of votes and the interests of money. In the 70s and 80s the issues that sat on the same line – union power, public spending and so on – were easier for the lay-person to understand, but today the issues are simply harder to understand.

For Marilli raising direct questions about society, and engaging with political issues cuts to the heart of what it means to be an artist. ‘we are a public profession that belongs to the domains of public goods like education and health..’

Artists across Europe are increasingly involved in political actions and movements – many of which are challenging a political class who default to the needs of the economy. In the poets, singers and t-shirt printers in Tahir square, in Pussy Riot’s calculated stand against Putinism, in the ‘bat-signal’ projected from Brooklyn Bridge at the start of the Occupy movement, in the reclaimed and occupied Embros Theatre in the Psirri district of Athens – there appears to be a return to an old idea that art can speak for people against those who would seek to suppress them – be they autocrats, ideas, corporations or economists. As the bat-sign projecting artists say of their symbold, ‘It’s a call to arms and a call for aid, but instead of a super-hero millionaire psychopath, like Bruce wayne, it’s ourselves – it’s the 99% coming to save itself. We our our own superhero.’

Just as we looked at how socially-engaged artists are important because they refuse to engage on the markets’ terms,  artists in these movements are important because they ‘refuse to engage with power on power’s terms’.

Galleries at the fringe of the mainstream public institutions brim with curators and artists, keen to explore the relationship between art and political change. One of the most notable recent attempts has been Truth is Concrete – an 8-day 24/7 marathon of 150 hours of lectures, talks and debates about ‘artistic strategies in politics and political strategies in art’ that took place in Graz, Austria in October 2012 curated by Steiricher Herbst. Florian Malzacher, one of TIC’s curators sees a shift in artistic practice, ‘Many artists now feel it’s not enough to say ‘this is political’ – we need to think also about a more ‘direct-link.’

Florian is currently co-editing a book based on TIC which will bring together 100 examples of tactics used by artists to engage with the political realm. It will include the Eclectic Electric Collective – a German artists collective who ship inflatables to protests, they claim on the TIC blog that, “People who are smashing windows are easier to control because you can criminalize them; but a symbol of collective creativity is much harder to denounce you can not give instructions to a gigantic inflatable puppet.” For Paul Mason these are forms of protest that ‘refuse to engage on powers’ terms.’ The volume will also include David Van Reybrouck  a Belgian novelist who formed the G1000 movement in 2011, to bring back public-deliberation in Belgian politics through a system of 1000 person-strong national conversations. And Jeudi Noir a group of French artists who dupe landlords into letting them stage protest-parties in their flats.  These examples lie somewhere along a line between exploratory art and goal-orientated activism. They are all artists who, in different ways are trying to open up real, imagined and psychological space for a politics that thinks it has all the answers.

This current ‘radical turn’ is a challenge to arts institutions and how artists view themselves. For Florian this radical shift should neither be a cue for artists to congratulate themselves, nor for institutions to re-explain their role as the birthing pool for a more equitable society or even for policy-makers to feel they have corralled the social-power of the arts to progressive ends.  Rather it should force artists to reflect on the grave moral weight they carry as the custodians of the emotional environment and those who have the power to shape human relationships.

‘It might be a very thin line – on the one hand to stay independent, not being instrumentalised by outside political interests, but still recognising that the instrument of art exists for a very clear social purpose. It’s not ok to say that art can only be done to integrate minorities, but at the same time to say we have ‘a right not to care about society at all and we have a value in ourselves’ – that is also not an option anymore.’

This is one of a series of three posts about how IETM members and other artists are responding to the theme of economy in their work. In this post we’ll look at the connection between art and activism that challenges the economy. For other posts in this series see Artists Attack the Economy and Artists Escape the Economy.

‘I don’t like the economic, social or the political system in Russia; there’s no planning more than a year in advance. No thought given to the next-generation. Somehow it still functions, but we need to change alot’.

Sergej Korsakov – or Tyran as he would like to be known – is the self-appointed leader and founder of Cardboardia – a country without land and money, made out of cardboard. Masquerading as a children’s project, Cardboardia pops-up temporarily in towns and cities across Russia and is visited, inhabited and selotaped-together by people living nearby. Sergej sees it a place where the ‘prisoners’ of day-to-day life are set free.

‘People drink in the bars and they say ‘when I was a child I wanted to have a comic book shop, but now I’m an adult and I’m working in a bank’ – this person can come to a cardboard town, open their shop for a week and see how it goes.’

The temporary inhabitants of Cardboardia open shops, start small organisations, try out art projects and meet people they wouldn’t normally – children, businessman, parents, shop-keepers. ‘In a festival you just come to sell, in a cardboard town you have to think about relationships.’

This desire to create a ‘sovereign’ economy, is shared by many other artists and actors in the creative and cultural sector. For many though this isn’t just a characteristic of their art but is also part of the day-to-day process maintaining a livelihood.

Sarah Spanton, an artist whose practice is concerned with public space helps run the Leeds Creative Timebank – a network of people who exchange time and skills with one another, with one hour units of time as a currency. Because timebanks require their members to openly share their exchangeable knowledge they make it easier to find out what people know about – bypassing the need for an introduction. They also start with an assumption that everyone’s time is worth as much as everyone else’s. This locks in a different set of values to those in the normal economy which encourage protection of knowledge, and the development of one single ‘comparative advantage’ over others in a market; as Sarah Says, ‘it fosters a certain kind of thinking’.

Sarah denies that a Timebank is just about ‘getting stuff for free’, or repackaging what people are doing anyway.

‘We’ve had people who say, ‘oh this is just what I do with my friends’. But we vociferously argue against that. The whole thing is against homogeneity. If we remained closed, we’d get stagnant, we’d all get to know each other and it would all get too comfortable.’

For reasons like this, a timebank, like any other economic system needs to be managed. Prospective members need to be found, applicants need to be vetted, and members need to be encouraged not to sit on their time. It’s like a water-wheel – you need to get a certain level of water to get the wheel to roll’ says Sarah.

Time Banks have proved popular in artistic communities. In 2010 the artists Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle started ‘Time/bank’, which has  1,500 members from countries around the world who are ‘interested in developing a parallel economy based on time and skills’. Much of the activity happens though an online platform hosted by the art journal e-flux, but several local hubs in galleries and community centres have been established around the world.

Sergej’s cardboard country and Sarah’s Timebank are the kind of projects that are both symbols and real attempts to create a more social economy. The work of Tessy Briton and Laura Billings, two social innovators from the United Kingdom, are another useful reference point here. They have documented the rise of Social Collaboration Platforms – sticky, easily replicable ideas that can be taken by one community and replicated by another. These platforms are gathered and documented in the ‘Community Lovers Guide’ – guides to innovative community-based projects, often lead by artists drawn together by a network of writers in towns and cities across the world.

On a grander scale SMartEU is a ‘mutualised production house’ for workers in the creative economy across Europe. They believe that ‘rethinking our current economic system is no longer monopolised by those considered extreme or on the fringes of society. Non-profit, solidarity, co-operation are seen as ways to embrace the good of capitalism while acknowledging its failures’.

Operating as a not-for profit and with the values of  ‘Humanism-Democracy & Redistribution’ SMart EU aims to insulate isolated artists, and small companies from general risks of being an artist and specific recent cut-backs in funding which have affected artists across Europe. ‘Encouraging collective action, sharing information, and pooling means are natural reactions to a decimating policy that makes the creative sector’s individualistic mentality untenable.’

The emergence of online crowd-funding platforms has been identified by some as a parallel economy of sorts, emerging within the arts. Kickstarter now raises more money in the United States than is allocated by the National Endowment for the Arts. But it is hard to characterise crowd-funding as creating a new-economy by default, when there are so many different models of crow-funding. At worst crowd-funding replicates the prevailing logic within the economy encouraging people to ‘monetise’ their friends – but in other examples such as Crowd Culture in Sweden, which combines personal donations, public funding and a voting system – crowd-funding makes it possible to blend values of institutions, local democracy and community donations to funding of creative projects.

The spirit of experimentation in Cardboardia, the mechanism in Leeds Creative Time Bank and the pooling of risk in SMart EU come together in Budapest’s Fuge Productions. Fuge has grown from being an umbrella organisation for theatre companies, to providing office space and shared facilities to 50 small enterprises (including campaigning organisations, architects, designers as well as theatre companies) under one roof. Fuge are experimenting with a Timebank and are finding ways to help a series of organisations who are under increasing financial and political pressure get by.

Attempts to found sovereign territories within the economy are everywhere – but they are strong amongst artists, whose work is at the fringes and has to survive in a gift economy. What’s important about these projects, is not that that they offer a way to support ‘artists’ but their openness and willingness to make connections beyond their own artistic community. Despite the name Leeds Creative Timebank Sarah places no limits of age or profession on who can join, SMartEU are open to any small organisations or individuals seeking to join SMartEU. The Fuge building has NGOs and activists from beyond the strictly ‘arts’ community and Sergej is actively trying to make Cardboardia attractive to bored office workers. This openness might well be the strength and power of these projects in the years to come.

The last three posts were about artists and practitioners who are more social, more political, more engaged with challenging the economy.  They tread a path that leads to art schools that produce social-workers, teachers, politicians – rather than just artists. Museums and galleries that naturally form alliances with hospitals, schools, community organisations and youth groups – rather than protecting and preserving knowledge. Festivals that re-imagine what spaces in cities can be used for, rather than just rebranding what is already known and happening. It is a path that could lead to a wider recognition of the moral-responsibility that goes with artists’ command of emotions and feelings. It might even lead to an understanding of economic growth guided by different measures of productivity.

These ways of working, aren’t just a challenge to the economy – they challenge the cultural sector itself. The cultural sector may provide real and imaginary space for attacking, escaping and replacing the economy – but it is not ‘pure’, or beyond question. So, the concluding recommendation of this paper is not: more art. As the curator of Truth is Concrete, Florian Malzacher told us, ‘Don’t label your exhibition ‘Arab Spring’ without thinking properly about your organisation – you can’t explore these things without questioning your institution.’

The critiques of the economy outlined in the first section all have manifestations within the cultural sector.

(i) Socialised consequences of privately made problems

Cultural institutions benefit from the sponsorship of some of the world’s largest corporations, which arguably diverts attention from their role in creating problems that society has to clean up. Occupy Museums have articulated this well. No matter how valuable these institutions, it is unlikely that their cumulative good balances out tax-payers’ $11 trillion bail-out of the financial system. This process of diverting attention is not just at work in the funding of cultural institutions, but is also a process at work in the cultural economy. As Teddy Cruz writes of the high-profile architecture of the boom period; ‘Many of these high-profile projects have only perpetuated the exhausted recipes of an oil hungry, US style globalisation, camouflaging with hyper-aesthetics an architecture of exclusion based on urbanities of surveillance and control’.

(ii) Inequality

The cultural sector is famous for its indifference to unpaid internships, low-wages and precarious existences. These are not restricted to artists who choose the life of an outsider, but people who want mainstream jobs in television, fashion, advertising and film-production. These barriers to work in the cultural sector limit what art is made, who would want to make it and who would be interested in it. Policy, broadly speaking has been interested in supporting art, but deeply unconcerned about who gets to make it. In doing so, it has made art appear more of an elite-concern and in times of reduced public spending, easier to dispense with. It is hard to see how the huge-returns in the contemporary art-market and public the commissioning of mega-artists have done anything to make it easier for people from all backgrounds to become artists.

(iii) Corroded Norms + Crowding out learning

It is hard to argue that the cultural sector corrodes social norms. Amazing art and expression can still survive in the most commercial settings and if it cannot, then artists will move away. If they didn’t it would be hard to argue that art and artists have the power to reform the economy. However cultural institutions, arguably encourage ideas about artists – namely that they are mercurial, lone-geniuses, separate from the rest of us – which, while encouraging reverence for artists (good for selling their work and their shows), is at the expense of other more mundane, but possibly more useful understandings of artists as teachers, activists, journalists and carers (bad for the rest of us). The more art is placed in a market, and governed by market norms, the more limited our understanding or artists becomes. If cultural institutions don’t challenge this, they become part of the problem.

(v) Hollow politics

The cultural sector has benefitted from a long-term loss of faith in politics, offering many people a more colourful way to live and experience their values – but the cultural sector has failed to offer an alternative vision of making the world better, or a description of how culture connects to politics. In ‘Things Can Only Get Bitter’ Alwyn Turner argues that a generation of British left-wing activists shunned careers in politics at the start of the 1990s for careers in the BBC, production companies and arts institutions. Many of these organisations have in-turn patronised artists, comedians and writers who have pilloried politicians. While this accountability is welcomed, it comes with a hap-hazard cynicism that undermines faith in democracy, and projects the glamorous illusion that film-makers, photographers and artists have real power to make the world better, when compared to politicans, they just don’t.

At its worst the market-economy encourages wrong-headed thinking within the cultural sector, and supports processes that separate artists from society. Owning the meaning of art, extracting money from it and distributing it to a select few. The current squeeze on funding can entrench these ways of thinking, or it might be a way to break them. The question, as it always should be for policy makers, institutions and is how to bridge the gap between a new spirit amongst artists, and cultural sector stuck in old modes and ways of being.

The is how to grow and extend the counter-culture amongst artists and organisations, in peer-networks like those supported by IETM, in ways that can challenge the cultural sector and the wider economy of which it is a part. Not more art, but a different way of fostering art. This needs to include a wider-discussion of why art is made and the obligations of artists, how it can organised and maintained. The mission, the model and the money.  Escape, attack, replace.