Improving artistic working conditions

The three-day symposium Working Together Transnationally. Structures, Conditions and Artistic Practices took place from March 31st until April 2nd in collaboration with the European Dancehouse Network. Curated together with the Brussels based sociologist Rudi Laermans and facilitated by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, about 70 international guests and participants discussed and practiced models of solidarity within and between production structures and artists, investigated possible media of collaboration and explored choreographic forms of collaboration.

The first and second day combined panel discussions and impulse statements with working groups. The report below focuses on the first day, aimed to develop suggestions and questions on how to improve artistic working conditions in Europe together in a joint movement of artists and institutions.

Improving artistic working conditions

By sharing best practices and innovative concepts that try to initiate models of solidarity, fair practices and sustainable and reliable working conditions, the day aimed at identifying key issues, as well as basic standards in order to improve artistic working conditions in Europe.

In two panels the participants gave short impulse statements on different subjects such as:

  • Brussels and Berlin: Artistic Labour and Precarity in Two European Capitals (Annelies van Assche, researcher, Brussels/Berlin).
  • Opening Speech (Janina Benduski, cultural producer, Berlin).
  • Sweet & Tender Collaborations – Exploring Self-Organized Working Methods (Jenny Beyer, choreographer, Hamburg).
  • Working Together with Public Bodies and Audiences (Roberto Casarotto, artistic director, Bassano del Grappa).
  • Moving Futures – Network of Dance Structures (Kristin de Groot, director, Rotterdam).
  • One Step beyond! Risk Taking and Producing (Walter Heun, director, Wien/Munich).
  • Factor Artists at tanzhaus nrw – Long-term Residencies Stimulating Sustainable Artistic Development? (Bettina Masuch, director, Düsseldorf).
  • Alternative Modes of Artistic Production in Times of Crisis (Steriani Tsintziloni, researcher/curator, Athens).

The impulse statements served as a starting point for table discussions, which invited all participants of the symposium to exchange and develop a short list of the most urgent issues. The table discussions were led by the speakers of the panels.

In the following plenary meeting, each table introduced the most important questions and results of their talks.

Here is an overview of propositions, questions and themes for further action that emerged in the discussions, as compiled by Fearghus Ó Conchúir.

Working Conditions for Artists: Propositions

In order to develop a plan of action to improve artistic working conditions, it was discussed that the most urgent step is to get to know more about the situation of independent dance artists in different European countries. Research into working conditions as well as the income, tax and social security situations of freelancers in the fields of dance and the performing arts in different European countries can build the foundation for comparison on the European level.

  • This should involve a survey of existing research, as well as new research into countries where information has not yet been gathered.
  • Data will also give visibility to the imbalances in different parts of Europe, which are increasingly becoming an obstacle for international artistic cooperation and thus reducing access by artists and artistic institutions in some parts of Europe to European funding schemes that require existing financial resources.
  • It was recognised that precarious working conditions are not just experienced by freelance artists, and that there is strategic value to linking the research to the wider situation of freelancers and self-employed people across Europe.
  • It was suggested that this research could be coordinated by the European Dancehouse Network in cooperation with other umbrella organisations in the fields of dance and performing arts.
  • Having data on working conditions would be highly important for political advocacy and for developing minimum fee/working standards in the fields of dance/performing arts in Europe.

Another important aspect in the discussion of how to improve artistic working conditions was the importance of creating flatter hierarchy between artists and institutions. This includes:

  • Greater transparency about fees between artists and institutions.
  • More equal dialogue between artists and institutions/producers about shared challenges.
  • Creating conditions for institutions and artists that enable them to shape history together.
  • Helping artists to be informed about political and economic challenges that institutions are dealing with so that artists and institutions can lobby in the political field together.
  • Invite decision-makers (producers/institutions/politicians) into emergent creative processes.
  • Give time to artists and the public to develop projects and activities together that don’t already have a goal at the start. These emergent processes require patience.

Question and themes, that were raised in the table discussions, but for which time didn’t allow more in-depth talks: 

  • Does the current funding and production system of performing arts in Europe, as well as on national levels, promote overproduction?
  • Could production houses support practice and offer space for research and creation, with its mistakes, solidarities and anarchy, rather than just for products/productions?
  • How to foster participatory practices involving audiences that benefits artistic practice instead of mainly becoming a social instrument or a tool for attracting active audiences?
  • Is it a mistake to think about artists and public as being separate? Aren’t we all citizens? However, if we make this a ground for equal exchange, what happens to the expertise of the artist? How is it valued?
  • How can we pass on knowledge when something dies? When is it time to stop? How do we stop with care?