Saturday, July 5, 2008

William Uricchio part 2

So one of the biggest issues in many of my interviews has been funding and William talked about this as well. Right now there is a lot of money available for digitizing historical archives and so every school is looking through their library to see what might be worth proposing as a project. The money comes from both education and art funding, so this also represents quite a shift in emphasis from supporting art creation to supporting art history. Not to say that all the money is shifting, but a million or two million euros is still quite a big chunk, and some of the smaller organizations don't get much money, or have much of a budget at all, so even small cuts are big problems for them.

Also, there is a change to the funding system underway because of a decision to use a "creative industries" model. Since the 1980s arts funding has worked as follows: "a long-term grant is awarded with the proviso that once every four years all the institutions receiving these subsidies (more than 800 of them) will be inspected – all at the same time (Smithuijsen 2005)."

I know this system is still in place now because all the organizations I've been in touch with in the last year just recently got recommendations about whether or not their funding should continue and on the same levels. It turns out that many lost funding, in part because of the above archiving project, but also because a shift toward a "creative industries" model is underway. This refers both to Richard Florida's book about the Creative Class and also to a model of cultural policy developed in the UK over the last 10 years.

I encounter very mixed responses to this change; most of the artists and new media institutions seem unhappy and William also was intensely skeptical that this would be a positive change. I still haven't heard a systematic critique, but two problems seems to be the expected increase in bureaucracy and loss of control over arts/cultural policy. Clearly though I need to get more detail on what the new system will be and why people don't like it.

William and I also talked quite a bit about how new media is developing and I was flattered that he wanted to know who I thought were important voices and which I thought were important centers, both institutional and national. I mentioned Worm and Piet Zwart MDMA because I think they continue to do really innovative things, and I think Vienna is or will be important. In the US I find it much harder to estimate this because everything is so spread out and incoherent. I don't know of any cities with really strong new media scenes. Boston has some, NYC has some, San Francisco, maybe Austin. But none of these is organized the way they are in Europe because there is just so much less public funding for any art.

Finally we talked about whether or not the new media scene had any cultural specificity, and whether fan culture, to which we were drawing some parallels, has any. While he could see the point I was making about how national context my change how people can participate in new media, William feels (in spite of the fragmentation) that it is a global discourse. I think this is true to a degree, but that it can't be assumed. If one is studying the field, one has to check the extent to which discourse is local, national or global. For example, I can say that William certainly participates in a global discourse, because he travels constantly, publishes internationally, and works with other scholars who do the same. But this is hardly true of everyone I've interviewed. Most of them cannot travel so much, they may read international journals, but maybe don't publish on that level so much, and most of their work may take place at one school or in one city. Just being on the nettime mailing list or even a bunch of people connecting on Facebook doesn't make it a global field, at least not so far. I think that in fact the way scholars and artists participate in the new media field is quite variable--maybe I have to steal Mirko's concept of heterogenous participation and Kate Hayles' idea about emerging complexity to discuss this. Or maybe I just need to read Eric von Hippel on democratizing innovation. And he has this paper on actor network theory and user innovations...

One of the most challenging things lately in these interviews is that I begin to hear contradictory things and yet haven't spoken to enough people to judge very well what is a more accurate picture. Or maybe in fact there is no one accurate picture.

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