Collaboration as a resistance strategy

The public discussion Cultural Gender Practices Network of the South-Eastern Europe that took place on October 6th in the Škuc Gallery brought focus on the fact that artistic creation doesn't just mean aesthetic choices but also economic ones. Specifically, the discussion dealt with circumstances of production of feminist and queer festivals in ex-Yugoslavian countries and different approaches they take to financing their projects.

Mara Vujić from City of Women (Slovenia) acknowledged that the host festival is the biggest in the region both in terms of the programme and financing, however, recent cuts to the state financing of arts and coulture mean the festival's organisers are forced to book preexisting acts and can only afford to produce minor original projects in order to avoid inflicting precatious, underpayed or even volountary working conditions onto the artists.

Most of the other guests pointed out that because of the lack of public founding they are indeed only capable of covering material costs of production and have been forced to seek alternative sources of financing. Verdana Frašo from the Pitchwise festival (Bosnia and Herzegovina) explained that their festival is partially founded by forgein embassies which, however, means severe limitation to the content since they have to stick to the open calls' topics. Jovana Djordjevič and Sanja Seliškar from the BeFem festival (Serbia) agreed that they have similar problems with donors.

Red Dawns festival (Slovenia) has chosen a different method that allows them complete artistics freedom, explained Slobodan Malić. They raise their founds with special benefit parties, entrance fees and merchandise sales. The downfall of this approach is that due to the limited budget this approach provides everyone in the organising collective is a volunteer and contributes their time and energy for free.

A big common problem that also came up was financing by Western European partners and government institutions. BeFem is created in collaboration with a Swedish partner and the founding the two parts of the team receive is highly unequal. Other festivals that get a part of their money from EU institutions have pointed out that this kind of open calls cover half of the production costs and demand that the organisation provides the other half itself, and that they also only apply to Western artists, effectively forcing South-Eastern festivals to found Western artists, leaving minimal amount of the budget for local projects.

Thus is turns out that despite their differences, the feminist organisations of the ex-Yugoslavian region have enough in common that it made sense to found Cultural Gender Practices Network whose plan is to enable exchange of knowledge and resources between different organisations, and hold open calls that would enable local artists and festivals productions of original projects. When the host and Vox Feminae festival (Croatia) representative Gabrijela Ivanov opened up the discussion and asked the audience what kind of support they would like to receive from Cultural Gender Practices Network, one of the biggest challenges that came up was how to ensure continuity of both festivals' and individual artists' work in a time of irreliable founding. Teja Reba from City of Women suggested that considering the hyperproduction of works it would make more sense to create less projects but enable those to have more visibility and reach wider audiences in the whole region.

Audience raised two more interesting questions – of volunteering and state censorship. Katarina Petrović from Femkanje pointed out the practice of festivals in The Netherlands which require any candidates for jobs on the organising team to take a volunteering position first, and raised a question of which (economically privileged) individuals can afford to work for free. Malić (Red Dawns), however, said that most of the Red Dawns collective come from unprivileged backgrounds. It would therefore seem that in well founded prestigous (Western) festivals volunteer work (just like unpayed interships) has become a form of gatekeeping that asures only those from certain class backgrounds are able to eventually join the organising teams while it remains a necessity for more grassroot, minority-focused festivals since they offer a space and means of expression to goups that otherwise have none. This creates a contradictory role of a tool of empowerment on one hand while keeping people in vunerable economic position on the other.

The discussion therefore once again confirmed the distructive role of capitalist values for art which is deemed useless for the economy and consequently marginalised by founders while struggling to survive on its own. This is even more true for festivals dealing with minority and often politically charged topics of feminism and queer questions, pushing women and members of the LGBTQIA community in precarious working conditions and unstable living situations while simultaneously keeping their problems invisible in the wider society trough silence from major media that mostly ignores their work. Since festivals are consequently forced to deal with founding cuts, constant search for new sources of money, “inhumane amounts of bureaucracy” (as Reba described it), and a stuggle for visibility and outreach to target audiences it seems that initiatives like Cultural Gender Practices Network that unite a bigger number of organisations are the only way of resisting the system.

Ada Černoša