RESHAPE is an initiative that offers the time and space to imagine an alternative to the European arts ecosystem by rethinking its instruments and collaborative models, placing them in line with artistic and social innovation and the principles of fairness, solidarity, geographic balance and sustainability. The meet-ups across Europe and the forum in Lublin, Poland are organised by a coalition of European initiatives operating within a field that could best be described as the broadest understanding of public engagement in the Arts. As RESHAPE describes them: these initiatives are the weak signals that indicate the possible future of the European cultural climate and are examples for future models of artistic production.
The idea that locally invested initiatives from diverse countries, collaboratively engender the conversation about transnational cultural production really comforts me. When starting to produce in the cultural field after my Bachelor education, a common assumption was that one could not possibly be serious about an art career if your investment wasn’t at least directed towards an international audience. In Amsterdam, an international hyper-connected city, local community engagement programmes coming from the cultural institutions themselves, have much fewer feet on the ground than in Scotland, where I’m currently based, and organisations that primarily focus on creating community art strategies are even more unheard of in the Netherlands as a whole. Most of the initiatives I knew to actively engage local people are artist-led, and often not of the organised UK-type, but the more unsustainable flares that get one-time funding after which they disintegrate. Let me be clear, I’m not against artists and producers working internationally sharing the knowledge they obtained, what I’m not a fan off, is the assumption that ‘international art’ equals ‘good art’, showcasing a curator’s biennials shopping list or lazy inclusivity policies without any fundamental reason for an artist to go to that oversaturated location which neither benefits the institution and its publics or the artist themselves . The well-connectedness of Amsterdam and large cities in the Netherlands give them the practical privilege, over peripheral or less funded regions in Europe, that any organisation can fly in an Irrit Rogoff or a Bruno Latour effectively every week for less than the cost of a train ticket in the UK (as my £389/€450 ticket from Glasgow-Munich-Warshaw-Lublin, back via Brussels-Edinburgh can only illustrate –Thanks, British Council). Could it be, that this accessibility might be the principle through which some institutions lose sight of what is urgent to their local public, out of watered-down accountability because of their own international renown gained by the invited artists? It should also be possible, right, that everybody can equally benefit from the cultural wealth produced within Europe.
Last month I was selected to be one of the visitors to the forum in Lublin, supported by RESHAPE. As an emerging artist and curator, freelancer, self-initiator, non-academic, regulations on a European level seldom have a direct retractable impact on what I produce. Moreover, I actively search for ways to create spaces that differ from those offered by institutions – I prefer the self-directed spheres.
However, whenever walking into an institution in Europe, especially those with direct European funding, the heavily directed policies that are required for that funding, easily reveal themselves; they either come as structural funding for institutions/charities/PBO’s with a strong requirement to produce social capital or as tenders for very specific cultural (research) projects.  Personally, I wonder where RESHAPE sits in this divide.
RESHAPE has defined five directories  they will focus on for the coming two years and which will also mainly make up the programme for the second day of the forum:
- Value of art in the social fabric
- Art and Citizenship
- Fair Governance Models
- Transnational/Postnational artistic practices
- Solidarity Funding
My main interest goes out to the Fair Governance Models trajectory, I primarily direct this perspective towards my expectations for this topic, with some cross-overs into Art in the social fabric and Transnational/postnational artistic practices and possibly also Art and Citizenship, because to my experience they have a large overlap. RESHAPE observes the trend in governance models as follows:
“Collectives, informal and/or temporary partnerships, self-organization / self-management and inclusive governance are different organizational trends which abandon hierarchical organizational models and methods.”
This immediately explains why I applied for this trajectory, while it is one of my personal interests, I also believe that in my current position as a young, self-directed producer, this is the topic I can actually contribute to in the collective dialogue.
From this position, the above observation immediately sparks some questions: “What scale of self-management, collectives and temporary partnerships are we talking about? Are these institutional collectives or transnational artist collectives? The European Union often doesn’t set a scale for an organisation to apply for project funding, as long as the project produces ‘enough’ social capital. Could this mean that smaller cultural producers, like the ones more common in peripheral areas who would be helped by this proposal, suddenly may have to deal with European bodies, or will this be mediated by local bodies that collaborate on a European Scale, as RESHAPE’s shape itself seems to propose? Self-organisation and self-management self-evidently do not coincide with the current EU framework of tenders and structural support for organisations, would this whole structure not need to be reshaped in order to effectively support those models if there would even exist such a structure? – The classic case and dilemma of how to measure ‘impact’.
And in terms of the non-hierarchical organisation models, will the European Union come up with a ‘Good Practice Handbook’ on the topic of non-hierarchical organisation models? That could be a proposal that I would principally be positive about, as in practice the claims of being a non-hierarchical organisation seem to fly around quite aimlessly sometimes, but would that mean that this handbook is a tool, a suggestion or a measurement? All of them still sound quite hierarchical to a more or lesser extent, don’t they?
-I’ll stop here for now “
The forum itself consists of three days with the first day primarily filled with introductory lectures to the two-year project. The second day is taken up by long-table conversations held according to the five pathways in the project (see above). The last and third day is a workshop day for who the project calls ‘reshapers’, people that will be part of the 2-year programme through workshops – with a yet to be revealed outcome.
People from contries on both sides of the European border. (Balkan countries and south Mediterranean. )
- Topics such as
- Programme: Joris Janssens (Flanders Arts Institute) and Milica Ilić (Onda), 2 representatives of the association of European arts-orginisations that organise reshape collectively: under whom also the British Council who supports my stay in Lublin.
- Panel discussion moderated by Barbara van Lindt (if I read this correctly).
Barbara van Lindt: DAS art institute in the Netherlands. An institution for Art education that I appreciate a lot. The educational methodologies under which their Feedback method (featured on this blog: ). and the way they do their applications: not in the intrusive interview-style application (the artworld should do away with those all together but that’s a different blog post). The institution also recently started a cultural producers programme (MA) which I can only assume she still had a large part in in developing.
- The members of the panel discussion: very diverse and together representing the five topics of Reshape:
- So far Reshape’s organisation is very efficient and aware of current developments in the cultural field. (apart from some slow travel agents) This seems to be not only on an institutional level but also on a micropolitical scale. This is understansable considering that the organising party of this forum is a coalition of European institutions for artistic engagement. collaboratively sharing the load to organise this event.
 I’m also not claiming that every Dutch institution always operates this way. These conclusions should be made on an institution to institution and show to show basis. I’m speaking of a larger sentiment that is reinforced in Dutch art education and experiences shared with my peers.
Quite overgeneralised as I still have a hard time finding all opportunities on the EU’s vast network of organisational bodies. I also leave Erasmus+ out if this for now because it is focused on supporting education.