Monday, 18 November 2013

Guest post: "Circles of support", by Kateryna Botanova (Ukraine)

My two Ukrainian friends and colleagues, Ihor Poshyvailo and Kateryna Botanova, are the living respresentation of what their country is today. A country wishing to preserve its traditions and, through this, mark its distinct cultural identity; a country determined to look forward and outward, to mark its position in the contemporary world free of controlling ideologies and offers of “protection”. Ihor wrote a post for this blog last year . It is now Kateryna’s turn to share with us her views, anxieties and, most of all, the enormous and consistent work she and the rest of the small team of the Center for Contemporary Art have been carrying out, determined to fight their insecurities and to overcome the obstacles in order to fullfil their mission and to fully assume the responsibilities they’ve set for themselves in their country’s cultural sector. mv

SPACES: Architecture of Common, CSM, 2013. Photo by Kosti​antyn Strilets, © CSM
Ukraine is a peculiar country where the word “independent” means something quite different than elsewhere in Europe. Here, “independent culture” and “independent cultural organization” are not just free from the ideological and/or political control of the government or any other public bodies, they are also defined by being not dependent on any public financial support - because there is none.

To be an independent cultural institution in Ukraine means to write your own mandate for serving the community, to be brave enough to see the gaps in public policy in the cultural sphere and to try to fill them as best you can, and to be fully responsible for your own future - financial as well as professional.

At the Foundation Center for Contemporary Art (CSM), Kyiv, Ukraine, we start our monthly planning & sharing meetings with the question - whom are we doing this for? Our mission statement says that we work to create a platform of possibilities for cultural workers - artists, critics, architects, writers, etc. - to foster interdisciplinary communication, experimentation and innovation. But how do you do this? How do you sustain their work when there is low access to, and therefore appreciation for, culture and no public or private funding available? Who can create circles of understanding and build support for this kind of art?

CSM is an independent not-for-profit institution established in 2009, a successor to the Center for Contemporary Art established by George Soros in 1993, as part of the Soros network of art centers throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Very few of them have survived till today, mostly because of the lack of funding. CSM outlived its peers thanks to a major restructuring - from a large institution with a focus on showcasing works and artistic education to a small and mobile curatorial team aiming at experimental productions, critical discourse and audience development.

In 2010, within a year after our transformation, when we had to suddenly leave our premises at one of the capital city’s main universities and literally go underground, renting a small space at the basement level of an apartment block, Art Ukraine, one of Ukraine’s leading art magazines, included CSM in its list of top 10 art institutions in the country, highlighting “the true renaissance that CSM has gone through to again become one of the most active institutions”. We understood that the uneasy decision to continue as a small institution, based on the belief that it is possible and necessary to work in those areas that neither the corrupt state institutions, nor offensive private capital wanted to enter, was right.

SEARCH: Other Spaces. Workshop by Anton Lederer, CSM, 2012. Photo by Dmitro Shklyarov, © CSM

The idea to keep working - doing multidisciplinary projects in public spaces, launching educational and self-educational initiatives and programs, creating new spaces for artist/audience co-working, doing research in art history and cultural policy - was important. CSM was and still is an example of both resilience and producing change. As long as we work, independent cultural institutions in this country can work. It’s tough, but possible.

The further we go, the more we understand that, for the time being, major change lies in the field of creating circles of support and understanding of audiences: support of contemporary culture and the ideas it is articulating - opening access not only to cultural products, but to thinking about and understanding the world we live in through culture.

It was in 2010 when we, at CSM, also came up with the idea of launching a platform for critical reflection and understanding of contemporary cultural developments – the online journal Korydor. First created as a tool for the arts community to write and debate on events, issues and problems, within three years it grew into a journal with a monthly readership of more than 6000 people. When the decision was made this summer to launch a crowdfunding campaign for Korydor, there was much doubt and fear. Who are we talking to? Do readers of an intellectual magazine in a country with no tradition of paying for cultural products need it enough to financially support it? If we succeed, what will that support mean for Korydor? How will it change Korydor? How will it change us?

More than 200 people supported Korydor, exceeding the goal set for the campaign. In three months of campaigning we increased readership by 20%, getting more and more out of the arts community to give to the community of people who want art to be a part of their lives. Contributions were often accompanied by the following remark: “(even if we did not read you before) you are doing such an important thing, please keep it up!”

Korydor was the first media in Ukraine supported through crowdfunding. It was followed by others, like Public Radio, an independent initiative that just hit its crowdfunding goal a few days ago.

Project "Working Room", Anatoliy Belov, CSM, 2013, photo by Kost​iantyn Strilets, © CSM
CSM is taking yet another step to widen its circle of support. In three weeks, in collaboration with Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, we will launch the first special program for MBA alumni that will allow business leaders to talk with, look and listen to, and learn from Ukrainian artists of different genres and generations. We will try to think about our future together and to see how all of us can stay independent from any narrow interests and dire needs in our thinking, expression and understanding of each other.

Kateryna Botanova (Ukraine) is an art critic, curator, contemporary culture and cultural policy researcher, translator. Since 2009 she has been the director of Foundation Center for Contemporary Art (Kyiv, Ukraine), founder and chief editor of the online cultural journal KORYDOR. Member of the Board of the FLOW festival (since 2009), European Cultural Parliament (since 2007), Vienna Seminar steering group (Erste Foundation, 2012), Public Council of Junist at Andrijivsky project (since 2012), Expert committee of PinchukArtCenter Prize for Young Ukrainian Artists. Kateryna works with issues of social engagement of art and the role of art in societies’ transformative processes. She lectures on and writes about contemporary art, cultural management and cultural critique. Kateryna holds an MA in Cultural Studies from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Kyiv, Ukraine). In 2009 her Ukrainian translation of Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism received the Ukrainian Book of the Year award.

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