Bericht/Report: Crrrrrrrrrrritic! #10: «Building Platforms, Drilling for Money»

Crrrrrrrrrrritic! #10: «Building Platforms, Drilling for Money»

Öffentlicher Workshop mit/Open Workshop with Laura Breitschmid, Lack Magazin, Marc Schwegler, Präsens Editionen, und/and Pradeep Dalal, The Warhol Foundation's Arts Writers Grant Program

Donnerstag, 6. Dezember 2018, 11 bis 14 Uhr
sic! Elephanthouse, Neustadtstrasse Luzern
vis à vis Restaurant zur freien Schweiz, 6003 Luzern

Crrrrrrrrrrritic! #10 in Luzern was a small gathering allowing serious thought on the topic at stake: possible futures for publishing and critical writing and the support these need.

Laura Breitschmid welcomed us to the sic! space and introduced their publication Lack, which was first produced in 2006 with an issue on Alexandra Bachzetsis’ practice. Since then it has been approximately annual, and to date a low-cost (though still, for the small-scale off-space, expensive) newsprint publication. Lack-Lack (DE/EN) has never had a fixed content but is led by the founders’ interests – the summer they were invited to exhibit during the LISTE art fair in Basel, their issue was on the subject of art criticism, for example. Since 2006, production costs have grown, so the existing model became problematic. Recently Laura Breitschmid and her co-director of sic! Eva-Maria Knüsel have decided to remake Lack, driven by the need to change and the opportunity this offers to cover more than their own activities and to reach a wider audience.

Marc Schwegeler joined the discussion to introduce zweikommasieben (2,7), a publication that has existed since 2011 when he and his colleagues wanted to stimulate more conversation about the events and musicians with whom they were working. The Präsens association behind the magazine now fulfils several roles, publishing music, magazines and realising large and small-scale music events. They operate in a niche but globally networked field. They have observed that online streaming has changed music consumption and music publishing, and adjusted their activities accordingly. Their encounter with the South African Bubblegum Club magazine, whose activities are inextricably linked with brands and sponsors brought the subject into sharp focus. Today the “paradigm of independence” is no longer necessarily relevant, tenable or desirable in music publishing or events. Marc noted how the much loved and respected magazine spex has recently stopped its print edition and looks like it may disappear – undeniable change has come to the field of music publishing.

sic! are collaborating with zweikommasieben on the new Lack. No longer just sic!’s publication, for each issue Lack will be created in tandem with an institution to realise a complement to an exhibition project. The first such partnership will be in early 2019 with the Helmhaus in Zürich (where Daniel Morgenthaler of Crritic! is Curator). For sic! such publications will mean a new form of engagement with exhibition practice; the publication will not be an exhibition catalogue, nor will it be exhibition critique, but a new entity. How this will play out has yet to be established, with questions of timing, independence, readership, distribution and positioning still being negotiated. While magazines such as Du, which devotes issues to exhibitions, interest groups or individuals that sponsor the content, seem the closest approximation to the new Lack project, the editors are determined to emphasise their in-between position. They do not want to provide a service to the partner institution, but, in a collaboration, to add value to subjects they themselves find worthwhile.

Pradeep Dalal brought a different perspective to the event, presenting the New York-based Art Writers Grant Programme funded by the American Andy Warhol Foundation. The Andy Warhol Foundation is the largest artist-funded foundation in the US, whose activities were spurred in particular by the swingeing cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1980s.

An initiative that began in 2006 when 60 writers put together a white paper proposal, by December 2018 the programme awarded $725,000 to 21 writers in grants from $15 – 50,000 in the categories of articles, blogs, books and short-form writing in its annual grant-making. To date some $8 million has been given away. The programme now receives approximately 600 applications a year ranging from academic, to journalistic, to experimental art writers in the US (with collaboration with foreign-based writers a possibility and funding also available to US-based foreign writers). An earlier element of the programme that funded publications directly has since been phased out.

The diversity of applications requires a complex jurying process, with an initial process involving 20 jurors, each application being read twice, and a second stage of a shortlist of approximately 90 applicants being reviewed by 7 jurors. Once the awards have been announced the winners receive a cheque for the amount within a month and only have to supply a letter report a year later; the system equally allows flexibility if circumstances prevent writers from achieving the goals the grants were given to enable. An additional, discrete, element of the programme is AICA US-supported mentorship, available to applicants who do not make the second round of judging. A selection of approximately 40 emerging writers are thus connected with AICA each year.

Despite the size of its grants, the Arts Writers Grant Programme is a very small organisation; funds are essentially given directly to writers, with minimal expenditure on bureaucracy, publicity or follow-up. While there has been one conference for grant recipients, appreciated by the participants, the Andy Warhol Foundation’s priorities do not lie in this activity. The grants are indeed to fund writing and research, not production costs, to ensure that writers are not squeezed by their publishers. The range of applications is reflected in the variety of media where the writing produced is published, from academic publishing houses to blogs or newly relevant podcasts. Applications reflect changing interests and focuses of research, with currently hot topics being alternative histories of contemporary art and subjects around race. Recent grants will support writing relating to eco-criticism, health, disability, activism, prisons, urbanism, gentrification and inequalities, for example. There are few rival programmes to the Art Writers Grant Programme, with the Thoma Foundation one rare parallel. Yet despite the fact that art writing is underfunded and unsustainable as a sole occupation, art criticism is a growth field in arts education.

With an envious look to the opportunities the grant programme offers US writers, Crrrrrrrrrrritic! #10 concluded with a conversation on how Pro Helvetia will support critical writing. In a country the size of Switzerland, a relatively small programme can quickly be influential. Caroline Nicod of Pro Helvetia was asked whether they wished to fund writing time, publicity and production, or readership: all are desirable and will be attempted, she said. Pradeep Dalal raised the interesting psychology of the ‘writer’s fee’ which many writers fail to identify, or document, as their due. Caroline Nicod added that similar stances are found elsewhere, when artists do not ask for artist’s fees when applying for work grants, even though these are permitted. Today the entrepreneur artist or critic is the prevalent model.

With Crrrrrrrrrrritic! #10 the series of discussion events comes to an end, though this is equally a new beginning. The aim of Crritic! was to find out more about critical writing about art in Switzerland, in order to support it from an informed position. Pro Helvetia are digesting the findings and they will influence future funding for critical writing. The Crritic! mailing list remains, and will occasionally be used to update on the progress of this new support tool. The Crritic! blog remains live and we will be happy to post links that are prescient to the Crritic! project. Watch this space!

Signing out with warmest thanks to the participants, invited and not, who facilitated many worthwhile discussions,

Daniel Morgenthaler & Aoife Rosenmeyer