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RadialSystem V, Berlin, view from the River Spree RadialSystem V, Berlin, view from the River Spree
photo Sebastian Bolesch
A TWO-DAY FORUM, NEW SPACES AND SYSTEMS FOR THE ARTS, CREATING CONNECTIONS—CONNECTING CREATIVITY, HELD AT AND ORGANISED BY BERLIN CONTEMPORARY ARTSPACE RADIAL SYSTEM V IN LATE OCTOBER 2009, WAS A HOTHOUSE (IN FREEZING WEATHER) OF RESEARCH DATA, PRESENTATIONS AND DEBATE ABOUT A RAPIDLY EXPANDING PHENOMENON. IN CITIES AROUND THE WORLD, FORMER INDUSTRIAL SITES ARE BEING CONVERTED INTO ARTSPACES PRINCIPALLY DEDICATED TO HYBRID FORMS AND ACROSS-THE-ARTS PROGRAMMING, AND ACCOMMODATING AND GENERATING NEW AUDIENCES WHO ENJOY ART WITHOUT BOUNDARIES.

The elegant four-storey Radial System V, a former water pumping station is located on the River Spree in a relatively undeveloped area of Friedrichshain. Housing two ample performance spaces, rehearsal rooms (including a large space used by Sasha Waltz’s resident company), a bar and restaurant, and a big, sheltered second floor space open to the elements, Radial System V is at once intimate and capacious. Atypically for the centres participating in the forum, it is not funded by the city, although the artists who perform there might be. It’s an independent venture on commercially owned land. Co-director Jochen Sandig said at one point in the forum that it would be preferable for the organisation to own the land, perhaps raising funds to purchase it by selling ‘shares’ to supporters.

Despite its relative independence Radial System V faces many of the same problems as its city- and government-funded guests with whom it was eager to discuss shared challenges and strategies for improved conditions. Above all, it was agreed that the new artspaces were providing governments with artist-led urban renewal. Art-led gentrification has moved like a wave through Berlin since the 90s, especially in the former East Berlin (and Jochen Sandig is one of those who has made the wave and ridden it) with Radial System V as a recent exemplar.

Fourteen centres (12 European, one Australian, one Indonesian) were represented at the event, most established within the last five years (or revitalised, like Hamburg’s Kampnagel), some brand new and others to be completed within a year or two. These are quite different organisations, reflecting local conditions and cultures, but the forum very quickly revealed similarities in inspiration and, above all, challenges for which mutual awareness and networking might aid survival and growth.

beginnings

While the conversion of former factories, warehouses, mortuaries, collieries and wharves into arts venues has a long history, this most recent manifestation of the phenomenon is more complex. Many of the organisations had been offered sites by the state or local government (or found a site themselves and sought support) in an area without other cultural facilities, with limited public transport and with a local population often not attuned to the arts. The pressure therefore has been to attract established audiences from other parts of the city and at the same time convert locals into arts lovers through often labour-intensive community programs. Some centres have been lucky enough to be supported by governments that have built public transport access into the early stages of development; others have been hindered by its absence.

For governments the opportunities of culture-led urban renewal in problematic suburbs is attractive in increasingly service-based economies. In terms of arts ecology there is evidence here of mutualism between the arts and government: between arts organisations seeking out new homes in relatively inexpensive city regions, homes that are flexible, responsive to the demands of a range of artforms and especially multimedia and hybrid practices, and governments keen to capitalise on culture as the first tool for urban regeneration. Sometimes it’s the arts organisation that makes the move, sometimes government, but as with CarriageWorks (a former train carriage building workshop) in Sydney, well before the venue was identified there was a very real need for Performance Space and a range of arts groups to find a new home.

For many of these centres, governments invested heavily in developing the sites. Sometimes artists and organisations were closely consulted, sometimes not, the ‘hardware’ being installed without thought as to how the ‘software’ would fit, for example how to cope with the technical demands of vast spaces. The next stage, of making the venue work and building audiences while promoting an identity (or re-establishing it in a new environment) was a serious challenge, labour-intensive and demanding. As a rule, governments have been less keen to provide funds for these spaces to invest in programming, commissioning and producing work, the very means they need to establish creative identity and the capacity to contribute to regional or international collaborations and touring networks.

Government expectation has often been that the artspaces will generate self-sustaining income rapidly through venue hire for local and touring productions, conferences, weddings and commercial trade events. This at the same time as building their own programs often with limited means alongside servicing local communities (with workshops, markets, child care) and, for some, benchmarks set for local audience numbers.

double binds

The challenges to these new centres, to their survival and especially to their sense of artistic integrity, have manifested as potential double binds: public/entrepreneurial; local/other; old (heritage site)/new; arts centre/social centre. Given that most have been set up by governments, even if in direct response to art community needs, there is also likely to be continuing pressure for these artspaces to enact cultural policy.

Maintaining programs with innovative, sometimes challenging content while running child care services and community events, isn’t necessarily an easy match. Unravelling these potential binds into healthy dynamics is hard work, but the binarisms were seen by some forum participants as evidence of a paradigm shift in the arts, of partnership-based centres (inhabited by a number of cooperating arts groups) that are innovative in all respects, addressing sustainability in multiple ways, operating holistically, essentially working ‘bottom up’ (responsive to the new forms that artists are evolving), interdependent (immediately networking) and developing a ‘hybrid audience’ who are already engaging with a range of media platforms in their everday lives.

Above all these centres yearn not simply to present work, but to commission, develop and produce it and, critically, debate the new forms with their public. This tri-partite thrust was seen as a break from the relative inflexibility of older arts institutions.

The artspaces also see themselves as meeting points for the advancement of theatre, dance, the visual and media arts and of interdisciplinary work—many have substantial workspaces for residencies and workshops. And many have aptly retained their factory origins in their name and architecture—as workplaces.

Tabakalera, Centro Internacional de Cultur Tabakalera, Centro Internacional de Cultur
photo Idoia Unzurrunzaga
the new artspaces

In short introductory presentations and in discussion groups, directors and coordinators spoke about their centres, revealing the distinctiveness of each artspace as well as shared strengths and challenges.

Clara Montero is Co-ordinator of Activities for Tabakalera (www.tabakalera.eu) in the Basque country of San Sebastian, Spain. The building is a 150-year old tobacco factory currently owned by the city. Funded by the city and the Basque government, the centre will open in 2013 but currently runs events, such as inviting sound artists to work in the spaces. There is a strong focus on visual culture including cinema, video and media hybrids with studios available to artists and communities. There is also a considerable emphasis on archiving, in the form of a digital library with public access.

Montero sees the role of the new centres as integrative. Therefore, because the San Sebastian Film Festival is so strong, “we have taken it as a model.” She described the centre as being like a bridge. At the same time, Montero says she faces the big challenge of engaging 15-23 year-old audiences, and has done many free shows to attract people.

A few centres are more self-contained, focusing on artistic rather than audience development. Karen Wood is Creative Director, Briggait Development, Glasgow, which is run by Dance House (www.dancehouse.org). Originally it was a Victorian fish market, built in 1873, empty for 20 years and then converted to visual arts studios. At the centre is “a huge unheated hall,” a space common to many centres offering opportunities for spectacle and communality but presenting challenges. Established initially with lottery, arts funding and commercial support, the centre is, says Wood, “now into Phase 2, needing money. There are seven studio spaces, four resident organisations including dancers with disability, circus, aerial and street theatre people and a dedicated live art studio. It’s a venue for creation, not public performance and incidentally, the only place in Scotland where people can rehearse double trapeze.”

In contrast, Axel Tangerding, an architect and theatre director from Munich, spoke about Teater Maskinen (www.meta-theater.com), whose new building he has designed and which is located just outside of Stockholm—to keep costs low. In a former mining district by a river, the land was purchased for one euro per square metre. Designed to be ecologically sensitive, the centre includes a guest-house for 20 people, studios for work and creating video, a kindergarten, an outside theatre and a sauna—”It’s time the arts had a bit of luxury,” quipped Tandering.

Another new building is Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw (www.muziekgebouw.nl), a spectacularly beautiful glass and metal construction located in “an old industrial district on the water, which used to be populated by drunks and hookers”, says Tino Haenen, General and Artistic Director. Unlike the other centres discussed here, the focus at Muziekgebouw is on one artform, music and more specifically again, contemporary classical concerts and jazz, and no pop concerts. Opened in 2005, the centre was conceived as part of a plan to develop the east of the city. Like the other centres “it’s very flexible,” says Haenan, “even the floor can be elevated, which means the space can be adjusted to change reverberation substantially.” The building has three decks and a unique microtonal organ, which is very rare. The centre’s annual budget is three million euros, one million going back to the city for rental (a not uncommon tale). Around 250 concerts each year are presented in a building “which is huge but has a nice human scale to it.” Haenan says he’s sticking very much to his agenda, not wanted to risk competing with local theatre.

Mohamed Goenawan is director and initiator of Salihara (named after the lantana flower; www.salihara.org) in Indonesia. When Tempo, the political magazine he edited was banned in 1994, Goenawan went underground, set up alternative journals and ISI, a space to produce plays and gallery shows as a front for political purposes. He continued to work after Soeharto had been deposed, and says he is now battling rising Islamic fundamentalism. Goenawan describes his organisation as “a medium to introduce difference.” With money made from the newspaper, he has developed the former garbage truck parking station into a 3,000 square metre arts centre. The only flexible performing arts venue in Indonesia, it can seat 225 people or 400 standing. There’s also a roof theatre for traditional puppets, a cafe and a gallery. Salihari also hosts noted performance and literary festivals attracting artists and audiences from the region.

Philippe Bischof, Artistic and Managing Director, Südpol Luzern (South Pole Lucerne; www.suedpol-luzern.ch) in Switzerland and staff member Eva Heller described the centre as being in an industrial area of the small city of Südpol, 10 minutes out of Lucerne—“but people still see this as ‘far out’.” Costing 26 million euros to set up, and with ongoing funding coming from city and private sources, Südpol opened in November 2008. There is, as was reported by most centres, no funding specifically for programming or commissioning.

The centre, which also includes a music school for 6-18 year olds and a state theatre company, is dedicated to presenting the performing arts including hybrid practices. The building is a former slaughterhouse, but 90% of it is new construction. The architect designed the centre to be very flexible, with four acoustically discrete performance spaces (discrete from the school and the theatre company) in the complex, a restaurant and a bar. The audience, says Bischof, often stays for two to three hours after a show and there’s a downstairs club that can handle 250 people. The performing spaces can handle 600 people standing. “There is no ‘scene’ in Lucerne. We have to create it.”

For Südpol internal management is important, with collectives participating in running the organisation: “If partners have equality (and both have money), it’s easier to negotiate than having all the money and power in one place.” Other centres have ‘top down’ management but there was much talk of keeping it open and cooperative.

Sergi Diaz the coordinator of Fàbrica de Creació de Fabra i Coats, north of Barcelona, describes their centre, still in the process of renovation, as a network of former textile factories—the biggest at 2,000 square metres. It also includes a community centre and a school. Opened in 2006, the focus is on dance, theatre and multidisciplinary practices and includes musicians working in the factory space thanks to project funding from Red Bull, popular music events and media arts shows. Diaz described the working conditions for artists as very good.

Lea Dolinsek, Public Relations Officer for the Spanski Borci (Spanish Fighters) Cultural Centre in Lubiana, Slovenia says the centre, a renovated cinema, which was soon to open on November 25, 2009, was named after Slovenians who fought in the Spanish Civil War. The space is home to and is managed by the award-winning dance company En-KnapGroup as a “meeting point for local, regional and international dance” (www.en-knap.com). It’s unusual for such a centre to be run by a discrete artform company, but see also the Nowy Teatr below. The building was purchased from the city, which invested 250,000 euros in the renovation, and another space was added for music “after pressure from the electorate.” The centre has a 350 seat studio space, a smaller former cellar space for 50 and a library.
Meetfactory, International Center of Contemporary Art, Prague Meetfactory, International Center of Contemporary Art, Prague
photo courtesy Meetfactory
Jindra Zemanová is Director of MeetFactory, International Centre of Contemporary Art (www.meetfactory.cz) in Prague, a 5,000 square metre facility leased from the city and focused on a residential program with 15 studios (40 to150 square metres) for visual artists (local and foreign) and theatre workers. There was no gas or water when Zemanová arrived, but since then a main theatre space (seating 150) and a gallery have been developed. The main hall holds 600 people. Far from ‘perfect’, the venue is very flexible: Zemanová reports that a Mexican artist knocked large holes in a wall as part of his project. Although MeetFactory as yet has no formal funding, she says that “the City of Prague is very supportive.”

Joanna Nuckowska, the Production Manager for leading Polish theatre company, Nowy Teatr (New Theatre; www.nowyteatr.org/#/en), Warsaw, tells us their huge new centre will be opened in 2012 in the former headquarters of the Municipal Waste Company. It will be an interdisciplinary, multifunctional cultural space presenting European co-productions, video, performance, actions and concerts. In the meantime, one-day events are being staged (Day of the Dead, 2008; Sleeping, 2009). A bookstore, cafe and facilities for children are included in the plan, a large roof garden and amphitheatre, plus a surrounding garden with concert space and open-air cinema. Nuckowska said that there will be a big emphasis on exchanging ideas with audiences in this the largest arts development in Warsaw for a long time.

Sue Hunt, CEO of Sydney’s CarriageWorks (www.carriageworks.com.au), described meeting the initial challenge of attracting audiences to a new destination (“there were no rules”) by running festivals for children and others featuring hip-hop and underground artists, supporting “ephemeral and unfunded” work in the first two years and programming the venue with resident arts groups. The principal of these is Performance Space which has four seasons a year focused on hybrid practices, plus residencies and special events. Two large, attractive performance spaces are used for mounting independent productions and commercial events, while other spaces accommodate workshops, rehearsals and residencies. There’s also a cafe and a gallery space. As with other artspaces, funding is largely operational with little room for investment in producing (see RT91 for more about CarriageWorks and Performance Space.)

Director Amelie Deuflhard, a much admired figure in art-led urban regeneration, has recently revitalised Hamburg’s harbour-based Kampnagel with a progressive performance program and “a lot of energy involved bringing together disciplines, community projects, a lot of work with children, all with the aim of ‘bringing Kampnagel to the city.’ I took it over when it was tired and it took two years to achieve flexibility.” She described a successful project called Talking Opera, an orchestral karaoke show for young people which was subsequently performed with older people, as a way of bringing together artists and audiences. Deuflhard believes that community work builds more spectator numbers. Kampnagel receives 3.6 million euros per year, “but this has to cover six halls, 80 staff and structural costs of 4.2 million euros—this is before the cost of shows is added.” (www.kampnagel.de)

Dietmar Lupfer is the co-director of Muffatwerk (www.muffatwerk.de), Munich, a former power station, located by the river, downtown and opened in 1993. “Initially the concept was for an avant garde venue but this was broadened with political change and there’s now a youth emphasis.” From the beginning there was, said Lupfer, no desire to create a “bad city theatre.” Instead, staff asked themselves, “What kind of inter-mediality can we create?” Now, he said, their strategy was copied by the big city theatres. The big issue for Lupfer is “how to keep the work political.”

Muffatwerk’s turbine hall, a huge empty area (similar to Brisbane’s Powerhouse) with a moveable grid is used for performance: “Heiner Goebbels loves the space.” There’s been a focus on new media with shows by Stelarc, Chico MacMurtie and bio-artists, plus considerable emphasis on installation and its relationship with performance in striking large scale works. Muffatwerk also has a mobile studio for reaching out beyond the centre, reflecting a desire voiced by a number of directors elsewhere in forum discussions.

art houses/cultural centres

Discussions repeatedly returned to potential binds. While most of the artspaces acknowledged socio-political aims (often inherent in their establishment) to some degree, artistic aims were their priority. Professor Birgit Mandel, Faculty of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim, reported from her survey of 10 of the spaces that they were “rather art houses than cultural centres,” focused on innovation and committed to new forms of interdisciplinary artistic work. At the same time they saw themselves as developing a supportive environment and meeting place for artists, and focusing on international artistic exchange while helping “develop neglected areas of the city” and “new ways of interaction between artistic production and audience reception.”

Interior Tabakalera, Centro Internacional de Cultur Interior Tabakalera, Centro Internacional de Cultur
photo Ian Penman
old building/new space

The old buildings adapted as new artspaces were sometimes proving problematic. On the one hand, their flexibility was lauded for enabling new means for arts production and reception. Their “aura” was seen as “an inspiring influence for artists and audience” and the sheer spatial volume as allowing for ample performance spaces, studios, galleries, bookshops, cafes and restaurants. But some artists found themselves occupying spaces that were variously too big for their intimate work or, in some cases “too perfect, too clean” or simply unaffordable. One centre director commented that the new spaces “fill a gap but open up a new one.”

public/private

All the spaces saw themselves as essentially non-profit but with varying degrees of dependency on commercial activity, often from renting out the building or hosting conferences (a speciality of Radial System V). Professor Mandel pointed out that in a country with very high public subsidies for the arts, like Germany, there was an increasing expectation of reliance on more private funding and commercialisation. In other countries public funding was increasing. She reported that, “None of the spaces is able to exist without public funding; the majority get at least 50% of the budget from public authorities.” The scale of operation of the artspaces varied enormously from management staff of two to 40 and overall staff, at Kampnagel, of 80. Most also worked with freelancers and some volunteers.

the ideals

Although artspace directors were frank about the contradictions they were living out, there was nonetheless a prevailing mood of idealism which saw the centres as laboratories for producing and presenting new interdisciplinary art and moving beyond traditional definitions of low and high art. With flexible and cooperative management, centres were aiming to avoid hierarchical and too institutional structures. Openness, ‘mobile thinking’ and risk-taking were lauded. However, a series of specific challenges were delineated, beyond the double binds already cited.

the challenges

Participants in the forum saw serious challenges to the sustainability of new artspaces in two areas. Ugo Bacchella, President of Fondazione Fitzcarraldo in Torino, Italy was concerned that “although these spaces were being established, national cultural policy doesn’t recognise them.” Secondly, most centres were receiving less public money than traditional arts institutions. Bacchella could “not see governments pushing more money towards these centres,” therefore they needed “to be innovative in all respects, including funding models and should look at environmentalist models, different kinds of sustainability, bottom-up approaches, engaging citizens in new paradigms for funding.” He pessimistically cautioned these innovative centres about becoming obliged to the state. On the other hand, he reported “a big new European focus on education, with a new mantra: society, education and the arts.”

Some saw the pressure to generate considerable income outside of funding as risking conservatism in programming. Dietmar Lupfer of Muffatwerk saw it as “a big challenge for hardcore experimentalism.” Radial System V directors reported their “turnover as 2.7 million euros per year, with income of 60% from renting out spaces and the bar; 40% from production income. Foundation money and subscriptions are very small.” New work does not always attract large audiences in the short term.

time/space; new/other

Lupfer argued that “it’s not about being new, but being other, for both artists and audiences. It’s about time and space: both have been lost in conventional spaces, resulting in bad working conditions. In the new centres there’s the opportunity to work a space where a community can develop with a focus and an audience—an open house for social views. A docking station. In the 1980s the other was music, in the 90s the other was dance, now it’s net activism.” An important element in this is an audience attuned to and living with new media.

Jochen Sandig argued for “mobile thinking” as opposed to the exclusivity of traditonal institutional structures and their “immobile thinking.” He declared that “in reality there’s a mobile audience.” However, central to the sustainability of new centres is the need for sufficient funds to create time for new work and space in which to create it. He described the current situation as political, “when too many euros are spent on institutions and not on development, on operas and orchestras rather than development of new work—which makes this forum political.”

Some speakers argued that the potential of the new artspaces was at an early stage, emphasising the capacity for more varied building use and off-site projects. Sandig pointed to the revival of performance art outside of art galleries. He argued for “developing ideas for ‘outer space’. It’s not enough to be just in your space.” Paul Gazzola, a Berlin-based Australian who works in many cities around the world argued for a nomadic principle, while Mohamed Goenawan declared, “Space is produced when you create work.” Ugo Bacchella iterated that “new spaces should be seen as resource based, not just offering an art product but process, product and discussion versus the old one-dimensional function of the public arts venues.”

Further to the discussion about these artspaces as new, or other or oppositional, the general inclination was to see their primary responsibility as artistic but accommodating, reflecting a belief that the public didn’t want to see the new space as just another intimidating, inflexible institution.

Professor Wolfgang Schneider of the Faculty of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim, reinvoked the political dimension. He’s deeply concerned that “currently only 10% of society has access to the arts and yet huge amounts of money go into them.” He sees the new spaces as offering society a meeting point for the arts, flexible infrastructure and potentially clear outcomes like “a larger audience, not just the happy few.” He’d like to see the growth of the new artspaces as an opportunity for the development of a “utopian attitude to the arts, a rediscovery of aesthetics.” He suggested that the European Union’s enthusiasm for science should also be applied to the arts.

At the end of the forum, the outcome was indeterminate in practical terms. But everyone was more informed and the challenges for the new artspaces had been carefully delineated. It was agreed that the spaces would keep in touch with each other; that an approach possibly be made to have an ongoing gathering under the wing of IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts; see p10); that the exchange of staff could be a means for sustained contact and dialogue; and that opportunities for program networking be explored.

the city & the new artspace

As yet in their early days, the new artspaces represent the creation of revitalised public urban space, at a time when acccessible spaces are fast being diminished or commercialised. They embody new artistic practices, new relationships with audiences, greater accessibility, unconventional managerial and financial models— ‘non-profit entrepreneurial’—and expanded notions of the arts centre as not just a place for presentation but for actual creation and debate—a resource for artists and audiences, a source of creativity for the city. RadialSystem V, its directors Jochen Sandig and Folkert Uhde, and forum coordinator Tina Gadow, with Lisa Stepf, are to be commended for providing a timely opportunity to confirm the ideals of the new artspaces and jointly face common challenges.

postscript: cent quatre, paris

After the forum we visited Cent Quatre (see our cover image) in Paris’ north-eastern suburbs, a huge development in a one time slaughterhouse then mortuary with numerous studio spaces for residencies, two performance venues, an impressive bookstore, restaurant and welcoming cafe, and lots of central open, covered space for installations and events. Apparently aiming to build a sub-culture through its artist in residence programs, the centre cost 100 million to set up and receives eight million euros in funding a year. The suburban location is a culturally complex one, offering challenges for audience development and community relations. Just before our arrival a huge exhibition of artworks by young practitioners had attracted a large audience. We’ll have more on Cent Quatre in RealTime in the near future.


New Spaces and Systems for the Arts, creating connections—connecting creativity, A Forum at RadialSystem V Berlin, Oct 16-17, 2009; as part of Hybrid Arts Fest—Australia, organised by Radialsystem V during the Asia-Pacific Weeks Berlin 2009. In cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and the University of Hildesheim, Institute for Cultural Sciences, Aesthetics and Applied Arts.

Keith Gallasch attended New Spaces and Systems for the Arts with the support of the Goethe-Institut Australia.

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. 2-4

© Keith Gallasch & Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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