Institutions of Culture, Work, & Education at the Impasse: What is Worth Fighting For?

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Update in progress...

Links to resources - cuts in education

Dear Friends from Critical Practice,

Recently the Carrot Workers Collective, a group who work together on issues of free labour & internships in culture & arts education, received an invitation from the ICA to have a residency to research and activate issues around cultural labour both there, and more broadly in the cultural field. The initial invitation came to us in January 2010 as part of a curated series of exhibitions and events provisionally entitled ‘Daily Bread’, and during the period of extreme turmoil at the ICA (during the vote of no confidence in the Director and prior to Mark Sladen’s resignation etc.). At that time, we had serious concerns about how the curated nature of such an exhibition could limit the work we wanted to do, producing yet another instance of political content production without political consequence, and at that the situation at the ICA was too toxic and unstable to work with. That project predictably fell apart, and there have since been important analyses of these events at the ICA in Mute and elsewhere.[1] In June, some time after the emptying of many of the offices at the ICA, we were approached again by Richard Birkett and Emma-Jayne Taylor to take up a residency in the contested context of what remains of that institution. They asked that we take up this residency in support of their proposition to implement a policy of no more unpaid workers at the ICA.

While the idea of having a public platform with which to gather art and other students around the cuts to education, and specifically to mobilise around the normalised use of free labour to mask the eradication of public resources (see trend of places like the Whitechapel and Camden Art Centre converting paid invigiliators to unpaid interns) could be useful, this invitation has raised a series of tough questions for us. These questions do not only pertain to the specific situation of the ICA– but to what we are actually fighting for in organising around cultural labour and education after years of heavy-handed neo-liberal policy implementation and the new propositions of autonomy (i.e. no money) in the ‘Big Society’. We are a small group and know that we can’t encapsulate, activate and organise around these issues alone. Our sense is that there is a growing constituency of cultural workers, artists and educators who are angry but also uncertain about where to go from here, and who want to produce collective actions rather than more detached analysis and exhibitions that fuel a cultural economy with which we profoundly disagree. There is a growing collective intelligence and politicisation around these issues, seen in campaigns such as Making A Living (with which we have also been involved), and in the mobilisations around cuts to Education. In the coming months we will need to build on these efforts to make coalitions across the areas of culture and education. But on what public platforms might this be possible? And how will we figure out what we are actually fighting for?

We would like you attend an assembly to discuss whether using the ICA at this time is a viable option for those interested in organising around education and culture this Autumn and, if not, what kind of platforms we might use? Given that the Government Spending Review comes out this Autumn and that Lord Browne’s ‘independent review’ of University fees is due in October - the same Lord Browne, who is an ex-CEO of BP and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Tate – we need to begin conversations sooner rather than later.

We invite you and anyone in your organisation to this assembly on: Saturday September 4th, 2.00 pm Location: tba.

Please note that a) we have suspended any commitment to the ICA until we after this meeting and b) we are not interested in authoring the meeting or what might follow, or treating its outcomes as an art project.

Some questions to address at this meeting might be: (feel free to amend or add)

  • Is there enough will and capacity right now to build a broad and strong movement of cultural workers that intersects with other emerging oppositional groups in the city?
  • Is it possible to connect the struggles of cultural workers beyond the so-called ‘creative class’, to build solidarity with other workers and to organise around the more systemic issues we all face?
  • How can we develop sustainable ways of organising that take into account and support the increasingly over-worked, transient, under-funded and precarious nature of many of our lives?
  • In particular, what can we do this Autumn to oppose the cuts & transformations to education and the intersection between this and changes to the cultural field? Who would need to be involved in such an action?
  • How can we move conversations about labour rights and pay in culture, towards broader processes of political transformation?
  • Is it possible to use cultural institutions like the ICA, and the particular concrete situation it is in as a basis for organising and reaching wider constituencies, or are they too far gone?
  • If the ICA isn’t the right platform, then what would it be?
  • If it is a viable platform, how would we ensure that organising efforts did not turn into a relational art project authored by a single group?


We would be very grateful for your responses and thoughts, and if you could let us know if you, or someone in your group can attend this assembly. Thank you for your time.

In solidarity,


Carrot Workers Collective.


[1] See for example: JJ. Charlesworth, Mute, February 2010:http://www.metamute.org/en/content/crisis _at_the_ica_ekow_eshun_s_experiment_in_deinstitutionalisation. See also, Ben Seymour’s response to the article above ‘Don't Leap Into the Void: Against De-Institutionalisation’, about 10 replies down the blog.



Here are some sections from the Carrot Workers' email following the meeting (sent September 8th 2010). They're posted here with permission. Marsha and Metod both attended this meeting

The meeting was quite intense, with many productive reflections and ideas, though oscillating between doubt and inspiration quite a bit... Please see the attached minutes for a fuller transcript. Broadly speaking, it seems that some sort of tentative 'we' emerged from the conversation, based on which we decided to have another meeting to focus on the ICA invitation. It looks like several groups would be up for organizing something there, though we didn't get as far as deciding on how to go about such a coalition - whether to programme distinct things in the space of a few weeks, or to come up with a project in more of a unified way - whether to use the ICA facilities and money with or without having a public presence there. In any case what is clear and important to us as the Carrot Workers is that it would be this coalition acting at the ICA, and that we will decide about this together.

So far we have been reaching out to groups and people organizing within culture and education, but as we discussed at the assembly, there is a desire to open out beyond these constituencies towards other struggles too and across different sectors and areas of work, to think through how other groups and individuals could be involved in a very meaningful way and gain something from what is organised in relation to the ICA.

All the best, let us know if you can make it and please keep the comments coming,

the Carrot Workers

You can find the minutes for this meeting by following this link.


And here are some extracts from the Carrot Worker's email following the September 15, 2010 meeting, which Marsha and Metod attended

Thanks for joining us for our second meeting last Wednesday around institutions of culture, work and education at the impasse. It was great to see so many new faces, and thanks again to those who couldn’t make it but sent us more ideas and proposals. It was also really great to hear from other campaigns and constituencies and to think through ways we can make more connections byod cultural sector.

Another quite intense meeting, but our sense was that we moved quite far and many quite concrete possibilities, and useful points of conflict/ agitation are now appearing. Please see the attached notes from the meeting for a fuller transcript. Several individual and groups came up with really interesting ideas and more general desires. We agreed that we would try to identify strands of ideas/ work that people would now ‘sign up’ for. These are tentatively listed below – 5 in total - we’ll have to see if these groupings work at the next meeting.

We thought that in next Wednesdays meeting we could have a working session where the various strands could work for while together and we could then re-group to look at interdependencies, timelines, resource needs etc.

I’m not sure if we managed to articulate a framework yet – previous suggestions of a School of Precarity, were popular, and everyone seemed to agree that working around the notion of the PROMISE could be a useful pivot.

POSSIBLE STRANDS//

PROTEST LAB/ Action, Performance
Could include ideas for Complaints Choir, Employment tribunals, Participatory Theatre, (Listening Project here ?) Also – actions outside of space, maybe photoromance pranks, hoaxes – eg of applications for opportunities that turns into something else/ undercover union idea

LANGUAGE UNIT – working on re-formulating terms of resistance… not restoration of what is/ was (which we also hated) – not as autonomy as in Big Society, not defense of ‘special sector’. Messaging… slogans, letter writing, errata, stickers, grafitti…. Producing weekly bulletin from ica ? – what happened this week, what we found out about ica, what we want?

PRE/OCCUPATIONS UNIT – testing public space, limits and boundaries. Techniques/ How To… (This connects to CP's interest in exercising public space - it's through exercising that we begin to grasp what this context mean and it/how it's being curtained - subject to "other" forces...).

INSTITUTIONAL CRITIQUE/ ICA Focussed Strand – Looking at labour relations in Institution, current and former workers, sponsorship, economy, location. Press and Marketing negotiations. Examining conditions of (corporatisation/ privatisation) under which ICA fell apart – ICA as symbolic site/ case study for investigating private/ public, conflicts of interest… production of ‘crisis’.

DISORIENTATION/Training/Retraining STRAND – Uni, student link. Session on mapping where we are – the situation we’re in .. privatisations, debt, corporate influence etc. Student Re-Orientation Sessions. Alternative Internships – Legal Internship?, Cleaning Intership, Organising another form of work-based Education. Crossing Sectors. Listening Project here? Could also do Skills Sharing/ Exchange ? All at start, and paricipants go then to – Protest Lab, pre/occupations groups? Alt Economies lab?

You can find the expanded notes here


Further to the September 29, 2010 meeting... (no one could attend this meeting)

Here are the meeting minutes


Brilliant meeting on October 13, 2010 - Scott, Marsha and Method were all in attendance. Here are some of the minutes taken at the meeting

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BWB 06 03 11.jpg Meeting March 6, 2011 - working with objects

Next Meeting: 7pm on Wednesday 15th of September, at no.w.here labs, First Floor, 316-318 Bethnal Green Road