By Morgane Bodin
Examine the role of any social vector (race, class, gender, etc.) in your project. If race or gender are social constructs, how exactly are they constructed in the everyday world of your project?
- The ideas and persuasive language used in correspondence to promote cultures of philanthropy among specific social groups
During our ethnographic project, we have collaborated with the researcher Renée Steenbergen, FOAM museum and the Dutch National Opera & Ballet about art philanthropy among a younger public. From this rich learning experience, we wanted to apply our knowledge about how to reach and to gather people for funding the arts. To do so, we have created a virtual cultural project called The Hub, that has been presented in front of the class. The goal of this performative presentation was to convince the students of the class to get involved in the organization of the Hub. To encourage our classmates of Art & Society Master, we employed the tools that the institutions we worked with use for their own donors to get contribution and participation.
Presentation of the Hub Utrecht
The Hub Utrecht is a place to connect the cultural life of Utrecht. It is materialized by space where artists and art practitioners from all kinds of disciplines can come and rehearse, exhibit, learn and perform. It is also a spot for critical thought and in depth conversation about a wide range of topics, where no opinions are incorrect. We want the most true form of Habermas’ Public Sphere to be present in the Hub: “an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action”. We all have faith in the power of arts and culture for influencing the local politics and social life in our city of Utrecht. Next to that we also want to connect with the established cultural institutions that Utrecht has to offer, along with a financial support from the municipality.
Analysis of Our Performance and feedbacks
The Target Public
We have created the Hub from our target public, the students of Art & Society Master at Utrecht University. According to what we know about our classmates, their profile and interests, we built the project specifically for them to feel concerned and encourage them to get involved in it. In that way, the origin of the project is a targeting strategy. Our public comprises international young students, well educated, interested in the role of culture and the arts in society, and most of them live in Utrech. From that characteristics, we thought about creating a utopian project that would fit the best our targeted demographic. Therefore, the project required that we correspond to the interest of our public in order to convince them to be part of this undertaking. Consequently, we agreed that the Hub should be: dynamic, does not involved money, based on volunteering, about sharing knowledge, locally engaged in Utrecht and opened to cultural exchange.
The targeting strategy came from our experience with the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, with who we created questionnaires in order to know more about the donors. This institutional approach is meant to better satisfy what their public expect and to retain on the long term their donors. This method requires the notion of Capital from Pierre Bourdieu and the analysis of Eleanor Brown & James M. Ferris about the correlation between social capital and philanthropic behavior. We discover through our readings and our experience at the FOAM museum that youngest donors are more interested in the social benefits (social capital) of donation circle than any form of prestige or social recognition (symbolic capital). It was for us important that the Hub would be a space of encounter and where you can create contacts between the artists and art practitioners of Utrecht. We are convinced that networking is a good argument to get our public involved in the project.
Connecting people and ethic of the project
During the first blocs of courses in Art & Society we realized that a lot of conversations where very critical about the business orientation of the art world and the neoliberal ideology that affects a lot contemporary art. In that way, the Hub was also the occasion to propose an alternative to this economic reality. We have done some research about alternative economy and non-profit organizations as shareable.net does. This movement of ‘sharing transformation’ is a bottom-up program where people collaborate and try to find together ways to make their life more sustainable, to develop solidarity economies, collaborative consumption, and social enterprise. In the same dynamic, we are looking for an alternative to connect people of Utrecht around a common interest for the arts and culture, along with breaking the capitalist rules of profit, consummation and commodification. Volunteering based and time giving was for us the most relevant way to break with a business orientation and get the students involved. And here again, the networking became a very important feature for the Hub and a local collaboration with the already existing cultural organizations of the city appears relevant to us. It would allow the project to stay connected with the roots of the Utrecht’s cultural life, to connect a broader type of public and to get some legitimacy among the municipality – from who we expected receiving funds.
At the end of the presentation the main question form the public was about the inclusiveness of the project: “is-it an inclusive project or just another hipster project?”. It seems that our project is necessarily exclusive indeed, because made for the particular audience of well-educated students. This moment highlighted more than ever the kind of expectations our public had about social engagement and inclusiveness, however we did not completely fit with their ideals. It reveals that the questions of ethic of a project matters a lot in order to get people involved and participating in it.
Performance and Interaction with the public
We choose to present our project as lecture, supported by a power point in order to make our point clearer. If communication is an important tool for convincing people, we also prepared the performance by creating a facebook page where we could share the events in Utrecht that were fitting our approach and in that way, giving already an idea of how the Hub could help in connecting people with the kind of events they are interested in. Then, the creation of our website was the occasion to build our visual identity.
If the presentation was targeting a group, we also wanted to reach individually the people from the audience in order to make them feel more concerned by our project. That is why, we proposed several examples of projects that were corresponding to the personal interest of each person. The goal is to give to everyone the possibility to make this project his own and help them to have a more concrete idea of the possibilities we were offering. We learned his individual targeting with Mathilde Smith raise funder from the FOAM museum. She insisted a lot on the importance of a “home feeling” that you should give to every potential donor. There is a value in making individuals feel special, unique and considered. Whatever the project you are trying to sell, the human side in philanthropy and collaborative project is the most important.
We really appreciated the last part of our presentation that was more about feedbacks from our public. One of our classmate raised very justly the question of the vocabulary that we were employing and that was part of our strategy of communication. It was in a certain way very enjoyable to use and even caricaturize the normalization of vocabulary in the cultural field – as ‘transformative’, ‘alternative’, ‘inclusive’, ‘socially engaged’, and so on. Our goal was to use the same vocabulary that projects we are seduced by were excessively using. It shows the limit of collaborative and socially engaged projects that target also a certain public according to what ethically they will approve. We believe that the vocabulary usage during this presentation was the most performative aspect of the project.
By this performance we wanted to apply the strategy of reach future participants in a cultural project – as we have learned all along our field research and readings about art philanthropy and the young donors. It was a playful way to question the strategy of demographic targeting and communication form these cultural institutions. Moreover, it was a good exercise for self-criticism about which kind of project we – as art students – want to get involved in and to question their strategy and ethic. The final discussion was the occasion to build a collective critic of our virtual project and communication strategy, which we really enjoyed.
However, we still believe in the Hub Utrecht. In a context of cultural events abundance, one of our classmate underlined that it could be a useful filter for artists and art practitioners to get in contact with the organization that correspond the most to their interests and develop a more collaborative system in the cultural scene of Utrecht.