A member from the scene: »We have to be careful about feeling like we need to prove our economic contribution«

We have received several statements from members of the scene sharing their perspective on #FreierSzeneFreierFall. One of them preferred to stay anonymous. In their statement, they cover a wide array of topics ranging from the precarious situation of freelance artists, inequality within the scene and the radical changes that will be necessary.

Which pre-existing social, economic and cultural problems have in your opinion become especially apparent thanks to the pandemic?

The fragility of the Berlin improvised/jazz music scene. It was especially vulnerable to the pandemic due to the lack of direct funding for artists who are engaged without contracts and guarantees to perform in small/independent venues. Concrete example: in losing 100% of freelance income within two or three days, approximately 75% of which would have come from performances such as these in Berlin, only one venue opted to pay a cancellation fee.

Which consequences do you think will be especially severe for the arts and culture?

The impossibility of booking/arranging future concerts/events due to the postponement of artists booked in 2020, the backlog this creates for venues and artists. For those who operate without agency representation – the majority of those working in arts and culture – this is especially difficult.

How has the past year been for you? What has been especially difficult, what has been positive?

Positive: the time and space to realise which artistic endeavours are actually meaningful and should be a priority, the quick support offered by the Senate/IBB, which of course it did not reach all. Difficult: not socialising; music is inherently social, without groups of people it becomes a very sad situation.

Freelancers have been working precariously even before the pandemic and have been hit especially hard by its economic consequences. Where do you personally see the most need for action in order to preserve the diversity of the cultural landscape?

Make it much easier for artists from diverse backgrounds to enter the freelance world by reducing the bureaucratic discrimination and processes they face based on their nationality, e.g. less stringent visa requirements for artists.

How could employment relationships be improved?

The KSK could take a more flexible/less heavy-handed approach to employment relationships, i.e. allow freelancers to take a higher amount of employed work, and how they impact on the eligibility of people to be part of their system. They have not accepted that employment relationships are more common in today's freelancer »portfolio careers« and can co-exist and create valuable personal, artistic and economic development.

The term »projectitis« describes the effect of groups and individual artists from the scene navigating from one project to another without any planning security. How could sustainable funding schemes look like?

If funding bodies placed more value on longevity and legacy, this might help the sustainability of the projects themselves as well as funding bodies securing investment from larger pots.

Affordable production and presentation spaces form the basis of a functioning infrastructure. What needs to happen in Berlin so that we can preserve the existing spaces? How could new spaces be acquired for cultural use?

Rent freezes or reductions, compensated for by the state for cultural and arts venues, so that the arts are not priced out of the city.

Lack of diversity, fixed hierarchies and obsolete formats - what responsibility does the free scene have to create a better future for itself?

The majority of white and male people who take up the positions of power need to give up those positions of power; put a limit on how long someone can hold an important position in culture. Better and more accountable recruitment processes – stop hiring internally! – that actively search outwards for people of colour, womxn, trans, LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities. LESS DIVERSITY PANELS, MORE REAL ACTION! Ask the community – the entire community, and really ensure you reach everyone – what they need and commission them and pay them for their valuable consultation work. The lack of diversity will never end if it's the select few performatively making statements and running »diversity projects«. Diverse role models need to be pioneered at the expense of those people and organisations who have continually underfunded and been prejudiced against people of colour, womxn, trans, disabled, LGBTQIA+ communities in the arts.

The last year was marked by several discussions around, for example, unfair royalty payments in the streaming world, inequitable allocation by collecting societies and other social and economic solutions like a universal basic income. Where do you personally see the most need for action when it comes to offering new economic perspectives?

The hierarchical structure of royalty payments, founded quite literally on white supremacist principles, is definitely something that needs to be not only addressed but also radically overhauled.

The audience seemingly plays a minor role not only in artistic conception, but also in financial planning. Ticket revenue only makes up a small percentage of the overall costs. What approaches could make it possible for the free scene to underscore its social relevance, expand its reach and prove its economic resilience with a bigger audience?

The Free Scene and the arts in general need to be valued intrinsically by society, as it was in the past. I think for this to truly happen, the relevance and continued exploration of the arts needs to start in the education system. Technology and systems that reduce real-life social connectivity are partially to blame, i.e. social media. We have to be careful about feeling like we need to »prove our economic resilience« or contribution in terms of the economy, as it devalues our output to something centered on capitalism. The contribution to the economy is already proven and clear year after year, what is not clear to opponents of culture and diversity is the benefit that the arts have on society in general.

  • Anonymous

So that’s it then, problem(s) solved? Surely not. That’s why we’re looking forward to more people from the Free Scene and beyond sharing their perspectives. You can find our call for statements here.