In the engine room: working conditions for cultural workers

20. 09. 2011

Meetings and debates at Cultural Centre Rex


The first in a series of meetings to be held as part of "Crossroads East-West", the Engine Room Europe project line were held on 26 and 27 June at Cultural Centre Rex. The Workers' Inquiry Group members, Carolina Bustamante, Ines Moreno and Yunuen Sarieg, Ph.D. students attending the course at the Centro de Estudios of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid were on a guest visit at Rex. Together with the Radical Education Collective (Ljubljana, Slovenia) whose members Bojana Piškur and Tjaša Pureber also participated in the meeting and discussion at Rex, they initiated a research into the forms and different levels of exploitation of the people working in cultural institutions, as well as the ways in which the results of such research can be applied with the aim of bringing about social change. The Workers' Inquiry Group and the Radical Education Collective met with Jelena Miletić, Vladan Jeremić, Vida Knežević and Marko Miletić, cultural workers and artists from Belgrade and Bor who have until recently been employed in different state funded cultural institutions or worked there on a basis of temporary service agreements. The member of the organization KUDA. org (Novi Sad), Branka Ćurčić also took part in the meeting where they discussed the motives and the outcome of the survey conducted at Reina Sofia, turning to the working relations and the experiences of working in cultural institutions in Serbia in the process. The meeting was open to all cultural workers interested in said issues. Additional information about the idea behind this meeting and its content can be found in in the official announcement of the event available on the Rex web site.

At the first meeting held on Sunday 26 June, the motivation of the initiators of the survey was discussed, along with the concept of their research, the institutional framework of the preparation of the survey at Reina Sofia and some of the questions included in the survey. On Monday, 27 June, The Workers' Inquiry Group and the Radical Education Collective held a more in-depth presentation of their research (a survey of the people working at Reina Sofia), its results and the overall outcome up to the present. The event took the form of a debate organized as part of a series of discussions Mission Barely Possible.

During the first day's meeting, the participants discussed the situation BEFORE the survey: the idea was to jointly examine (from the point of view of different groups and individuals involved) the possible motives, preconditions and strategies for planning and carrying out such an inquiry, either the one already carried out at Reina Sofia or some other that could be performed in the future in other institutions, possibly in Serbia. With that in mind, the reading and an analysis of the questions that the staff of Reina Sofia were asked (a revised version of Marx's Workers' Inquiry) led to an examination of the role and function of such questions in the specific context of Reina Sofia and indirectly in other/general contexts of work in the field of culture. The discussion conceived in this way lasted for more than two hours, with many understandable points of uncertainty as regards the focus and agenda. An unplanned, although somewhat productive outcome of the first meeting was, on the one hand, an unexpected frustration of many participants in the discussion over the very fact that the questions that are asked rarely or with difficulty were debated in the first place and on the other, an indirect survey of the participants that the discussion itself proved to be. Its aspects and outcome can be evaluated either on the basis of a recording of the debate or the impressions of the participants. The intrinsic aspect of the intercultural dialogue on the themes discussed was especially interesting, both during the implementation of the project at Reina Sofia (where after a half of the seminar participants quit, the survey survived thanks to the people working there on a temporary basis and those who are not from Spain or have not studied in Spain) and at the meetings at Rex. Namely, the position of those who tried to and managed (so to speak) to carry out the survey, turned out to be culturally and politically relatively unrecognizable or "elusive" to others who did not try to do that or did not even think that they could do something like that. The discussion was moderated by Jelena Vesić, Vladan Jeremić and Bojana Piškur.

On the second day, while debating the results of the survey, the material itself was more suited to discussion and analysis, as the focus was on the "product" of the analysis, namely, the outcome of research at Reina Sofia, whatever its scope and nature, that was already known (the discussion of the outcome was deliberately avoided on the first day, so as to keep a clear focus on the concepts, motivations and planning behind the survey, which would possibly also allow examining the corresponding local issues). Generally speaking, in view of the work of the Workers' Inquiry Group and some potential activity of the similar kind to be carried out in the future, it turned out that in case of such an intervention in any such institution, any answer would be good enough, including the ones that are not provided or the situation where people do not show up. This is because the reasons for the absence of answers are as important in the analysis of the position of cultural workers as the answers that are obtained. The presentation and the debate were moderated by Branka Ćurčić ( Additional information about the results of the discussion held on the second day, which was not recorded, following the principles of the Mission Barely Possible discussion series, can also be found on the web page containing the impressions of the participants.

The meetings and debates belong to the Crossroads East West intercultural dialogue programme, implemented as part of Engine Room Europe, a three-year project focusing on independent cultural workers and their field of activity. The main aim of the project is to enhance the capacity and sustainability of independent culture in Europe. The project is carried out with the support of the European Commission