In-depth | Elections2021

Elections 2021, a different perspective on arts and culture

By - 10.02.2021

Me zgjedhje gati çdo dy vjet, midis premtimeve të largëta, K2.0 dëgjon ide për zgjidhje.

Although elections have become a common occurrence in Kosovo, discussing what is genuinely important for the lives of constituents is rare.

In political party rallies, televised debates and what is written and said by and about political parties, there is a lot of talk of party calculations and maneuvers, polls, slogans and individuals; and less on the practical issues that would inform voters of what to expect after the electoral campaigns. In principle, the electoral campaigns themselves should serve this purpose — so that voters know what they are voting for.

Amid all of this and, above all, to challenge this context, we at K2.0 spoke with experts in various fields. Through their answers we have endeavored to list some of the issues that are not discussed but will be important for voters when they head to the polls on February 14.

Through the series “Elections 2021, a different perspective” that comprises eight articles, each focused on one specific field, we elaborate on what exactly is not receiving due attention, what is the current situation and what should be done to change things in favor of the citizens. We also try to inform voters and make their well-being the focus of the discussion by providing forward looking solutions.

A different perspective on our right to create and experience art

Although a pandemic may sound like a good nest for creativity and artistic exploration, the truth is that the culture and arts sector in Kosovo has been hit the most by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector is in a critical state after a year where most artists, and any behind the scenes professionals, haven’t been able to perform or work. According to an analysis of GAP Institute, the culture and arts sector reported 82% less tax returns from just the first part of 2020. 

Pandemic aside, this is a sector that has more than often been driven by ad-hoc public policies, occasional — and limited — grant schemes, and little vision when it comes to creating a solid fundament for artists and cultural projects — public or independent — to thrive. 

Public artistic institutions have usually remained under funded, with their staff occasionally going on strike for lack of salaries and resources. And if it looks like artists are often contributing to a rain of awards for Kosovo, it is despite the lack of support for an independent, vibrant scene that manages to survive mostly on its own. 

So let’s first look at what political parties are proposing to do in the upcoming four years, if in government. 

One thing in common is “museum fever” — that is promises to build a range of new institutions among almost all of the bigger political parties, including museums on: Natural history, contemporary arts, archaeological, ethnological, and LDK’s peace museum or VV’s prison of Prishtina museum.

 Meanwhile, in their official program, LDK promises to increase the budget for culture, which is now around 1% of the total budget — but it doesn’t say how much more it will give for culture and arts. It also promises an adequate budget for Kosovo’s Cinematography Center, to work on a functional cultural heritage inspectorate, funding for national and local theaters, and ensuring a budget for renewing cultural infrastructure across Kosovo. The program does not make particular references to supporting independent culture.

Vëtevendosje follows some of the same promises as in past elections. It promises funding for all public cultural institutions, while adding funding for cultural projects, including for city theaters, ballet, ensembles, as well as building a theater for opera, ballet and a New National Theater. VV does mention support to the independent scene, by increasing overall funding for independent culture. VV also foresees commitment to cultural heritage protection, such as by an increased number of inspectors or monitoring, to name a few. 

Even in PDK’s program the proposals have been heard before: Increasing salaries in the sector with more funding for international visits and new projects; renewing cultural infrastructure; and joining UNESCO. PDK also promises to improve infrastructure conditions of the National Museum of Kosovo, the complex Emin Gjiku, the museum at Kalaja of Prizren “and many more.” Different from others, the program dedicates a whole section to the promise of functionalizing intellectual property rights while also promising large awareness campaigns and trainings. 

As most parties have not published their programs yet, this round ends with AAK. Without specifics in place, AAK promises financial independence for (public) cultural institutions; increased investment and better management of funds in culture; support to young artists and cultural initiatives; building international cultural cooperation; equal treatment of cultural heritage; and the founding of museums for unique assets. Whatever that means. 

And to help understand where these proposals stand in line with what this sector needs, we have asked people in the independent field of culture and arts: associate for policy and development at Lumbardhi Foundation, Rudina Hasimja; playwright and director of Qendra Multimedia Jeton Neziraj; and program and research associate at Lumbardhi Foundation and a founding member of PART (workers in art), Donjeta Murati. To our questions about what we lack, what aspirations we should have and how change could come about, the experts answered: 

What is missing?

Rudina Hasimja, Lumbardhi Foundation: 

Arts and culture in Kosovo have long been developing within an inadequate policy framework and a lack of political vision. Public support for culture currently consists of merely subsidies and capital investment, along with project based initiatives that depend on the political will of ministers of culture. This approach to arts and culture has not been able to provide an enabling environment for creators and initiatives, who despite all the barriers, have been able to produce work that gathered domestic and international success.

"We have neglected to consider the access of Kosovo citizens to both production and experience of arts and culture."

Individuals and entities in the sector have long faced a fragmented cultural ecosystem that fails to provide its workers with socio-economic conditions to build a long-term career or practice. They lack spaces of research and production, opportunities for growth be it through collaboration, learning skills and most importantly,  financial resources. 

At the present moment, what is missing is a discussion about the importance of arts and culture, especially in a setting of post-pandemic scarcity. This topic is missing from the current debates that mainly focus on policy technicalities or inadequate funding mechanisms. We have neglected to consider the access of Kosovo citizens to both the production and experience of arts and culture.
Jeton Neziraj, Multimedia Center:

There’s a lack of financial support for the independent cultural scene. And the little support that it gets is unorganized, uncoordinated and it goes where it should not go, so, the independent cultural organizations, at the moment exist and function thanks to the international donors’ support. However, even the international donors’ support has been reducing as the years pass, and thus, the independent cultural scene has been shrinking. I am afraid tomorrow it will be even less, smaller, nonexistent.

And in the meantime, the support that is given to the public culture institutions is not organized either. The fact that public culture institutions are completely dependent on the Ministry of Culture, respectively the cultural departments of respective municipalities, makes these institutions unstable, but also incapable of creating their managing and artistic policies, and consequently makes them politically controlled as well.

In general, I would say that the state never managed up until now to produce cultural policies, short term or long term. Everything is organized according to a logic that this state recognizes well — in fact, very well I would say — and that is the logic of “we’ll see as we go.”  

Donjeta: [We lack] a framework that is outlined by a practice in policy making that takes into account the specificities in the ways that art and culture materialize, are experienced, its specific history here and globally. Namely, redefining the paradigms that shape labor, grassroots and feminist public policy making, and wider access to art and cultural participation and content all across Kosovo.

It must be noted that it is exceptional that contemporary arts, film and music has had success and such meaningful production up until now. This is due to grassroots initiatives, individual practices, and organizing within a non-favorable environment. Labor within arts, as in many other sectors, is often invisible. On the one hand, the process of producing a work of art is seldom compensated. It depends on personal relationships, resources and is based on circumstances. When it is compensated, it’s through events and short contracts.

Due to this level of precarity, often independent practitioners, in particular artists have to take up other professions, don’t have much access to production funds, and working spaces. This in turn creates an environment that leaves little room for the development of their own practice. Perhaps we are missing lots of work and cultural material that could’ve been.

What aspiration should we have?

Rudina: Our aim should be to create a nurturing environment for arts and culture in Kosovo. This entails a change in approach as well as fundamental structural reforms in central and local level. Cities and state structures are complex and dynamic ecosystems that both empower and constrain the ways of life and the opportunity horizons of the human beings that inhabit them. Within this framework we should see the arts and culture scene as spaces of opportunity for experimentation, imagination and emancipation in the middle of an alienating environment with tendencies for marginalization, exclusion and oppression.

Most importantly, we should be thinking about who all this work is for. Enhancing access to arts and culture to all citizens is an imperative that should guide any policy making. With this in mind, all the dividing lines between state and non-governmental cultural institutions and creators will have to vanish. The limited amount of funding available for culture should not pressure cultural actors to compete with each other for the scant funding from the ministry or municipalities. It should inspire us to come up with creative solutions for collaboration, peer-to-peer learning and audience development initiatives in order to change this outdated paradigm.

Jeton: We should aim for a sensitive increase of the budget for the culture, and together with this, a merit-based allocation of that budget through the public cultural institutions and the independent ones. But an allocation according to a model that stimulates the successful ones and punishes the parasites and the extorters. So, the creation of a credible and fair mechanism to allocate the budget should be the primary goal.

In longer stages, an environment that stimulates the development of the independent cultural scene should necessarily be created, because, through all these post-war years, we have seen that it has been the most vibrant, most lively, and most fruitful part of the cultural scene here. Prishtina has a small theater for kids and youngsters, but still, there is not a city theater, as normal cities anywhere in Europe have. I dream of a Prishtina where let’s say, there would be at least five independent theatrical spaces. There is potential, there would be a public, I am sure.

Donjeta: Because art aims for the sublime, political critique, raises awareness of gender based issues, colonization, racism, it creates the impression that it cannot possibly reproduce the inequalities outside of it. According to Groys, “in our contemporary world art is the only recognized field of personal responsibility.” Further, because it is critical and recognizes marginal voices, it often does not reach the mainstream.

This worldview has had many complex, interesting and material repercussions. On the one hand, it is considered a volunteer based practice, a hobby, something that only a few talents can practice. On the other hand, in general arts can cause a sense of discomfort for the public.

"Competing narratives on art as critical, vs a form that reproduces existing inequalities is essential to have in mind."

Because unequal social structures hinder or make it possible to engage with arts, it is a context that must be taken into account when questions of aspiring and imagining new public policies arise. We should aim for collectively organizing to push for a reality that produces new meanings to these frameworks.  Arts have the power to bring forth dire issues, produce knowledge and discourses, and it is absolutely necessary to make it available on all fronts, not only as a public, but also as a participant.

The processes in re-thinking paradigms  can only take place collectively through the public sphere.  Competing narratives on art as critical, vs. a form that reproduces existing inequalities is essential to have in mind. 

What changes do we need to get there?

Rudina: The first step toward this change should be the drafting of Kosovo’s Strategy for Culture. It is rather incomprehensible how much time has been wasted operating in a setting with no clear vision and priorities for arts and culture. 

Learning from the previous attempts of state institutions and politicians in power to draw a draft with limited input from cultural actors, we need to ensure inclusivity and deliberation of options in order to truly create a nurturing cultural ecosystem. This should be preceded by a functional review of the Ministry of Culture and the cultural system. The legitimacy of the diagnostics should be ensured by professional evaluation and approval of all parties in the parliamentary groups & the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport (MCYS) as sponsor of the process. 

The current paradigm that conceives cultural and artistic activity as divided between the practices of state cultural institutions and those of “other cultural operators” does not allow us to think in more expansive terms. Only when we approach this issue in terms of the potential of culture to produce reflective and self-conscious individuals are we able to come up with proper solutions to the current problems.

This holistic approach opens up possibilities to focus on advancing culture in both formal and informal education, increasing regional and international cooperation, enhancing the management of cultural infrastructure and ensuring the sustainability of cultural spaces.

Jeton: Maybe a national campaign of the “more budget for the culture” sort could impact the lawmakers that the budget for culture is increased, from under 1% of the total state budget as it is at the moment, maybe up to 3%. And when there is such a sensitive increase in budget, the Ministry of Culture should then create an exclusive fund for the independent cultural scene. But that fund should be distributed smartly and transparently. In fact, the Ministry of Culture should create a specific fund for the independent cultural scene without the general increase of the budget for culture.

"The cultural institutions should be released from the Ministry of Culture’s claws, which, I said, at the moment, controls them, blackmails and manipulates them how and when they want."

A mechanism should be created that aims to remove the party militants, parasites, and unknowledgeable officials from the cultural institutions. This naturally will be a long battle, because these profiles, unfortunately, make up the majority of the officials in the cultural institutions. Even so, however painful, this thing should before, if we want to see progress in the cultural field.

The state should rehabilitate the old spaces, the natural unused objects — but even some that are being used by businesses right now — and turn them into cultural spaces for the independent scene.

The cultural institutions should be released from the Ministry of Culture’s claws, which, I said, at the moment, controls them, blackmails and manipulates them how and when they want. The role, the way the Ministry of Culture functions should be rethought. If not extinguished, it should at least be transformed into a smaller and less bureaucratic structure. And which, before being a bureaucracy, should produce cultural policies, and which, instead of putting the “noose around the neck” of the public cultural institutions, it should serve them and fulfill their needs.  

Donjeta: Policy documents are often experienced as technical and uninteresting, in fact they often are. The process of discovering their social repercussions is precisely how they become interesting. The art and culture field is not only connected to the rest of the world by sharing the same space, but it is in fact deeply rooted in the social and historical processes around it, and undergoes the same consequences of overall governance.

A design of responsible policies takes into consideration the local scene’s characteristics outside of the current framework. Since these are common resources, there should be a clear trajectory connected to the regulations and legislation that reflects the current context and the needs for further development. These policies should have a feminist approach since we can see that feminist practices are showing up.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.