POSTSCRIPT: SCAN Summit 2022: NO! NO! NO! Cultural Work in Violent Times
On Wednesday 16 November 2022, eighty SCAN members and culture workers from across Scotland gathered at CCA Glasgow for our first in-person Summit since 2019. In a time of war, occupation, displacement and discrimination, the day-long programme sought to address the global forces which shape our working conditions, asking attendees to consider the means through which cultural work resists and upholds political violence.
Artist Anna McLauchlan led exercises to encourage us to reset and rethink. Keynote presentations from Amal Khalaf and Lara Khaldi considered the cultural response to unfolding crises in London, Ramallah and Amsterdam. Facilitated discussion sessions asked what conditions were influencing the access audiences can have to our work and how we best care for artists and audiences in the process of facing difficult issues. Speakers Alison Phipps and Tawona Sitholé led attendees through the heartbreak of funding cuts. A screening of Karrabing Film Collective’s Night Time Go (2017) offered a powerful counter to settler colonial narratives in Australia.
Moving from ideas to action, our first keynote speaker Amal Khalaf, Director of Programmes at Cubitt and Civic Curator at the Serpentine Galleries, London, reflected on her ten-year involvement in the Edgeware Road Project, prompting attendees to think through the power and possibility of long-term collaboration. Informed by the techniques of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Amal talked through her own strategies for community empowerment. She shared resources for radical pedagogy including Boal’s own Games for Actors and Non-Actors (1992), Rae Johnson’s book Embodied Social Justice (2017), Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) and the speeches and writing of Amílcar Cabral.
From her own work, Amal kindly offers the following additional resources for Summit attendees:
And, from the Serpentine’s On Practice podcast series:
Poet, playwright and mbira musician Tawona Sitholé and Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at University of Glasgow, then presented on their experience of mediating cuts in the UK’s global development budget. Looking to activist anthropology, permaculture and music, they found restorative possibilities. Tawona and Alison offered interdependence, as enshrined in The People’s Charter for an Eco-Social World (2022), as a model for hope.
For our closing keynote, curator, critic and the incoming Artistic Director of de Appel, Amsterdam, Lara Khaldi asked what it might mean to place instability at the heart of an arts organisation: “to grasp institutions where crises are endemic, to grasp their social impact, it is important to move beyond the concept of crisis as a single exceptional event.” Reflecting on the experience of curating through unstable economic and political conditions at both documenta fifteen (2022) and at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Lara offered ideas for a more resilient collectivity founded in exchange, finding shape in structures like the lumbung—where surplus resource, ideas and even problems can be deposited and redistributed. Ahead of her move to de Appel, she shared her vision for the organisation as it faces its own crisis of displacement, temporarily losing its venue to redevelopment. Taking inspiration from social housing movements to reimagine hierarchies, Lara plans to turn the slow crisis of space into the cultural question of the institution, permeating each of its artistic and operational activities.
The feedback we’ve received so far acknowledges the complexity and necessity of the day. One attendee said “I reflected a lot on Lara’s keynote around the two forms of crisis, particularly the slow burn invisibilised conditions of crisis, and ideas she spoke on around collective organising […] and turning the conditions of the institution into a cultural question, as the work of the programme. […] I feel like these questions are pertinent in Scotland’s contemporary art sector.”
Another attendee noted, “I was so impressed at how well the SCAN summit held space for more challenging discussions, allowing people in the room to react honestly to what they were hearing and feeling. To me, it seemed that people were genuinely listened to, without the organisers getting defensive or shutting down feedback that might be difficult to hear. I believe allowing that tension to be felt in the room was really powerful and important.” Learning from these responses and the bold strategies discussed by our speakers, we feel readied to consider how our own approaches must move to meet changing needs in these violent times.
SCAN thanks all of our collaborators and attendees. We know there is power in bringing our contemporary art community together and hope these conversations continue and transform. We look forward to welcoming you to our next events in 2023.