COLIBRI PUBLISHING’S LITERARY TRANSLATIONS
We continue with the series dedicated to Bulgarian publishers actively participating…
Published on 4/3/2020
We meet Adi Kaneva, who, in addition to being a young professional, can also be introduced as a critical enthusiast dedicated to change in the environment. One of her wishes is that experience and policies acquired from abroad should not be applied automatically in local conditions. In November 2019, Adi spent two consecutive weeks in London with the help of i-Portunus.
My name is Radoslava, Adi for short. I have earned a degree in cultural studies from Sofia University, and then a master’s degree in urban research. Over the past 8 years, I have been involved in cultural projects of various scale and type, and in the last 3 years also in urban research and planning. In 2019, I worked for the ACT Independent Theatre Festival, “36 Monkeys – Organization for Contemporary Alternative Art and Culture”, Sofia Film Fest, and others. At the same time, I was an intern at “Vision for Sofia”.
My main desire with regard to the cultural sector is to increase support for the independent sector. I see myself growing not only in the area of culture, but also where it intersects with urban problems, with social and environmental causes.
In addition to my involvement with the ACT Independent Theatre Festival, an opportunity came up for me to go on an exchange with a partner organisation from the Performing Arts Network – IETM. It comprises more than 450 organisations and artists involved in dance, theatre, circus, and performance from around the world. In order for this exchange to take place, I had to find funding. Around this time, rumours started circulating in artistic circles about a new mobility contest, which is directly linked to the European Commission. So i-Portunus turned out to be the perfect solution in my case.
Filling out the paperwork was easy and pleasant. The hardest part was presenting an updated résumé because I hadn’t updated it in two years. After completing all the documents, I asked the ACT Festival CEO Vesela Kondakova to look at them and edit if necessary.
Until then, I had not participated in residences, but only in short educational or practical workshops. The residence comprised a so-called “staff exchange” at the Artsadmin organisation in London. Being part of the IETM Performing Arts Network, the ACT Independent Theatre Festival has the right to participate in such exchanges once a year. The details of the exchange are agreed between ACT and the respective host organisation, Artsadmin.
“The unknown is preferable to the known, failure is preferable to stagnation..”
I am not sure to what extent “staff exchange” is a popular practice in cultural organisations in Europe. What impressed me was Artsadmin’s policy of investing every year in each and every one of its team with a budget for self-development and professionalisation. The “staff exchange” programme was financed from a similar separate budget. Not every organisation I’ve interacted with has the same attitude and resources to implement such programs.
I spent 20 days in England, at the office of the Artsadmin organisation. I became familiar with their work and the projects they produce. I participated in their current events and meetings, talked to artists and cultural managers, watched performances at various theatres in London. My main goal was to find out exactly how Artsadmin works, what their business model is, how they finance their activities, how they select the projects to produce, how they communicate with their audience. Additionally, I took the opportunity to meet interesting artistic organisations, such as DV8 and Coney HQ.
Artsadmin is an NGO founded 40 years ago. Over time, it has become one of the greater producers of visual and performance arts in England. Works backed by them tour all over the world. They also run a building in London with studios for rehearsals and small events, as well as offices for other cultural organisations. In addition to generating their own revenue, they are institutionally supported by the City of London – every 4 years they renegotiate the financial support provided by the Mayor of London (about half a million pounds a year). Of course, Artsadmin also seeks other sources of funding and sponsorship, from applying with specific projects to crowdfunding and working with businesses and foundations. They raise their funds in accordance with a strict code of conduct and do not accept funding from businesses and organisations that do not share the same ethical standards as they do. All the funding collected is allocated to the activities of the organisation – upkeep of the building, production of artists, education for artists, education of non-professionals, working with disabled artists, and many others.
“What impressed me was Artsadmin’s policy of investing every year in each and every one of its team with a budget for self-development and professionalisation.”
Artsadmin is one of the two subcontractors of a municipal fund to finance artists with disabilities – Unlimited. In 2012, when London hosted the Summer Olympics, for the first time, the Paralympics also had their own cultural programme. The municipality then decided to continue funding disabled artists by supporting large, bold, and innovative projects every two years on a competitive basis.
The process of selecting an artist or artistic project to produce is difficult – it relies on the opinion of both the team of producers and the artistic director of the organisation. Initially, the specific work and whether it follows the principles of Artsadmin is discussed in detail, and then, its impact and the resources needed to carry it out are assessed. The art they produce must meet three core criteria: sustainable, cooperative, and bold. The communication they are involved in personally through their channels (site, social networks, newsletter) is mainly with other organisations similar to their own, festivals, spaces, institutions – this is the so-called “business to business communication”. And communication with audiences is left to artists, spaces, festivals. They are currently developing a more engaged strategy to communicate directly with London audiences as well.
The performance scene in London is rich, diverse, and can be found anywhere in the city. I concentrated on the non-institutional scene, the one that lies outside the high art spaces with a long history. I had the opportunity to attend 7 shows. Most of them were based on relatively classical playwrights, but almost all of them addressed the audience directly, often speaking from the first person and dealing with the biographical stories of the artists themselves. Of course, there are exceptions – the “Little Wimmin” by Figs with wigs was, to me, the most innovative and bold performance I saw in London. The other thing I discovered was the connection of the independent performances I saw to music and music culture – mostly club and/or experimental.
I find that difficult to answer because when we talk, it seems as if we already know what a cultural manager is, what he/she does and what his/her education and expertise is. At the same time, in institutions – state and municipal – I do not see cultural managers. In the independent sector, most staff quickly give up, and one of the reasons is the lack of good working conditions.
The biggest benefit of my trip is the experience I exchanged with the Artsadmin team. The most important thing for me was understanding the way they work and organise their work. They have organisational discipline and work ethic that are lacking here. A 40-year-old organisation that has become so important and influential, but nevertheless supports experimental and bold projects, is always ready to change, reassess its work and impact, and try to be up-to-date – aesthetically and socially. As an added benefit of my time in London, I would mention the new acquaintances and contacts I have made. However, in order for specific co-productions and/or working relationships to take place in the future, much perseverance is required after the residence as well.
On the first day of the residence, they threw me into the deep, literally. We went to Cambridge, to the banks of the Cam River, to the part called the Byron Pool, to install part of Caroline Wright’s project “To The River”. We had to first attach pieces of woven, undyed yarn to large lumps of soil and seeds – coir rolls. And then we had to lay those lumps in places pre-selected by ecologists along the coast. I got rubber boots and rubber overalls and went into the river to help fix the lumps. On the way out, my rubber boots got stuck in the mud and I barely got them out of the river.
The only problem with the trip was that the first tranche of funding was delayed and came the day before I left. That meant that I bought my plane ticket with my own money, and I wasn’t sure until the last minute if the residence would happen. In London, I was staying at a producer’s house. In my case, the financial aid was enough without any particular problems.
The report was one of the easiest and nicest I’ve ever dealt with. Especially since I have helped with reports to the Ministry of Culture, Sofia Municipality and recently the Municipal Foundation of Plovdiv – the report to i-Portunus seemed as easy as ABC to me.
I’ve never translated the term before, but I’ve used it in English instead. “Creating a network of contacts” is a longer option and less accurate. Nevertheless, “networking” is very important and often neglected in cultural circles in Bulgaria. I have noticed that often independent artists and artists’ organisations maintain more serious contact with their partner organisations abroad, while institutions are less likely to join networks, take advantage of exchanges, residences, co-productions, and others. Frequent contact and collaboration, at least at European level, are absolutely indispensable in order to go beyond local and create globally current and relevant cultural products.
From my observations, I would say that steps have been taken forward, but there have also been steps back. Improvements often require lots and lots of effort by professionals in the sector, and even more often can be quickly and easily undone by authorities. For example, the strategy for the development of independent arts “Shared Vision” – this was an innovative approach for the collaborative drafting of a political strategy, which was only partially adopted by the Sofia Municipal Council, ignoring important parts, such as the budget and the timeframe for implementation of the strategy.
i-Portunus is a mobility funding programme that enables residences and travel of artists and cultural managers. Through it, we can draw experience with regard to the international scene and how it works outside Bulgaria. The policies of other countries can inform us and give us a clearer perspective on our own policies and how to revise and improve them.
The only guidance I can give them is to get out of their comfort zone. The unknown is preferable to the known, failure is preferable to stagnation. Whether it’s a residence, festival visits, training, co-production – take advantage of i-Portunus to broaden the boundaries of your understanding and network of contacts.