Institutions by Artists Debate One

Is there space for art outside of the market and the state?

Artist-run culture has emerged in part as an alternative to the market and the limitations market-driven priorities have placed on the artist in terms of creative autonomy. Highly dependent on state sources of funding in many contexts, artist-run culture has, to some degree, forfeited autonomy to the state in order to meet bureaucratic funding requirements or to avoid censorship and ideological conflict. In this light, the “state vs. the market” dichotomy significantly moulds contemporary artist-run activity including the means of production and distribution for contemporary art. The first keynote debate will examine this dimension of artist-run culture by focusing on the grey zone, if there is one, between reliance on state programs and policies, and the vicissitudes of the market.

From left: Gregory Sholette, Dirk Fleishmann, Payam Sharifi, Matei Bejenaru, Deirdre Logue, Jaleh Mansoor

Team A: Matei Bejenaru, Deirdre Logue, Jaleh Mansoor

Team B: Gregory Sholette, Dirk Fleishmann, Payam Sharifi

Session Summary

Written by Ajaye Bureyko, SFU Contemporary Arts student

The speakers on team A (“for”) were Matei Bejenaru, Deirdre Logue, and Jaleh
Mansoor. Team B (“against”) consisted of Gregory Sholette, Dirk Fleischmann, and Payam Sharifi of Slavs and Tatars. At the initial audience poll, the majority of attendees supported the “for” position in regards to the debate the question. The general discussion of the debate evolved into “yes there is space, but…”, an idea addressed by Sharifi in the initial presentation of his argument. Bejenaru spoke of his experience in Romania, given that he has little knowledge of the situation in Canada. He argued that there is space outside the market and the state because, in his country, art is supported by philanthropy, other states, and banks. Logue argued that there is space outside the market and state and it is located at the perimeter. She argued that the space itself can exist in multiple forms: an embodiment of the artist, a conceptual space, a ready-made, or a thought. Logue stated that the key is to have optimism that space outside the state and market can exist for present and future works of art. Mansoor’s main argument was that there has to be space outside of the state if we (as a society) are going to have art at all. She also argued that a large amount of art being produced is created through artist-run centres (a space outside of the market).

Sholette’s main argument explored the capitalist economy our society lives in.
He stated that art is a part of capitalism because it depends on production and consumption. He argued that the occupy movement began not from outside the state and market, but inside the system because it was a result of the collapsing economy; culture is embedded in capital. Although Fleischmann was a member of the “against” team, in his opening remarks, he stated that he believes there is space for art outside of the market and the state because his own practice is positioned both outside both. In his practice, he reinvests his own income to fund new art or economic projects. He stated that he has never believed in the market nor he does he have the desire to believe in it. Sharifi spoke of his own practice, and mentioned that his art collective has never exhibited in a commercial gallery. However, he argued that the key to spaces outside the market and the state is public participation and accountability. His position can be summarized as “yes there is space outside, but…” Overall, he argued that it is crucial to find generosity and hospitality within state-run institutions and to keep a metaphorical foot in both the doors of the market and the state in order to maximize one’s art practice.

Team A (for):

Jaleh Mansoor
Deirdre Logue
Matei Bejenaru

Team B (against):

Dirk Fleischmann
Gregory Sholette
Slavs and Tatars


John O’Brian

Music: A Call to Order
Composition and arrangement by Kathleen Ritter and James B. Maxwell
Performed by Peggy Lee (cello); Jon Bentley (alto and bass clarinets), and Chris Gestrin (piano)

Initial audience vote “for”

Initial audience vote “against”

Post-debate audience vote “for”

Photo credits: Daniel Jeffery