Another culture is possible. Coronavirus and the future of culture in Poland

Report by INSTRAT - Foundation for Strategic Initiatives

The report “A different culture is possible. Coronavirus and the future of culture in Poland” prepared by INSTRAT Foundation for Strategic Initiatives for Biennale Warszawa was created in a very specific context. The work on the report started when most cultural and art institutions closed down due to the epidemic situation. It concluded when only several among them relaunched previous activities, and in a very limited scope. 

The report is available in Polish to download

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The report is a record of its time, documentation of the culture in the state of emergency caused by the pandemic, but equally, or perhaps primarily, by a combination of serious structural issues which came to light or were revealed as a result of the pandemic. Most of these problems are widely known in the world of culture. A significant portion of them has been discussed for years during conferences and congresses, as well as unofficially – in dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces of theatres, in artists’ studios, and gallery offices. They are discussed outside institutions, as well. As a result of the pandemic, the commodification of culture (resulting in the subjugation of the cultural activity to free market factors, including lack of social security and healthcare insurance for artists), precarisation of work in the cultural sector (which means low paid and unstable employment based on civil contracts), low level of unionisation (and thus the inability to impact the shape of cultural policies) have become not only highly visible, but also better understood.

The authors of the report working with the INSTRAT Foundation and the team of Biennale Warszawa, an institution that commissioned the report, draw particular attention to the economic situation of artists who do not have full-time staff jobs in public institutions or NGOs. The precarious employment status that condemns them to temporary, low paid and unsatisfactory work places them in the most difficult situation.

The report “A different culture is possible. Coronavirus and the future of culture in Poland” is the first voice of the two abovementioned institutions in the debate concerning the future of culture. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Biennale Warszawa avoided raising this issue, and rather focused on discussing educational models, alternative political systems, transnational relations, and economic policies departing from the principles of neoclassical economics. The pandemic shifted priorities, involving us deeper and to a larger extent in the conversation about support programmes and assistance for the cultural and art community. Yet we would not want our contribution to the discussion to be limited to proposing new support solutions for the duration of the pandemic, or even drafting a scheme for structural changes in the field of culture possible in a longer perspective (although this is extremely important as well). The stake of the report is to prompt a shift in the paradigm of thinking about culture, which was established after 1989, and which is still present in various concepts of cultural policies executed by national and local authorities.

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