The Corporate Occupation of the Arts

Dean Kenning and John  Cussans will be speaking at this event next Saturday:

The Corporate Occupation of the Arts 

OccupyLSX / The Bank of Ideas

Earl St. EC2A 2AL

Sat 14th Jan 2012.  2- 6pm

‘Could there be a crueler indictment of an art world that is convinced of its moral superiority to mainstream culture than to be subsidized by one of the criminal financial forces that has brought our culture to its very knees?’
Mat Gleason

‘Art is the ultimate emotional branding.’
Brunswick International Corporate Communications Partnership

An afternoon of talks by artists, activists, writers and academics to explore the parasitic and exploitative relationship between art and capital. We will discuss the politics of sponsorship; activism against sponsors, Bloombergism, the transformation of the Art School and the ideological takeover of the dissensual values of art.

·     Corporations who refuse to pay £billions in taxes are fêted for their relatively paltry largess and are awarded privileged access to events and policymaking. Donations no longer fit within notions of ‘patronage’ or ‘philanthropy’ but are strategically targeted blue chip branding exercises. This is part of a much bigger drive towards the marketisation of the arts and the privatisation of cultural provision and public space.

·     There is a long history of Art’s aesthetic and sensual pleasures being used to conceal ethical irresponsibility. Now though, the space of dissent and critique is commodified and art’s autonomy is turned against itself.

·     Whist arts funding is slashed, and the public space decimated, the artist’s labour is being yet more intensively exploited.  Dozens of Associate Lectureship have been axed, a 10% wage cut imposed on ICA staff and 800 interns work for free. All this whilst corporate capital turns its casino logic into spectacular saleroom values.

·     In campaigns against BP’s sponsorship of the Tate and demonstrations at auction houses, activists have recently brought public attention how the arts are used to whitewash toxic reputations and in the appropriation of arts positive values and associations. No account is taken of the contradiction between the utter incompatibility between the ethical promise of the art world and the destructive activities of many corporations.

·     As is usual in Occupy, our conversation will turn from analysis and critique of ‘what is going on’ into planning and strategy for ‘what is to be done’.

Organised by Andrew Conio. (University of Wolverhampton and Chelsea School of Art.)


Andrew Conio. Introduction – The State Against Art
Platform. Licence to Spill – Big oil and the UK art scene.
Liberate Tate. Performance interventions in gallery spaces
John Beck (Newcastle University) and Matthew Cornford (University of Brighton). The Art School and the Culture Shed.
John Cussans. Protest Pedagogy.
Mark McGowan. There is No Law Against Art.
Dean Kenning. The Corporate Occupation of Art.
Freee. Mel Jordan, Andy Hewitt and Dave Beech. Economists are Wrong.
Precarious Workers Brigade. How Can we Fight the Marketisaton and Corporatisation of the Arts?

Platform. Licence to Spill – Big oil and the UK art scene

For over 20 years, Platform has been bringing together environmentalists, artists, human rights campaigners, educationalists and community activists to create innovative projects driven by the need for social and environmental justice.

Oil companies like BP and Shell have been greenwashing their controversial operations through their sponsorship of prominent cultural institutions like the Tate for decades. This presentation/discussion examines how despite the cuts to arts funding in the UK, BP needs Tate more than Tate needs BP.

Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate have recently released a hundred-page arts publication exploring the murky relationship between big oil and big art, which can be read online here:
The following presentation from Liberate Tate will build on topics discussed in this session with Platform.

Liberate Tate. Performance interventions in gallery spaces

Liberate Tate is an art activist collective exploring the role of creative intervention in social change. We aim to free art from the grips of the oil industry primarily focusing on Tate, the UK’s leading art museum, and its sponsorship deal with BP.

Over the past two years, Liberate Tate have created numerous performances in gallery spaces in London. This presentation follows on from Platform’s exploration of the issue of oil sponsorship to consider the performances themselves, how they operate in the gallery space, historical precedents and tactics that can be applied in similar contexts.

John Beck (Newcastle University) and Matthew Cornford (University of Brighton).

The Art School and the Culture Shed

One of the most bizarre ways New Labour imagined the revivification of British towns and cities during the years of the finance-driven boom was to encourage the construction of huge culture sheds as signature buildings around which property developers could prosper and multiply, converting run-down and unwanted areas of town into oases for latte-swilling loft-dwellers. Part of the inspiration behind the generation of these so-called ‘cultural quarters’ was the inflated sense of importance given to  British art as it was branded by Saatchi as he hoovered up degree show installations and sold them on as upmarket tabloid sensation. The preposterousness of taking the art world as a model for post-industrial socioeconomic regeneration is now only too clear, but British towns from Margate to Middlesborough have the empty art sheds to show as evidence that this was indeed, for a while, considered a good idea. While the galleries make big claims about their relationship with the local community, the reality is that they offer low provincial rungs on the curatorial career-ladder and venues for touring shows. Locals get access to some out-of-town culture and the odd visiting speaker but this is top-down delivery for the most part.

Not that long ago, most towns in the UK had a dedicated art school that serviced the local population, providing vocational and fine art training and also offering part-time and evening classes for what are now called ‘non-conventional’ students. In many cases art school buildings were publically funded and held in high esteem, often situated in the heart of the town centre and designed and built with care. While it is true that art schools were originally driven by the skills needs of the labour market, it is also the case that for many students, art school was a portal through which all sorts of otherwise unimaginable and inaccessible cultural experience could be reached. More importantly, these experiences were not the vicarious pleasures of spectatorship; the point of going to art school was to learn participation. While most of the art schools are now closed, many of the buildings are still there, reused or abandoned.

We bring together the art school and the culture shed in order to ask some pressing questions about the state of cultural life in the UK: What has happened to the idea of cultural participation? How can we use the remains of British art schools to cast a critical light on the culture sheds of recent years? How do the products of local art schools (the artists themselves) stand in relation to the culture sheds they often benefit from and endorse?

John Cussans. Protest Pedagogy

Mark McGowan. (Artist)  There is No Law Against Art.

Dean Kenning. The Corporate Occupation of Art

Corporate sponsors and the institutions that they work with would always claim that sponsorship does not effect the art work in any way, and actually enables work to be shown. I would like to question this by looking at how corporate sponsorship of public galleries, art exhibitions and events programmes changes the character of art spaces and influences the content of work artists make and curators show. In response I would suggest the following: 1. critical art test the supposed neutrality of corporate sponsorship by highlighting the activities of those corporations and powerful individuals who use art to improve their image and gain cultural capital; 2. we think of alternative modes of exhibition and production away from the slick, high cost art world norms that institutions use to justify corporate sponsorship. We need to reclaim art from conformity and reclaim our public galleries from corporate creep.  Three years ago I made a comic strip together with Andrew Cooper called Boycott Bloomberg, which became the impetus for an open submission Free School publication. It was a response to Michael Bloomberg’s role in Israel’s attack on Gaza – Operation Cast Lead. I will look at Bloomberg’s sponsorship of visual art as an example of some of the ideas above.

Freee. (Artists Collective) Mel Jordan and Andy Hewitt Economists are Wrong

Freee is a collective made up of three artists, Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan, who work together on slogans, billboards and publications that challenge the commercial and bureaucratic colonization of the public sphere of opinion formation. Freee occupies the public sphere with works that take sides, speak their mind and divide opinion.

Freee invites you to participate in a spoken choir of their new manifesto ‘Economists are Wrong’. In order to participate you need to print off the Pdf. (hard copies are also being distributed) and underline every sentence that you agree with. Bring the manifesto to the event and read out those sections that you have under-lined.

Precarious workers Brigade

The Precarious Workers Brigade is a UK-based group of precarious workers in culture and education organised around the issue of precarity. We call out in solidarity with all those struggling to make a living in the current climate of instability and enforced austerity.

One of the PWB working groups addresses “How Can we Fight the Marketisaton and Corporatisation of the Arts”: How can we change the now complete shift from public subsidy for the arts, to the enforced marketisation of institutions, individual artists and groups? The imperative to raise private income and the imposition of corporate managerial models of KPIs (key performance indicators) etc, is now ubiquitous. Is it possible to fight for the right NOT to work within corporate model? <;


4 responses to “The Corporate Occupation of the Arts

  1. pretty timely series of talks as my previous post about lacoste proves, it is a new term so i will be back working for the un-free school but i will try and make the discussion at the end


    I think the discussion at the bank of ideas about the occupation of art by private finance is really good, as long as people are not fooling themselves into thinking that things were all well and good before the present crisis, manufactured by speculations of fictitious capital, gave an excuse to transfer public assets to private hands.

    A culture that is increasingly permeated with private funding structures like those financed by Bloomberg, Zabludowicz and the like also has an ideological impact on areas it doesn’t fund, in miss-placed aspirations. Words like ‘Bloomberg’, ‘New’ and ‘Contemporaries’ float in a horrible psychic soup, disconnected from their origins in power structures, they become magic words inferring quality and giving the associated firms a cultural veneer that has the odor of good taste.

    Class Cultural Eugenics; Either Join us and Be Silent, Be lieve! Oh yes! Believe in, and Honour Meritocracy! Or Else Shut Up and Stay Out.

    I think we need a completely different kind of art space that is not about marketing personalities in a collector friendly environment or gaining cultural capital for academic careers doing ‘research’ that touches nobody…. really. This would involve deciding what a functioning culture is. It does matter where things are and who they are for. I’d like to see a questioning of the white painted warehouse or cube spaces in London that practice ‘class eugenics’ in areas that have a background of poverty that create an “edgy” exotic backdrop.

    Towards Creating a New People’s Cultural Space?

    The thing is this is a serious issue! And to be honest there is no place for debate, so if this really is that’s great.

    When you do try and raise issues to do with questioning what a functioning culture might be or question power structures or abuses you just get ostracized or seen as someone who is unable to play the game (well it really does makes you sick). Individually it seems you can talk to people.
    ‘Art’ gatherings and seminars particularly those in institutions or galleries in my experience can be completely frustrating. They are dominated by a largely middle class professional coded prestige reward structure and there are definitely things you must not say or question. I challenge anyone to deny this!

    And this isn’t surprising, why would it be? If what is up for grabs is the determination of symbolic production and its social interpretation then of course the interests of the most powerful dominate it. As we know the image of freedom is or was (!!!times are changing fast) very important to capitalism. Art production has often acted as an affirmation of “how free” you are ha hahaha or how you can make work about the abuse of the ‘other’ e.t.c…..This often results in a fundamental denial of antagonisms.

    So like any form of resistance that requires critical thinking to determine and modify action, even support each other in real way, space and time must be given. This isn’t easy when people are struggling with jobs and all the rest. I think there is a strong parallel with labour organisation.

    Why is this so difficult? When I was working on the tube you could just say this is shit, you’d work out ways to help each other get off early for example. With professional structures and the obligatory image maintenance, don’t deny it please; it’s rather like the thought police.

    The first thing is acknowledging the problem. But I think people are going to have to create structures of organization that are really outside the ‘professional prestige nexus’, or indeed the realm of ‘charismatic phohemia’ and the marketed personality.

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