Stephen Pusey on Sun, 15 Mar 1998 09:27:18 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Re: Funding Digital Culture

The world according to Benjamin Weil appears to have an absurd hierarchy -
those even vaguely critical of his posturing, are dubbed "violent"
dissenters, and relegated to the unholy ground of his "snake pit"; those
he perceives to be supportive, he honours as enlightened members of a
presumably elevated plane.  The reality, of course, is to the contrary -
the participants in this particular thread being more distinguished by
their differences, rather than a common agenda.  Mr. Weil has implied that
the dialogue here is unfocused, or at least that it is focused in an area
(the "snake pit") that he feels uncomfortable with. But there is little in
his rhetoric that goes much beyond self-justification, or critically
examines the adaweb model.  Let him be assured, however, that I both
commend and congratulate Messrs. Weil and Borthwick for their idealism,
utopian vision, and achievements. Adaweb will no doubt be seen by
posterity as one of the shining stars in the firmament of early Web

Here is an opportunity to examine the viability of models for funding arts
organizations.  Judging from the examples of both adaweb and Word, the
model of ownership by a parent corporation is not conducive to a long-term
development, though it may very well serve the interests of a short-term
research project.  Scott Baxter, Icon's (the owners of Word) president and
chief executive, succinctly expresses the cold pragmatism of the
corporation, "Real business, real profit, I don't derive that from Word
like I did historically," ... said claiming ownership of the zine in
earlier days helped put "Icon on the map" and all but "closed deals" for
its salespeople. "It was a good thing for us, but it's not any longer."

Both Weil and Jon Ippolito seem unclear as to what is meant by
independence.  To be sure, we can argue till the cows come home about the
varying degrees of dependence that bond individuals and social groups. Let
me clarify what I mean by the term in respect to arts organizations, in
particular the online arts community.  An independent organization is an
entity, in my view, that may draw funding from many sources, private,
corporate, government, etc., but allows none of these to control, dictate,
or otherwise affect its development or lifespan. The importance of this
cannot be underestimated.  You may recall that a few months ago that
Mattel, the makers of that ubiquitous toy, "Barbie", had dispatched
letters to a number of ISP's demanding that they remove from their
servers, sites and content that portrayed their doll unfavourably. The
Thing, to their credit, refused to comply - to quote its fearless leader,
Wolfgang Staehle, " does not, will not and can not exercise
editorial control as to what a client chooses to put on his/her website".
An organization subsidized and answerable to its shareholders or a single
parent corporation, may not have had the luxury of such a response. 
Indeed most of the ISP's succumbed to Mattel's demand. 

To emphasize, my argument is not against corporate, government or private
sponsorship per se, but that having to justify the agenda and existence of
an arts organization to shareholders or a parent corporation is both
unhealthy and intolerable as it inevitably entails a compromising
alignment of interests.  To quote Benjamin Weil, "the relationship with
our corporate "parent" -- Digital City, Inc. -- has to be nurtured so as
to develop a common ground where both parties understand what's in it for
them." (Source: 

Clearly there is a need to debate and formulate a strategy for sponsorship
which encourages long-term growth of digital culture.  Environments like
PLEXUS, artnetweb, The Thing, Stadium, etc, though fueled perhaps by
utopian ideals, are built largely on the unfinanced labour of their
founders and collaborators.  Their progress, however, is not aided, but
hampered by a lack of funding.  I support Robert Adrian's comment in this
forum that "the creation of an environment supportive of creative uses of
the network", requires, "public funding - unimpeded by "bottom-line"
inhibitions".  The question is how can this be achieved?  My persuasion is
that lobbying of public funding agencies and culture ministries is most
effective when done as a collective action.  An association of networked
cultural practitioners, who pool their resources and experience, might be
best suited to facilitate it. 

PLEXUS Art and Communication
"only connect ..."

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