The other day I was a bee. I zoomed from table to table, collecting quotes at a SOTA meeting. SOTA? That is short for State Of The Arts. Why I was there? Because I’m a Handler, Odile. As soon as I found the invite, I put on my most colourful dress, lent some of my honey’s perfume, put some flowers in my hair and said: Here I come!
There were so many people, Odile. You first had to go through the already very crowded children’s corner before accessing the real conference. Our boss, from the theatre with the name I cannot pronounce in English, was there. Artists Eleanor Bauer and Kate Mcintosh and Adva Zakai were there. And many more artists and organisers and thinkers were there, to discuss the state of the arts and spend an outrageously sunny Sunday afternoon inside the Munt.
Everybody speaks English there, Odile. I felt so important, flying from table to table. Even if I actually didn’t say a word. I’m not an artist after all. I don’t even work in the arts. I am but a trainee.
I was so impressed. Not only by the words. But also by the ideas. They come from books we should absolutely read like De Actuele Landschapstekening van het Kunstenpunt or De Waarde Van Cultuur or Anderhalf Jaar Later: De Aannames Van Halbe Zijlstra or Publieke Middelen Voor De Kunstensector or some books that have not even been published yet. Many of these books are written by people who were actually there, like Petra Vanbrabant and Robrecht Vanderbeeken and Rudi Laermans and Marianne Versteegh. They lectured in between the discussions and they do that very well. Eloquently, I should say. I learned that yesterday. No hesitations in their speeches, in contrast to the stammering discussions of the artists.
Why was it in English? That is a good question, Odile. Here is something we can learn for the Handlers. Because, even when most people in the room speak Dutch in everyday life, sometimes with a French or a German accent, it seemed so evident that we all used English to express ourselves. You know that English is known as nobody’s language and therefore can be used by anybody? I heard that in a lecture – in English – by another Flemish philosopher in a Brussels cinema around the corner of the Munt, just one week earlier. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to continue the remainder of our traineeship in English? To do it in nobody’s language in order to reach everybody? To (un)speak?
That is what artists do in Brussels. They meet, discuss, make plans, and they do it in English. They talk about diversity. About society. About money. About equal pay. About private and public. About the grip of the industry on the arts. About different economies and different art forms. About artists and institutions. About labs. And about language. This, in a nutshell, is the what, the how and the why of SOTA: to meet and discuss and make recommendations for policy makers to change something to the precarious situation of many artists.
I don’t think the people gathered here would call themselves Handlers, like we do. They don’t like the word entrepreneur either. Too much linked to the idea of a creative industry where art has to be managed to be successful. They don’t even necessarily like success: failure is good too. They find that interesting. Wouldn’t that be something we should explain to our mentors for the final evaluation of our traineeship?
What I found really interesting was the idea of a fair trade label for artists. Don’t you like that, Odile? Like with the chocolate and the coffee we usually buy at our favourite Wereldwinkel from farmers in Africa or South-America with fair wages. Or unlike the cheap clothes we don’t buy at H&M, fruits of child labour in Asian sweatshops. To be honest: I don’t think we will get a fair trade label for the work we do and the few free tickets we get in return. But we are trainees after all. And we also want to make the world a better place, with or without equal pay. We want to change it for equal pay. Just like all the unpaid volunteers who made this day possible.
Oh yes, Odile. The day ended with the song we heard on the stairs of the theatre with the name I cannot pronounce in English. Remember? The Alex Song? On Tina, Alex and Lisa? That was the end of my day as a bee.
So, how do you find my English, Odile? You think I would be a good artist?