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The average arts graduate’s romantic dreams are soon shattered in Serbia - a land where the state has little cash and businesses are only interested in sponsoring sport.
|Modern art Museum in Istambul | Photo by Wikimedia commons/Ognjen Dobasic|
When I grow up I’ll be an artist. I will paint, draw, focus on design, dance, choreography, I’ll write plays, compose, direct films and plays. I’ll play an instrument of my choice at concerts. I’ll pursue art as a career and that’s how I’ll make a living.
It is with this unreal vision that most future artists in Serbia probably enroll in art academies and faculties. The vision remains romanticized even when freshmen at the Dramatic Arts Faculty become aware, at the very beginning, that the completion of their studies guarantees neither full-time nor secure employment.
The romantic rapture probably ceases when a painter with a diploma in fine or applied arts confronts the fact that in today’s Serbia, a land exhausted by an extensive transition process, he or she has to do all kinds of work and “retrain” to live and survive.
Young independent artists in Serbia today have little choice.
They must work as designers in publishing or newspaper companies, give foreign language lessons and work as consultants. Most, at least on occasion, have to commercialize their work or comply with mediocrity by painting bland landscapes and still-lives for wedding gifts.
Serbia has few galleries and they have little money. If an artist organizes an independent exhibition, he or she will run it at a loss because the subsidies on offer from the city or the state are insufficient to cover the costs. Money has changed both pockets and routes today. The canny artist needs to know where money comes from to be able to “intercept it”, a phenomenon once described by the sculptor Zdravko Joksimovic as “piracy in culture”.
The purchase of art works by competition by the City of Belgrade stopped in 2009. Nowadays artist can hope for an offer from a collector of contemporary art, but there aren’t many of those. The other hope is for a foreign scholarship.
If churning out paintings as wedding gifts is a typical compromise for a painter, writing scripts for reality shows is a similar compromise facing the average dramatic arts graduate.
In a situation in which theatres this year received less than half the funds for production that they got last year - or none at all - young dramatic artists’ expectations of fulfillment are minimal.
In such circumstances, writing advertisements has become a form of “retraining” for dramatic artists. Young directors don’t have much choice. The most desirable option, though one that unfortunately works less and less, is to offer a theatre a script and hope.
Another option is to start your own miniature production, assemble a crew and stage a play, and then ask a theatre to adopt it. Focusing on engaged topics makes it easier to get funding from abroad. The third possibility is to start looking for jobs that have nothing to do with their profession.
Musicians are in more or less the same situation. One musician I know who has finished the Faculty of Music now lives very comfortably by running a private business that has nothing to do with music.
Freelancers who haven’t managed to get a job in a music school, academy, theatre or a philharmonic orchestra, mainly give private lessons or perform in bars and restaurants. Whoever finishes the Stankovic School of Music in Belgrade and then a Jazz Academy somewhere else in the world, is bound to end up playing in clubs for around 2,000 dinars (under 20 euro) a night, guitarist Relja Turudic recently said in the daily Politika. Jazz singing in a club pays far less than folk singing.
There are very few serious orchestras in Serbia, and few can recall the last time any of them announced any vacancies or looked for works by young composers.
While state and society, deliberately or not, out of ignorance or from lack of interest, hesitate to support talented artists, many of them have found new forms of organizing and self-organizing.
|Guy Reid, Making Andrew | Photo by Youtube printscreen|
Some have set up events and festivals that have become bigger brands than many other, exclusively state inventions. Some of them are Mikser, Belgrade Design Week, Resonate Festival, Belgrade Dance Festival and the Belgrade Jazz Festival, which now, after three years of futile attempts, has obtained Ministry of Culture funding.
Politicians will continue saying that “Culture is the greatest heritage of a people”, and that, “Only culture brings us together and erases boundaries”. They will hurry to sit in the front rows when Zubin Mehta conducts the philharmonic orchestra, whether or not they have ever listened to Brahms. Each new minister will change cultural policy anew and repeat the worn-out refrain, “Young people need to be supported...”.
Meantime, Serbian businessmen should realize that in developed countries, those who invest in art gain good reputations. Over here this is invisible. Here, the leading idea is that you earn a good reputation and become visible through sport, so companies compete for successful athletes to win over and sponsor.
A major automobile brand once offered sponsorship to the Belgrade October Salon, an international visual arts exhibition held every autumn. The organizers were overwhelmed when they realized they would get the badly needed money for the production of art works. But it turned out that the sponsor was offering the money solely on condition that it be spent on a cocktail event and a party that lasted until dawn.
The proposal was turned down. Art that agrees to a compromise is not art.
Marija Djordjevic is an editor of the culture section in the daily Politika newspaper. This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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