sonsbeek20-24 ~ collective resignation
Hereby we announce our collective resignation from November 1 2022 as curatorial team of sonsbeek20→24. It is with much regret that we are forced to end our five year trajectory of the curatorial framework Force Times Distance: On Labour And Its Sonic Ecologies prematurely. In the past three years, we have embarked on multiple large-scale exhibitions and series of public programmes in conversation and collaboration with artists, activists, thinkers, institutions and audiences in Arnhem and beyond around labour. In line with our vision and proposal, the curatorial trajectory would be concluded with an exhibition, public programme, a series of publications and an archival project to commemorate and critically engage with the legacy of 75 years of Sonsbeek in 2024. sonsbeek20→24’s de-accelerated plan was presented to the Board, artists, partners and was met with agreement and enthusiasm, and was substantiated by funding.
We want intellectual right attribution for the artistic plans and the continued work that we have done towards building a memorable 2024 edition, which is rooted locally, with a footing in the Dutch contemporary cultural ecosystem and international outreach. Alas, we see no option but to retract our proposals and end our commitment to the project, because we can no longer continue in good conscience.
Under very difficult and unsupportive conditions we have tried to do a project that reflects the multiplicity of the Netherlands beyond the “diversity discourse”. Unfortunately, all the dedication, labour, enthusiasm and effort was not enough to change the precarious and, in the end, unbearable labour conditions— shaped by the structural disregard, neglect, disrespect, mismanagement, sexism and institutional racism that we have faced throughout the past three years. While the general management and its Board employed the notions of cultural diversity and inclusion as facade that the organisation would be without structural societal issues such as racism and sexism, it did not enter into a serious conversation with the team when we addressed these concerns in the work environment, despite a lengthy evaluation report from an external body that underlines these concerns and experiences.
Since 2019, the artistic team and (ex)project managers have addressed grave concerns around budgets, general management and lack of structural support for the artistic plan. There are multiple events and circumstances that explain why our resignation is the sad conclusion of a long and painful process, we would like to highlight some of our grievances:
1.Precarious contracts with several terminations:
- In the three years of engagement, the curatorial team has never been offered solid working conditions nor the support structure to focus on our main work. The contracts were renewed and terminated multiple times. For example, in 2020 when the Covid-19 epidemic had just begun, the entire team was fired by the General Director in tandem with the controller when the first lockdown started in the Netherlands. This severely insensitive and unjust action was halted by protests by the curatorial team.
- We respectfully recall that the funding sonsbeek20-24 received was granted in respect of our proposed plans and combined longterm practices and relations.
- Managerial structure
- The Board and General Director have repeatedly put their responsibilities and the consequences of lack of knowledge in the shoes of the curatorial team. From the beginning, the Board has not sufficiently monitored the General Directors actions. The Board did not engage with the team of project managers, communication managers and other freelancers who addressed the general director’s inexperience to lead a team through a large-scale project such as sonsbeek20→24 ’s first iteration in 2021.
- The General Director took a leave of absence but left without handing over a clear mandate to the organisation or newly appointed project manager for almost a year, while the Board took over supervision. Consequently, the preparatory work of sonsbeek20→24 was severely delayed and disrupted. This was against our agreements with funding partners such as Mondriaan Fund and our commitment to audiences, network and programming partners. Instead of asking for advice or seeking information from the project manager or the curatorial team the Board effectively halted many of our plans for 2022 without consultation.
- An evaluation process of the working structure of Sonsbeek20→24 was initiated by the Board and it was stated by the Board that the way forward depended on the findings of this evaluation. In April 2022, the evaluation committee concluded its findings which the Board characterised as “devastating”, yet it failed at taking appropriate action where the evaluation highlighted that the Board didn’t fulfil its responsibilities as Board: legally responsible formonitoring the actions and policy crafted by the general management.
- Three codes of cultural practice
- The report named, amongst many problems, institutional racism and sexism and general organisational unsafety. The lack of action around this doesn’t match the good governance, cultural diversity and inclusion, and fair practice codes that funding partners such as the Mondriaan Fund ascribe to in the Netherlands. Discrimination occurred not only in the missing policy, but also more concretely in dismissing involvement and information, structural disregard of our feedback, and very negative back talk. The Board, General Management and Main Staff are not trained in avoiding unconscious bias. All-together this led to unhealthy and unsupportive work conditions, as was addressed to the Board many times over the years.
- Based on the interviews with partners, colleagues, artists and other stakeholders the report concluded that across the Board, the General Director was according to these interviews too inexperienced for such a project. It exposedan institution in shambles with no supporting structure (no communication lead, producer fitting to the scale etc.), and it became clear that the Board was unaware and not informed about the inner workings and mismanagement of the organisation. The Board promised to deliver action but kept delaying due - to quote the Board - “explosive” content and results.
Tragically painful, this all occurred as the context of an artistic plan and mission that reflects on Labour and the sonic, resonating our individual work expertises and collaborative practices, as well as the struggles of many (art) workers in the Netherlands and across the globe over time.
The vision of sonsbeek20→24, the involved artists and cultural workers, and the field of the arts in the Netherlands are very dear to us. We have made ourselves available to work far beyond our job descriptions, health, pay and futile contracts. After the conclusion of sonsbeek2021, we have been in conversation with the Board for more than a year to address growing concerns about the future and sonsbeek2024, to highlight our dedication to the project, and to find a way forward to continue towards our collaborative ambition in 2024.
We are aware of the effect this course of events might have on the artists and the supporting staff, who have worked as hard as we have. We thank them for their efforts. Unfortunately we see no other way out of the situation that has arisen, also in the interest of many involved.
It is obvious to state that we don’t take our resignation lightly, since we are dedicated to the landscape of change and transformative justice that is reshaping culture and arts across the world. It is in this spirit that we refuse to be subjugated to institutional abuse, erasure and lies. It is here, where we draw a clear line and we demand that the Board and General Director respect and remunerate our intellectual contribution and general wellbeing.
Artistic team sonsbeek20→24: Amal Alhaag, Zippora Elders, Krista Jantowski, Aude Mgba and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Antonia Alampi (co-curator until sonsbeek2021)