Podcast

45 - How can art institutions adapt in times of uncertainty? ft. Arter

October 23, 2020

Today on the podcast, İlkay Baliç Director of Communications at Arter in Istanbul. Arter is a contemporary art space in the neighborhood of Dolapdere in Istanbul that brings together artists and audiences through celebration of today’s art in all its forms and disciplines. Arter presents exhibitions from but not limited to its collection as well as performances and events across disciplines, expanding the range of its programmes.

In our discussion, we dig into how art institutions can keep engaging audiences in a dialogue around art, as creative and active individuals themselves in face of uncertain times. We discuss the need to create more access and content for the differently-abled. We also talk about the ways in which art institutions have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the decision making that resulted as a consequence of it.

Pinar Guvenc  
Hello everyone and welcome to What's Wrong With the podcast. Today we're happy to be speaking with Kai berlage. Polish is the Director of Communications at our tower in Istanbul. Following her education in Santa Paul charity and notre Dom the Seon e chi budish graduated with a degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the oldest Technical University and a master's in sociology from balls at university and completed the NGO management program have stumbled big university. Her connection with RTR started in 2009. From this year onwards, village has edited the exhibition publications and worked on the communications and mediation contents of the institution, while also contributing to the publications with her writings in 2013. Together with such she conceived the spatial setup and program of behind it to share a space that remained open on the second floor of Arthur's building on is to go straight for two months. Since 2015. She has been serving as Director of Communications and editor in chief for our tech.

Ilkay, welcome.

Ilkay Balic

Hello.

Pinar Guvenc  
Thank you for joining us today. It's a pleasure to have you. It's a pleasure to be a guest. So please tell us about yourself and how you came to the position you're at Arter today.

Ilkay Balic
yeah, so um, I studied urban planning and sociology and I initially intended to work either in the academia or in the non public sector, in an NGO, and somehow my paths crossed with contemporary arts and cultural institutions. First, as an editor, mostly I worked for the sambal biennial and assemble foundation for Culture and Arts. As an editor of publications, then the content in general and then more in the field of communications in general. At RTR, I started in 2010 when Arthur was founded by the baby coach Foundation, which is a family trust, owned by the coach, family in coach is one of the biggest companies in Turkey active in many industries. And the baby coach foundation is an operating foundation in the areas of health care, education and cultural arts. And our attire was the brainchild of, of course, Mr. Coach, and our founding director, Emily Farrelly, who was invited as an advisor for the foundation and the coach group back in 2005. And he came up with a strategic plan. And put forward the end results as a as a sustainable cultural institution active in various fields of contemporary art and life. And now I'm talking with you from the actually the end product of that strategic plan from the lab data, our new building designed by Grimshaw architects. But prior to this menu, we were in our venue at on the sequel Street, which is assembles main pedestrian avenue for mostly focusing on culture and arts. It has been going through a huge Of course transformation. For the past 1015 years, I don't know how to name it, but as our attire we were active there for eight years in a historical building. We made there 35 exhibitions and publications that accompany each exhibition both in Turkish and English. And for the first five years, I was the editor of publications and content. And I was mostly involved in the publication's part of the operation, but also in the development of content and promotional material around the program. And, and then, in 2015, which also was the year where we started to construct this building the new building. I started as a full time staff. As a director of communications. I am still responsible of the publications but but as editor in chief, we have a brilliant team now, who takes care of our test publications, media marketing and our membership program as well as Learning. So actually, as we have been moving to this, preparing for this move to a new neighborhood to a new building, we had the chance as a team to work together towards this ultimate goal. And I was lucky to be able to witness all the steps that led us to this final step. And actually, it's also a pleasure to be here to observe the, to understand and to learn from our mistakes and develop new strategies as we go into this experience here.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yeah, and I'm sure it really helps you have like grown with them and sort of like have the autonomy to oversee, like, what,

Ilkay Balic
Every day.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yeah, that's, that's brilliant. And I think what I find really interesting is that also the new location. For anyone listening who's not familiar with Doctor assemble, it's probably I don't even know how to describe it when comparing to New York, but it's a very, it's a blended neighborhood, let's say you can find a, like industrial manufacturers, to residents to retail to new developments. So it's a everything. So in that sense, I actually find it similar to New York in some ways. So why why do you think that was a destination for our attire? And how do you think that also contributes sort of, to the identity of what Arter is

Ilkay Balic
Actually, um, as most, um, decision making processes, it was a complicated one, our tires, our tires, new building, the intention was to locate it next to the city center, not to go really far away from the center. And the vapor court foundation started a research for a new location. And it turned out, there weren't big enough lens areas near the city center to make to build a new museum building. So they targeted this old industrial building, not very old one, actually, it was built in the 60s. As far as I remember. It was an automobile, like service building, owned by the coach, auto coach, which is an automobile company, again, from the coach group. So that building was going to be demolished anyway, due to the New Earth earthquake regulations. That's lots that lands was really interesting. And it turned out, it was close to the city center. And in many ways, it was in terms of scale as well. Because, you know, our new building is not like, it's like a mid sized culturally, institutions, let's say not a very large scale building. We are new building, it's a 14 storey one, we have seven floors above ground and seven floors below ground with like storage and service areas below ground, and gallery spaces, mostly above ground offices, and also with two performance holes, where we are able to incorporate other disciplines music, performance, film, dance, opera, even, whichever you name, so it says more, it's gave us the chance to become more of an interdisciplinary meeting points, an art center Cultural Center. So to say, we do we decided to refrain from defining a category for ourselves. We have an international Contemporary Arts collection, focusing on Turkey and the neighboring geographies, but also around the dialogues between the arts produced in Turkey and houseware since the 1960s. So the building obviously hosts the collection and collection based exhibitions, as well as an exhibitions solely featuring new productions. have young and old generations alike. So, and also a performance program and new music festival and film program. And also, of course, learning events. But we'll get to those maybe later after your next question.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yeah, I love how blended it is. And actually interdisciplinary it is I think that's very appropriate for a city like Istanbul, which is sort of like the home of various cultures and various things. So in that sense, I actually really find it, you know, not naming or tagging yourselves very appropriate in that way. Um, so I guess, yeah, let's talk about the obvious question. Right. So we didn't go through have been going through a global pandemic. And I think one of the areas that had hit hardest was, well, maybe one entertainment, and then second, anything arts and culture. And we've seen that we're still seeing that in New York City. And I think it has been a huge problem for any super dense cities like stumble or New York City. And I think that sort of was maybe a never before seen situation for so many arts and cultural institutions, at least in our living memory, right. Like, I'm sure there were, you know, some pandemics before but it was totally different era that we had to deal with. So what did you see? I guess, like, what was the initial reaction you saw from the space, not only our tower, but like the art, art space? Like what was, it seems like a crisis in the beginning. And then we started to see all these like, new innovative ways where institutions started to open up themselves. So can you talk about that process a little bit to us?

Ilkay Balic
Now, sure, um, of course, the, let's maybe call it a sector, arts and culture has been hit hard, of course, due to the pandemic, but maybe not as hard as health, education, tourism. And also, as you mentioned, entertainment and live music, live performance in general, as cultural institutions as museums, of course, we had to think and rethink our more in depth about our, why we exist, and what is our mission and how to keep that mission alive. During that, sort of, like unusual New Times, which resists to become a new normal, but will surely become the new normal nowadays, I guess. Because we, we see that it will gone this way, for maybe a year or longer. And also, the economic part of it has been hard, but it will become harder. It's also miserable. We were actually we have been discussing about our programming, having discussions around our programming, and also the human resources and stuff. Part of it. Since the beginning, we were one of the luckiest institutions in Turkey and globally, as the our founder, and the Koch Foundation has been, you know, backing us up about everything. Of course, we have to make budget cuts and reconsider everything in our programming, but we were able to be able to protect our stuff. And we were even able to protect our like contracted stuff, like exhibition attendance and exhibition guides. also pay their salaries as well. So it was really, I felt privileged to be able to manage leads a team with such and in a comfort zone, in that sense. I don't know how the future will be for us, but we are really, in terms of programming and reconsidering the ways in which we can interact with our public because you know, our style of exhibitions are really is really like, it engages so much with the space itself with many installations and like spatial sound works, for instance. So all these works were not like, let's like all transform them into digital exhibitions, we didn't do that we refrained from doing that. And we instead focused on how to use our collection for more exhibitions created for the digital, or how to develop new formats. For instance, our learning team has developed online exhibition tours, guided tours, while in which our guides share their screen and go through works in a systematic manner. And also, our learning team has developed, I think a brilliant new format called show and tell from home. Because you know, at home in our homes, we all initially became positioned ourselves as consumers of what cultural institutions or TVs had to offer from their screens. But we also yearned for still being producers as ourselves, like beads soared sourdough breads or like little things, plays or like, I don't know, games with our children, or even painting or to small stuff like gardening or planting things. So what did we have to town from our homes and it was really great to see people share their ideas, their interpretations about an artwork or a photograph, or just a little object from their own, the privacy of their home. So we, I guess we prioritize interaction among the members of our team, as well as with our public. We didn't do much online events otherwise. But now, for the coming season. We opened new exhibitions and our learning program will take place exclusively online, we want to hold any workshops or learning interpretation events within the space.

Pinar Guvenc  
See, that's more or less how it is. But also, of course, we have the we have an events program, a live events program, and whose manager self has suffered more. From this pandemic situation, we are really unable to host any concerts or performances and we had to postpone everything, of course, we are still lucky. And we are happy to be able to share our new exhibitions with our audiences. But of course, we all need new ways of maybe helping each other and engaging in more like solidarity and column in collaborative projects, maybe. And we are in constant dialogue with other cultural institutions, art institutions, as well. Actually, it's really interesting what the learning division came up with, because I think, like one thing that we've all observed seeing art institutions sort of turning into, okay, like we have virtual tours. But there's to your point, what you said about space and interaction, like that's actually a huge element of experiencing art. And without even maybe, I mean, yes, like, if you go into a grand building, and it looks amazing, and then you're seeing the artwork, maybe there's like a fuel or psychological component to it. But even like, out of that to just being around people who are experiencing that art, like that experience on its own is very unique and yeah Everything technically can go to digital at a certain level. But we're also social beings, right? Like, so it's not exactly we're not, you know, experiencing arts and culture, like that's sort of part of our social, like, existence as well. So I think what you guys created in terms of the show Intel that sort of adds to the social component to at least there's like communication and interaction involved, however form you can while you're from home, and seeing some, you know, like creative works by like other institutions as well, I think another great example, I witnessed throughout the pandemic was assembled Toy Museum did great campaigns throughout the, throughout the pandemic. And so like seeing these, like creative ways popping up, I think that's just like one silver lining of this entire, you know, chaos, because even though, you know, maybe we're not going to have a pandemic, and then hopefully, the near future, and maybe this is going to be a conversation of yesterday, but still, throughout every struggle, like something is innovated and possibly that's something is also maybe giving more access to arts where it couldn't, like maybe some people can go to this space, maybe there's an access issue. And so in terms of like inclusion, and actually creating more awareness around ours, and why it's important, and around local artists, like all of that, I think, being on digital is like complimentary to that. So it sort of pushed all the institutions to sort of like, okay, we need to innovate that space, like virtual tours are not enough. So to to enable that push, like, it's, it's good that it happened, but the way it happened was bad. But actually seeing these, like really creative campaigns coming up, this sort of also. And I would love to get your opinion on this to making art accessible not only in terms of physical aspect, but psychological aspect to because there's a I'm not even sure how to describe it. There's like this invisible wall somehow, even though many museums and art institutions are public, between some of the communities of a city and the art space, right? It's sort of just like, there's this illusion of that that's created for a certain community or society. And then it's only catered for, like certain people. So what are your thoughts around how being also digital sort of enabled, that or can enable maybe we're not there yet, because it's just started, but can enable that removal of, you know, barriers to entry to the art space? Or being more aware or educated about art?

Ilkay Balic
Mm hmm. Yeah, I think I, I have nothing against virtual tours, let me first state that. And I think, like, I would visit the love in a virtual tour. And I also love the fact that we have become more experienced in that field to, for instance, documenting our exhibitions in 3d cameras, hasn't been a priority for us, we were going to do that. But now, it has become a priority for us to even though we don't share it with the public. Immediately, we document them in like we are more conscious and aware about documenting them in a 3d fashion. And also, I think, in in terms of the democratization of arts and access to culture in general. The virtual tours and digital tourism and other digital tools are very, very important in terms of wider audiences around the world getting access to artistic production, and especially in terms of more classical art. Like, I I love what they are doing at Google arts and culture. We also opened an exhibition on altana your man's work. He is a Turkish artist who died very early when he was 41. My age, and he's work. We are currently and still hosting a retrospective of his work. And we also hold his archive for We have collaborated with salt. And they have processed the archive digitally and opened it for access. And so our time hasn't been a very like, digital institution. In that sense, we have been a more physical space, really. And we will, we intend to keep doing so because you know, I think institutions also complement each other. We are not rivals in the area of digital. But we try to understand what each other do and try to, if salt has great digital archives and great experience in digitalising archives and making them accessible. So I think it's great that we are able to collaborate on that. So and also, I believe that that's one of our ambitions really has been to position viewers audiences as users as as participants, as part of our what we do. This is also this also applies for our guided tours, or exhibition materials we publish, and our audio guides contents, we try to make arts more accessible, more like not to simplify it in that sense, but to not to exaggerate the theoretical part of it just to express it in normal terms Daily Times. And also to encourage audiences to engage with what they see what they hear what they experience, through their own life experiences, because artists, all about asking questions. In that sense, when you sign up, see an artwork, you have your is you established your own personal relationship with that artwork, and it's all yours. And it's all legitimate, what you think about it is all legitimate. There is no one correct work way of getting involved with an artwork, or there is no one single correct interpretation of an artwork. This is how we approached the thing. So that's what we also have tried to do online as well. Like engaging people with artistic production and inviting them to be producers themselves.

Pinar Guvenc  
I absolutely love that. And I think, you know, that sort of mentality and sort of phrasing that to is so important to explain what we mean by access, like, I think, you know, some feels like there are misconceptions are there even some maybe people or institutions who sort of position themselves in that way on purpose. But I think like this, you know, architect field of architecture also suffers from this a little bit, like what we mean by access is not necessarily dumbing down the field, right? It's not dumbing down the profession, is actually communicating it in a way where it can be heard by everyone. And I think, you know, we see issues, the more you distance yourself, or create your own language, or, you know, put yourself in your own ivory tower, the moment the more the field, and the sector actually starts to become more distance from the society and almost sometimes irrelevant. And you know, losing the connection with the end user is the most risky thing that can happen to it space. So that's why we're, you know, we're so big on access ourselves to and we really try to always emphasize that what we mean by access, and what does that necessarily allow for, for the field itself. That's done right. And I think it's beautiful to see how these like innovations in the digital space and probably, you know, this is just the beginning. I think having gone through this such pandemic and seeing that, you know, the experience of art should be a balance of digital and physical. I it will be very exciting to see if we start to see our art institutions and museums also further innovating in digital space and seeing like coming up with even more creative things for people to experience art and access art.

Ilkay Balic
Yeah, about this balance between physical and digital. You know, this pandemic, this crisis, this current crisis that we are facing at this very moment, have has forced us to stay at home and focus on the digital, but we really don't know whether our the next crisis that we will face as humanity and planet won't be in the won't happen in the digital space. So, yeah, of course, awareness around the digital is very important. Let's learn what we can learn from this crisis. But let's also get, be more aware of what this planet has been going through. And let's become also more relevant institutions in terms of getting more involved maybe in crucial questions and urgent questions of our times. Yeah, the emphasis, emphasis on the digital realm is very important, but not the it's not the most important thing.

Pinar Guvenc
Yeah, I mean, I can't agree more, I think it's more of the question is that how do we become sustainable? How do we become responsive and adaptive? Really, right? Like, there can be another crisis tomorrow? And how are you adapt to that and respond to that like, is, you know, our built environment did fail us during a pandemic, because we didn't prep for that, nor we did think about public health while we're building buildings. So this is a big question for many industries to sort of go look back at themselves and what they've done in the past, and how they can change to create more sort of future proof systems that you know, could respond to many sort of different crises, who, you know, this won't be the last pandemic, for sure. It looks like you know, but also we might have like a digital crisis. Who knows what's wrong with that's gonna be so how do you sort of prepare for that and create a responsive model? I think it's the bigger question. And, you know, I really hope what will happen after this is that this pandemic will allow for institutions to ask those questions. So it's not just about COVID-19. It's actually about like, how can we create a better version of ourselves? Which, which is going to tie to what I was going to ask as a follow up question. Have you seen? So when we we interview everyone from different fields? And typically, when we're discussing what are like potential solutions for problem? Or how can we make progress in the field that always some, in some way, shape or form lands on collaboration, and mostly interdisciplinary, diverse collaborations to be really be able to address an issue? Have you seen sort of this pandemic sort of pushing, or enabling people even be more open minded about collaborating in the space? And how do you see, you know, more further collaborations happening to sort of, I guess, grow together and sort of learn from all of this together?

Ilkay Balic
Yeah, exactly. I think, yes. There has been many collaborative efforts among arts institutions and in the entertainment industry, in Turkey, and collaboration, cooperation, and solidarity among artists and new groups has been have been forming and many in projects and funding mechanisms are getting invented. So I think that's a very important part that needs to be supported and developed more in the near future, of course. Okay,

Pinar Guvenc  
great to hear that. And so I guess to sort of slowly wrap up our conversation, I want to touch upon what we always ask our interviewees, what do you have as an advice for anyone who's going into space that they're passionate about? Who wants to make progress in a field who wants to push boundaries or solve problems? It's not easy. No, no, that And clearly, you can also go through things that are totally unexpected, like a pandemic. But what would be your advice? Or what is something that you wish you had heard from someone when you were younger?

Ilkay Balic
Yeah, be yourself and do not think that your contribution wouldn't make a difference because everyone can make a difference and just there to act on what your heart wants to like a pack the past your heart heart really wants to follow and focus on one thing. Don't postpone, don't procrastinate. Just work really hard for just only one thing that I have been very, like unfocused myself. In my life. I have many areas of interest. But I always see the benefits of focusing and working through one goal, like focusing on one goal and like following through.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yeah, I love that advice. I actually did get an advice. When I was younger for early on from a mentor who said, People don't die fast from starvation, they die from indigestion, which was my also like, sort of being focused on many different things. So I really hear that and like to echo that advice, too. So what, what is something that we should be on the watch for about Arthur, anything new coming up that we should be following? Anything that you want to highlight?

Ilkay Balic
Yeah. Ah, that's our time. Please do follow us on social media. You'll see many zoom links nowadays to our online events, both in Turkish and in English. And also, some of them are getting translated into both languages simultaneously. And please do follow our YouTube account where we publish the documentation of previous events. with subtitles. That's an area we've been also focusing on. Due to the pandemic, we have time to reopen some unfinished project files. And also, as the coach group has been, you know, as you said, better versions of ourselves, they created this slogan, this motto for the just at the beginning of the pandemic, which was he licious jazz in Turkish, we will get better. And I love that really slogan that we will get better in terms of health, and we will get better people, and we will become better institutions, let's just do that. Let's just become better institutions. And all I'm also hopeful about there was this green event concept that was released last week by the coach group, they prepared the corporate communications team has prepared a new guidelines, a dossier about how to host more green and sustainable events. And it includes many, like, new rules and regulations. And also, this, these guidelines includes, like points around waste, sustainability, what to, like what to serve as food, and many, many, many, many aspects have been considered and included in those guidelines. And I'm really happy to be able to process these and incorporate these, like basic rules of living our lives into both our personal personal lives and the lives of our institutions as well. So let's try to get let's try to become better people better institutions.

Pinar Guvenc  
Let's try to learn from this coronavirus that well said it makes me really happy to hear that, you know, it was such principles, Arthur's sort of being a role model to other museums and institutions in Istanbul, and hopefully, throughout Turkey, it's really great to hear that and also huge shout out to the institution for, you know, taking care of their staff and team during such a hard time. We know we are us, and we are hard. And you know, I think United States. There were a lot of budget cuts, also no museums, and you know, the most I think layoffs happened in the educational department of museums, which is I think, a total, you know, wrong move to sort of like, that's a big long journey.

Ilkay Balic
You know, I've been also we've been following that those developments from here and we are really sorry to read that. Like education, contents departments are really suffering will really suffer for the upcoming years because when you lose that kind of experience, that's that's really a big, bigger loss than relatively small budgets is what I really think are really relatively small budgets. We should really begin by the salaries of like CEOs and directors in if we really want to make coffee I would begin by my own salary. So, and also, this is, I think, the approach that needs to be filed in terms in terms of HR. And also, it's very important to create a good non hostile working environment, we have been hearing those kind of hostile working, toxic working environment is stories around mostly from the US and nowadays. And we all need to do need to create more dialogue more diverse and open to participation, multicultural working environments.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yes, I agree. And thank you for saying that also, on behalf of an art institution as well, and also agreeing that, you know, cutting on education today actually has much higher costs in the future than they have been as anticipated. So thank you for being a model in that too, on how to take care of the team. And thank you so much for joining today. It's really a great pleasure to future someone from not only an art institution, but someone else's stumble, which is our other hometown, and it was lovely chatting with you.

Ilkay Balic
This was lovely for me, too. Thank you very much.

Pinar Guvenc  
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Mentioned in this episode:

Website: https://www.arter.org.tr/en/

Instagram: @arteristanbul

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arteristanbul/

Twitter: @arteristanbul

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