To the organisers of the symposium "Collective Communities/The Autonomous Fabric of Rotterdam",
This is a collective response to your invitation for Varia to participate in the symposium "Collective Communities/The Autonomous Fabric of Rotterdam". We discussed how to respond to this invitation, and have decided to decline. To begin with, we feel that an acceptance would mean that Varia would help promote the Willem de Kooning Academy. This is something we do not want to be complicit in, for reasons we will expand on below.
In praising efforts of local initiatives, the institution will use the work of self-organised spaces, such as Varia, to bolster its own position and relevance in the cultural sector. This act hides issues that persist within the school itself. While the topics you suggested Varia to address (fediverse, autonomous spaces, self-organising, dependence on digital platforms) are things we engage enthusiastically with, the symposium host, Autonomous Practices, does not provide adequate support for these issues to be consistently included within their ever-changing syllabi due to unstable team composition and the resulting incapacity for tutors to engage in the long term with their program. We don't wish to present our self-organised efforts to those who aren't committed to the values they ask us to represent. The labour of others becomes tokenised (again) by an institution that does not turn their questions back towards themselves.
This symposium intends to discuss gentrification and precarity within self-organised spaces and cultural work in Rotterdam. Simultaneously, the institution creates precarity within the cultural sector and gentrifies the city through the significant part it plays in the future Cultuur Campus. The housing crisis will be debated while many WdKA students study through homelessness, and international students continue to call for an increase in support and guidance from the institution.
The programme will address changing demographics of practitioners when those who do bring diversity in the WdKA workforce face ongoing racism, ableism, sexism, ageism and bureaucratic discrimination. For those with non-EU backgrounds who tried to join the institution, this translated in the absence of support in specific cases and continues with a hiring policy that excludes non-EU freelancers from ongoing employment beyond a very limited number of hours per year. The recent loss of teaching staff in the institution has further reduced diversity in the workplace. How can decolonial pedagogies be imagined and attempted when diversity is conditional to budget handling? What space is allowed to critical voices within an institution that has silenced them for so long? While we recognise that the symposium topics are valuable for students, we could only imagine participating in such programme if it was set in a non-extractive way. We urge the WdKA to resolve internal issues before proposing such an initiative, otherwise its actions become performative.
In June 2023, staff concerned over "inequalities, structural overwork, lack of EDI framework, lack of safety, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability from the side of management" organised a strike. There has not yet been any resolution or attempt for reconciliation from the side of the management in response to the demands made by tutors.
By saying no, we stand in solidarity with Varia current members, previous members, our peers in the cultural scene and staff of WdKA. People who have been, and continue to be, treated unethically by its management. We stand in solidarity with the students of WdKA. Their education could be different.
Last updated: wo 13 september 2023