Imagining the Art Institution of Tomorrow - by Fatoş Üstek

My book  The Art Institution of Tomorrow: Reinventing the Model  imagines the art institution anew. Ranging across collecting and non-collecting institutions, privately and publicly backed not-for-profits, it proposes a new model for art institutions which aims to equip them with sustainable and restorative practices and to enable a sense of autonomy and agency.



The starting-point for this book was a genuine enquiry into the capacity of institutions to make space for the arts. This might sound shocking to many, but given the current socio-economic and environmental circumstances, the majority of art institutions are unable to find sufficient time to engage with the arts, support artists or further the art discourse. Based on my personal experience of running two art institutions in the UK, as well as exchanges with colleagues and peers working internationally, I was able to observe that art institutions are devoting much of their time to fundraising and addressing financial problems, HR issues, and responding to social crises, societal shifts, and internal troubles. As a way of addressing these problems, many institutions today provide reactive and populist programming that at times fails to provide an in-depth inquiry into the displayed arts practices and their relevant contexts. 

One of the key conclusions I reached was that the plurality of crises in politics, energy, health, environment, soil, money, education and social identity was disguising the crisis that art institutions are in. Deep down, the ontological crisis is a search for new meaning for art institutions, to distance themselves from their colonial pasts and inherited segregationist and authoritarian practices, and to replace them with a sound and meaningful reason for existence (Aristotelian raison d'être). This quest for a new identity requires an alignment with the values of the heterogeneous society of the 21st century - that is, a society formed of a multitude of belief systems, ethnic and racial backgrounds, social needs and ideological orientations. Today’s organisations are expected to be built on DEIA principles (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility) and enriched by the demands of accelerating times where the mass adoption of the Internet married with automation, big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has led to the formation of new communities that are connected beyond geographical boundaries and social class.

Alongside this, the development of the internet and social media as new global means of communication have enabled wider dissemination of knowledge, producing more equal access to information. On the bright side, new online platforms supported by technological advancements provide a space for expression for everyone and potentially transform all layers of society into active contributors to global culture. However, this is a further challenge for art institutions, which have historically positioned themselves as cultural authorities and gate-keepers of knowledge.

The practice and definitions of art are also changing at an accelerating speed as the places where art can be experienced multiply. Besides dedicated art galleries, museums, and the public realm, art can now be accessed through websites, online forums and public and live streamed as well as on social-media platforms. This new situation encourages artists to explore new ways of promoting their artworks and building up the social reception of their practices. In addition, art practices are themselves impacted by every new technological advancement. For instance, digital imaging techniques have impacted the way in which video art is produced, which has in turn informed painterly and sculptural practices. As art finds new forms of expression and realisation, this will require art institutions to embed the necessary skills to engage with artists working with these new forms of art production (such as virtual technology and AI). Last but not least, many artists today reject the limitations of exhibiting their works in white-cube gallery environments and build settings to showcase their work. This also introduces a rupture in the narrative that an institution might want to impose onto the artworks. 

The Art Institution of Tomorrow: Reinventing the Model suggests a new approach for the 21st century. It proposes a four-pillar re-configuration of the art institution, in which organisational purpose is married with a new learning mindset, and supported by a non-hierarchical organisational structure and a distributed business model. It aims to remove siloed working practices and to carve out a substantial role for artists from diverse backgrounds. And it aims to re-establish the art institution as a force for advancing artistic knowledge, creative practice and discourse.