Artists’ mobility in the EU: Between Opportunities and Impediments
Mobility, especially labour mobility, is being promoted and highly praised as an economic and political cornerstone of the European Union, essential for its future development and growth. At the same time, people on the move are faced with many impediments to mobility, artists active in transnational art worlds being particularly vulnerable in this respect. Analysing and comparing various written sources (text and hypertext), the author focuses on the international mobility of artists in and to the European Union. The aim of the article is twofold: to outline artists’ mobility as a particular type of mobility, and to highlight the divergences between praising of the mobility concept on the decision-making level and the ‘naturalization’ of mobility in academic discourse on one side and the critical assessment of artists’ mobility and impediments to it by art practitioners and experts on the other.
KEY WORDS: mobility, artists’ mobility, European Union, impediments to mobility
In this survey article I have analysed and compared various scientific articles, legal documents, government and expert reports with the aim to outline some key features of mobility’s habitus as part of globalized art worlds and at the same time to highlight the diverse perceptions of the (artists’) mobility concept. Artists’ mobility can be defined through three sets of identifiers: specific motives for mobility (why artists are mobile), academic interest and formation of the interdisciplinary research field of cultural and artistic mobility, and the definition of the mobility of artists as part of the cultural and creative industries. According to the analysis of the reports on the promotional and support mechanisms for artists’ mobility and their counterparts, critical assessments of these mechanisms have shown that mobility – including artists’ mobility – is seen as a very positive process that needs to be financially and politically supported and further promoted on the decision-making level. It is considered as one of many “little boosters” of the EU economy, as mobile artists and cultural producers working in the cultural and creative industries not only improve their career opportunities and earn their living, but most importantly contribute to the creation of new jobs and even to the EU’s GDP. However, when analysing the reports of experts and expert groups involved in assessing and researching artists’ mobility, the picture is not so clear and clean. According to them, artists’ mobility is very important for artists and cultural professionals also for other, non-economic reasons: it enables them to gain international recognition, they can exhibit in international art capitals, they get inspiration, it spurs their creativity, they can discover new ways of expression. But there are many obstacles which hinder mobility, most of them a direct result of other political and economic decisions. Analysis has shown that mobile artists can seize a lot opportunities by being active in the transnational/globalized art worlds, but at the same time they face many challenges imposed on them by the same art world and by mobility policies per se.
Many of the reports reviewed emphasize that despite the rather broad legal framework and ongoing attempts at harmonization of the same framework between Member States, the EU has failed to eliminate or even diminish impediments to the mobility of artists. Social security issues, taxation, language and cultural differences, limited access to information, and visas and work permits for persons from third countries and outside the Schengen area are still defined as the main obstacles to the free movement of workers in the arts and culture sector, but also in many other sectors (Poláček 2007; Kobolt 2008; IGBK 2010; Holland et al. 2011).
Yet there is another aspect that needs to be emphasized in regard to the perception of artists’ mobility. Kim, referring to the art world of the Renaissance, argues that “mobility, as an ‘external’ force acting upon a society, realigns the bonds among artists, patrons, competitors, audience” (2014: 6). Moreover, mobility realigns economic and power relations (cf. Pušnik 2014; Salazar 2017), which is also closely connected to the manifestation of the political on and in the arts. Artists’ mobility is actually labour mobility, since within global neo-liberal power relations artists are considered labourers, most often precarious ones (Vishmidt 2011; Praznik 2016). The discourses used in the academic literature and research, but also in the arts (i.e. on information platforms for artists), emphasize this explicitly: the mobility of the arts and culture sector, arts and culture professionals, arts and culture entrepreneurs, highly skilled workers like artists, self-employed artists who use A1 forms, the project Artist on a Business Trip, and finally, cultural and creative industries. It is important to emphasize that we are not dealing only with terminology, but with a specific discourse (and also policies) that operationally places artists in the category of labourers or workers. Artists are no longer treated as being outside conventional rules, but are subjected to modern neoliberal market mechanisms and their mobile practices are regulated by EU mobility policy. This indicates that we are dealing with the process of commodification or financialization (Vishmidt 2011) of artists’ labour. However, artists that are self-employed and many others do not receive a wage for their work and many are poorly paid or working as precarious workers, whereby mobility, although depicted as an opportunity, is randomly turned into a costly and stressful endeavour. These topics are important for the further discussion of mobility and will need to be researched more thoroughly in the future.