CUMA Contemporary Utopia Management

Esra Aysu Aysun

Luleci Hendek Street no:12/3, Tophane, Istanbul, Turkey
Contact: Esra A. Aysun

CUMA is a non-profit contemporary art organization, aiming to activate urban and rural communities by creating contemporary art projects and acting as a mentor for art organizations and initiatives. CUMA is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

CUMA aims to break up the monotonous cycles of urban and rural daily life through interdisciplinary contemporary art happenings. It strives to disrupt chronically discriminatory, monopolist attitudes and the status quo of our time. In order to fulfill its goal, CUMA also aspires to form creative bridges between thought and reality for organizations and initiatives with creative ideas to make possible international and local collaborative utopias. For its wide spectrum of collaborators, CUMA acts as a mediator, creating dynamic networks and gathering places.

International collaboration was the driving force that initiated CUMA. All its projects have been realized with international institutions and artists.

CUMA was established in 2008 by Ece Pazarbasi and Esra A. Aysun (professional cultural managers), co-directors of CUMA.

Esra A. Aysun will give a brief overview of the contemporary arts scene in Turkey / Istanbul, which is fundamentally marked by the dominance of private family foundations or ‘Culture Corporations’ and an absolute lack of public policies. With an emphasis on infrastructure for culture, she will explain how this specific framework determines the operating conditions for independent groups, organizations, and artists. She will draw on her experience of CUMA’s many activities as well as her own expertise.

Leaps Forward in Contemporary Art in Istanbul during the New Era

Esra Aysu Aysun

Although the megapolis of Istanbul, one of the three European Capitals of Culture in 2010, lacks a cultural policy strong enough to support Turkey in its bid to enter the European Union, the production of contemporary art in the city continues at a staggering rate despite all the legal and financial shortcomings. Istanbul started to be associated with contemporary art within the international art circles that have been attracted to the city thanks to the International Istanbul Biennial, which has been organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts since 1987. Today, for the first time, Istanbul is coming to prominence with international cultural projects and collaborations undertaken by the new generation of private-sector-supported initiatives, galleries, and museums founded on the principles of cultural entrepreneurship and focus on contemporary art.

Leaps in Contemporary Art at Istanbul in the New Era - Istanbul Modern

Today, as state-funded cultural institutions are being replaced by new cultural organizations carrying forward the global mission of the 21st century and initiated by private companies, Istanbul’s dynamism is leading the Turkish art scene to show a new face. As state-funded-and-operated cultural institutions begin to seek different formulas for reconstruction, the private sector has begun to institutionalize its cultural initiatives and its investments in setting up art collections, galleries, and arts and culture publishing, through an extensive sponsorship strategy (since the 1980s) that increases their visibility and (in 2000) through establishing their own cultural institutions. The Turkish counterparts of the cultural capitalists, who as DiMaggio writes formed the ongoing system of nonprofit cultural organizations that shaped the cultural life of the United States during the 19th century (DiMaggio, 1986: 41-61), are now pursuing their own cultural entrepreneurship at the dawn of the 21st century.

Leaps in Contemporary Art at Istanbul in the New Era - Mustafa Kaplan & Filiz Sizanli Dance Studio

The new era’s private-sector-funded art venues and museums established at the beginning of the 2000s illustrate this best. We may observe that art professionals generally expect the state’s present relationship with contemporary art to undergo no reform nor engage with any contemporary issues. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the state’s only link with the culture and arts sector, has not yet launched any grants scheme with a focus on contemporary art. This situation leads to an acceptance of the private sector’s recent cultural entrepreneurship, whether in the format of private family foundations or ‘Culture Corporations’(1). There has as yet been no discussion of the need for a funding model that would enable the emergence of independent organizations that would not pursue the policy of any government or private corporation and would be formed by individuals or artists who are professional managers of cultural institutions.

Leaps in Contemporary Art at Istanbul in the New Era - AKBANK Arts Center

On the other hand, European cultural institutions have been called upon to enter into cultural collaborations with cultural institutions in Turkey, where European Union membership negotiations started in 2005. European institutions faced a tricky situation when, at this invitation, they embarked on a search for Turkish cultural institutions with the capacity to run international projects and with an existing cultural management staff. They encountered an arts and culture scene outside EU standards, reluctant to pressure or lobby its own state to form a contemporary art policy; a scene that instead encouraged the private sector to invest in culture; a scene restricted to a single district in its country’s largest and most densely populated city, which grows through civil initiatives and entrepreneurship and lacks the necessary legal regulations that would allow it to become a sector. Without having been able to transforming those residents who define themselves as part of the metropolis (which has experienced a 20-fold increase in population due to migration during the past fifty years) into an art audience, the cultural scene is now forced to question its relevance to society as well as its sustainability.

In a press release issued in March 2010, Garanti Bank announced that it would bring together its three separate institutions from the field of culture and arts (the Ottoman Bank Archives and Research Centre and Museum, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre and the Garanti Gallery), under the auspices of Garanti Kültür A.Ş.

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