Ashley started out as a self-funded project. This allowed presenting art in a self-determined way, especially by working artists not part of the commercial art market but also those flying under the radar of larger public institutions. Of course, this model also brought up the question of sustainability. In the last few years, with rising rents and spaces closing down, this question has become more and more pressing for everyone on the free scene. Winning the project space prize in 2018 was a pivotal moment for Ashley, particularly because beyond recognizing the work done by independently-run spaces, the prize money could be spread over several years to keep our program running. However, a prize also follows the logic of exceptionality which puts a lot of pressure on project spaces to ‘perform’. Hence, the structural funding program by the Senate significantly changed the conditions of our work because by confronting us with the administrative work inherent in public funding, we evolved our own internal structure to accommodate longer-term planning while still maintaining the flexibility needed to track the subtle changes in the art communities around us. Before this program, going from project to project rather than planning two years ahead, it was difficult to apply for project funding due to the fact that application deadlines are often one year in advance and therefore difficult to meet if you are not a publicly-funded institution or commercial project with the resources to plan several months or even a year ahead. So this program does help a lot to allow project spaces to stake a claim on public art funding. At the same time, with the structural funding approved on a two-year basis, it remains unclear how this mode of operating will last a few years, or even one year into the future.The commercialization of the contemporary art scene in the last decade has created alienation and dissociation from the audience. The social filters at the established exhibition spaces, the sterilization of methods of presentation, and over-professionalism have created an image and perception of inaccessibility. In that respect, project spaces and art initiatives that resist these dynamics and strive for keeping direct social contact maintain the political potential of artistic practice. We don’t promote the conventional star system in selecting the artists we are collaborating with; we don’t pursue a hierarchical method by employing an omnipotent curator; we value the critical content and formal experimentalism of the artworks rather than the conditions of their presentation, and we don’t sell any artworks in our space; we don’t invest our energy in commercial speculation. We put an emphasis on the collective and on the social. We keep contact with our immediate neighborhood (in Neukölln), and we prioritize the knowledge about and the cultural accumulation of a particular geography. Hence, we engage in a counter-position against the dominant dynamics that have shaped the field of the contemporary art scene in the last decade.
The pandemic condition has also been a drastic element that forced actors in the field to reconsider methods of presentation and social contact.Nun, spätestens seit Beuys wissen wir von der Kunst als „sozialer Plastik“ − Kunst sollte in alle Bereiche unseres Lebens einfließen, um das Leben kreativer, sozialer und besser zu machen. Doch durch die extreme Kommerzialisierung des Kunstmarktes, der den Markt möglichst klein und exklusiv halten will, um so für einige wenige Künstler*innen extrem hohe Preise zu erzielen, wird die Kunstszene auf wenige Akteur*innen beschränkt: ein paar sehr große internationale kommerzielle Galerien, Auktionshäuser, Museen, große Sammler*innen oder auch Wertanlagen für Fonds und Unternehmen usw. Um die Kunst jedoch in unser aller Leben zu integrieren, muss dieser in sich geschlossene exklusive High-Art-Market aufgebrochen werden. Die Kunstszene muss sowohl für ein breites Publikum als auch für eine Vielzahl von unterschiedlichen Künstler*innen zugänglich sein. Diese Aufgabe können Projekträume am besten leisten, weil sie die Vielfalt und Diversität der zeitgenössischen Kunstszene am besten widerspiegeln.