It always feels quite special when an institution catches the zeitgeist of a moment. Project spaces have a lot more freedom in this sense, and they can truly, sincerely, reflect a moment or a movement as it is happening. They are essential to a critically active arts scene. Perhaps the orientation of project spaces has been forced to shift towards something more self-sustainable – but that might not be a bad thing.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 city has become more expensive overall and therefore there is less free space – there are less “Freiräume”. Our definition has not changed as a project space.
The concept of an ideal space is completely dependent on what the organizers/artists/curators are interested in doing. In our opinion, there isn’t ONE type of space that is ideal which is actually what is so wonderful about project spaces in general – they are diverse, and completely different.
It seems that because of the lack of spaces and the increased rents, more project spaces have turned towards commercial models. But since funding has become more commonplace in the scene, meaning it’s more common to pay artists who are involved in shows, performances, readings, events, etc. at project spaces, this has put more pressure on spaces in general to have to secure financing. We would argue that since funding has become more readily available, the structures have begun to change. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful to receive funding and be able to support artists, and as a result, the scene has become much more professional. But at the same time, it is harder in some ways to do projects more spontaneously and in an improvised fashion. This, as a result, has changed the (power) dynamics between the artists and the project space organizers, as very often the organizers are NOT funded but the artists participating in the projects are. This creates a rather awkward dynamic and as organizers ourselves, it’s frustrating for us to not be paid for our efforts and contributions to the “Freie Szene”.