Debtocracy: how big part of the Greek national debt is illegitimate?

If you are not familiar with the term ‘odious debt’ then I would recommend for you to watch the Debtocracy documentary film. The first part of the film gives a general introduction to the credit-driven global economy and the accumulation of Greek debt. Things get more interesting at approx 33:00 when the concept of odious debt is introduced, followed by examples of how countries like Equador have been able to write down most of their national debt.

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The new era of ‘non-disciplinarity’?

Slush 2011: Shut up and grow – Mark Zuckerberg

A quick summary: this rather long blog posting deals with structural changes that are currently going on in cultural funding organisations and other institutions, how they are trying to get rid of different specific disciplines in the name of ‘innovation’.

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The decision to name the new Aalto University School as ‘Aalto University School of Arts and Creativity’ came as a shock for many people. This new university is a combination of University of Art and Design and the architecture department of University of Technology. According to press release, the new name was needed since “the concept ’art and design’ in the current name has strong associations with the past”.

The petition to reconsider the name bring up some of the grave problems that arise from choosing such a vague name for a university. This blog posting tries to deal with this one: “A degree/research with an ‘arts & creativity’ school does not point out to any specific skill or knowledge in any specific discipline”.

One could say that ‘it’s just a name’ – that having a new name for the university should not cause any significant problems for the art, design and architecture community associated with Aalto University. But there is more at stake here than just the name – as stated in the Aalto press, the name symbolises the “amalgamation and the multi-disciplinary nature of Aalto University”.

The transformation that is going on in Aalto University resembles the process that already took place in Nordic art/culture scene and the on-going process to change the structure of Art Council of Finland. These ambitious endeavors try to deal with genuine problems and respond to changing times, but it seems that the captains of this process are not sure about how this new ship should be navigated. In fact, a key aspect seems to be that the captains should let go of their control – that academic and cultural institutions should eagerly respond to the whims of darwinistic forces such as trends in international business. If this is the case, then my prediction is that instead of becoming more innovative and competitive, the institutions will just focus on short-term goals and try to imitate what others are doing.

The Nordic ‘utveckling’

In the Nordic region, there used to be four organisations dedicated for specific forms of art – Nifca (contemporary art), NordScen (performing arts), Nomus (music) and Nordbok (literature). In the end of 2006 these organisations were closed down and replaced by Nordic Culture Point, an organisation which administers several funding programmes. The ones who were lobbying for shutting down the old organisations had the opinion that in today’s world the barriers between disciplines have become so blurry that they should no longer be enforced by administration.

The biggest one of the funding programmes is the Culture and Art Programme which in 2011 will give out 2 032 930 EUR of funding. The keyword of this funding programme is ‘utveckling’ – ‘innovation’ or ‘development’. Projects which are new (have not been started yet) and have some innovative quality (the applicants can themselves explain how they are innovative) can receive funding. I know this programme pretty well since I was a member of the Art and Culture Programme Expert Committee between 2007-2009.

This new system has two clear benefits. Since many organisations were closed down, the money that used to go to salaries of people can now be used to support individual projects. Also, a larger variety of organisations can receive financial support, as long as they create a project that does some ‘utveckling’.

But there are also downsides. Previously, there used to be organisations which were lead by experts of a specific discipline. These people were active contributors to their own fields. If you had an idea you could go and have a chat with these people and similarly if there was a problem, it was clear who was in charge.

In the new system all this is different. Nordic Culture Point is made up of administrators who just have to focus on administration – they have specifically been denied any comments or contributions to the funding decisions. Also the members of the Expert Committees cannot take any active role – they are not supposed to be in touch with the applicants and it’s not possible to appeal against individual decisions. So, in terms of an agenda related to a specific discipline, there is no one who you could talk to. This is understandable since the new system is not supposed to have any such agendas. It’s all about ‘utveckling’ and a few other concepts such as ‘communication’ and ‘Världen i Norden – Norden i Världen’ (‘The Nordic Region in the World – the World in the Nordic Region’).

The other problem is that there is no longer any support for longer term processes. If you manage to get support to realise a project and it turns out the be a success, it is not possible to get support for the continuation – it’s no longer new and thus no longer about ‘utveckling’. There is another Nordic culture foundation – the Nordic Culture Fund – but they also only support individual, one-off projects.

One could say that a third problem is that the expert committee does not have expertise to handle applications coming from many diverse disciplines of art and culture. The current expert committee seems to have strong biases – out of 8 people there are two theatre directors and two people focused on music. But in the logic of the new system this is not a problem – since knowledge of a specific discipline is no longer necessary for making decisions.

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Helsinki WDC programme announced

Most of the Helsinki World Design Capital 2012 programme was announced today and this will help us to focus the activities of Alternative Design Capital. The details of the programme can be found from this pdf (6MB, available in Finnish only at the moment).

What became clear from the official announcement event was that the cities themselves want to open up and in the context of Helsinki WDC they have initiated many projects that they wouldn’t normally be engaged in. This is very positive. It’s also positive that the project brings together cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Lahti and Kauniainen. The mayors of these cities were the main stars of the event and they gave their own quite distinct views on Helsinki WDC project.

The main problem of Helsinki WDC can be found by studying the programme pdf in more detail. A great majority of all the contact persons mentioned are from big institutions: cities, universities, libraries and big companies. Many of these projects also involve small companies, non-profit organisations and individual people, but it is the big institutions who have the upper hand in the process and it is them who also get the main credit. So, for ADC it’s important to focus on supporting small, independent initiatives and voices.

I also appreciated the comments given by mayors of Espoo (Jukka Mäkelä) and Vantaa (Kari Nenonen). Jukka Mäkelä said that Helsinki WDC should engage the citizens better and also should aim for stronger and bolder visions in terms of city planning, involving the best designers. He was referring to the time when car-free Tapiola garden centre was planned in 50s and 60s – that we should think how this vision should be upgraded to correspond to today’s world.

Concerning the design challenges in Vantaa, Kari Nenonen dared to mention also issues that are not easy and positive, such as high unemployment rate, segregation and ‘syrjäytyminen’, the fact that for various reasons many people have become isolated from the society. These are examples of complex problems that cannot be fixed with a single design solution but require a lot of collaboration between various actors in the society.

Here are the key slides and the mayors:

Information wants to be free, but on the other hand…

I just learned today that when Steward Brand said ‘Information wants to be free’, he also said something else:

“Information wants to be free” (IWTBF hereafter) is half of Stewart Brand’s famous aphorism, first uttered at the Hackers Conference in Marin County, California (where else?), in 1984: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

From http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/may/18/information-wants-to-be-free