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Creative Time Releases a Statement About the 2012 Summit Boycott

by Hrag Vartanian on November 16, 2012

Members of Tidal Journal addressing the Creative Time Summit boycott from the stage at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU on Friday, October 12, 2012. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

On October 12, during Creative Time’s 2012 Summit we liveblogged the evolving boycott over what some people were calling a “partnership” with an Israeli organization that received funds from the Israeli government. The hip hop duo Rebel Diaz was the first to announced their withdrawal from the two-day conference but soon after their announcement others, including hip hop artist The Narcicyst (aka Yassin Alsalman), who was initially confirmed to participate in a Dubai-based event related to the Creative Time Summit, and Mosireen, who was slated to participating in a Saturday workshop in New York, also withdrew. The boycott was the subject of commentary by a number of participants at the Friday conference itself, and one presenter, Josh MacPhee, even devoted his entire presentation time to discussing the issue. If you’re interested in more details from the day, please read our liveblog.

Now the venerable arts nonprofit has released a statement regarding the event and it addresses the claims by the boycotters, as articulated by Electronic Intifada. The letter, which is signed by Creative Time president Anne Pasternak, was emailed to Summit Attendees today.

Here is the text in full:

Dear Summit Attendees:

We are thrilled that you were able to attend Creative Time’s 2012 Summit. Thank you for listening, thinking, and talking about wealth inequity with us.

The Summit always inspires us to think more deeply about the most timely current events and issues, and this year was no exception. If you haven’t already, please give us your feedback, as we rely on your comments in shaping future conferences, and we’re already making big plans for 2013. We hope you will join us again next year!

As you may know, we were faced with an unexpected but important conversation at this year’s Summit, when two of the scheduled presenters, in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which includes a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, withdrew in protest over the inclusion of the Israeli Center for Digital Art (ICDA) as one of the Summit’s “in-depth partners.” An animated conversation about the BDS ensued, occurring not only at the Summit itself but also via social-media platforms. It was engaging, and passionate, and reflective of diverse views. However, it also included some inaccuracies about the Summit — e.g. that it was sponsored by the Israeli government, or that ICDA was a funder, as well as inaccuracies about the ICDA itself — and so we wanted to write to you to ensure that the record is accurate, as well as to let you know how we dealt with the issue at the time and what we continue to do.

For nearly forty years, Creative Time has been devoted to art that engages public spaces, public issues, and the public itself. The free exchange of ideas, even unpopular ones, is a foundational principle of everything we do, because we believe that maintaining an open forum for dialogue is critical to advancing art, promoting social change, and building healthy democracies. In fact, this was evident at the Summit itself, where presenters were free to diverge from their original topic and weigh in with their views about the BDS, providing our audiences with unanticipated but important and timely dialogue. We respect all artists for acting on their political convictions.

As anyone who has faced similar situations knows, it is difficult to get ahead of the curve when something like this happens. In this case, the situation was complicated by the fact that we were not privy to some conversations occurring on social networks during the days leading up to the conference, as well as during the event itself. While we would have liked to participate in all the discussions that were taking place and to do so quickly, we were also determined to do so responsibly, which mandates learning about a range of important issues, histories, and views. We continue that process of listening and learning, and hope you will agree that what follows reflects our serious commitment to engage in today’s issues with care.

First, Correcting the Record

Summit Partners

Every year, Creative Time works to disseminate the ideas explored at its Summit to the broadest possible audience around the world, and offers streaming at no cost to all, including arts and activist organizations, educational institutions, and individuals. This year, streaming sites were located in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, Israel, and the Arab world. In a spirit of inclusion and collegiality, we have called those who stream the Summit our “partners.” Each year, some streaming partners also invite artists, activists, curators, and critics to present their own talks and discussions. Creative Time has referred to these organizations, which this year included ICDA, as “in-depth partners.” (When we received information about their events in time, we identified our in-depth partners as such on the Summit website.) Some interpreted our use of the term “partners” to mean that those organizations were funders of the Summit. Again, this was not the case.

Revised Language on our Website

After lengthy conversations, and at the urging of some of our presenters, on October 10 we revised our website to provide greater clarity and transparency about the nature of our streaming “partners” by replacing the word “partners” with “sites” and “in-depth partners” with “screening and discussion sites.”

Role of ICDA

The Israeli Center for Digital Art was one of the nearly forty valued organizations worldwide that screened the 2012 Summit free of charge, as it did in 2011, and one of those that also organized related talks and/or workshops. To learn more about ICDA, visithttp://www.digitalartlab.org.il/Index.asp.

Summit Funding

The Summit did not receive any funds from the Israeli government or the Israeli Center for Digital Art. A complete list of funders for the 2012 Summit may be found on our website, at  http://creativetime.org/summit/overview/. We are very grateful to them all.

Creative Time’s Immediate Actions 

Some of the actions we took immediately included:

  • As events unfolded, we had numerous conversations — in person and via phone — in an effort to learn what was taking place, understand all perspectives, get the facts straight, and try to ensure that information being disseminated by others was factually correct;
  • The morning of the Summit, I revised my opening remarks to inform our audiences (both in-person and online) about our core principles—namely that the Summit has always been a place for the free exchange of ideas;
  • We developed and posted on our website a statement of the principles on which we base our actions, which include disseminating information to the broadest possible audience, regardless of geographic, socioeconomic, or racial barriers;
  • Importantly, we welcomed open dialogue at the Summit itself.

Moving Forward

The history and current reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is highly nuanced, and the diverse proposals for achieving peace and justice in the region are complex and varied.  We are therefore talking to people with various areas of expertise and conducting research in order to advance our learning and come to a deeper understanding that will surely inform our work ahead.

As we do this, we will be guided by our core principles and our belief that art can create meaningful spaces for engaging difficult subjects, and that it is of great importance that we work to preserve the freedom of expression without which art and democracy cannot thrive. Therefore, while we respect and work to protect the right of anyone to participate in the BDS campaign, the Summit must continue to be a place of open dialogue, reflecting the role of cultural organizations in providing opportunities to interpret, share, and debate our histories and our ever more intertwined present.

Finally, I want to say that while what we faced at this year’s Summit was challenging, it also underscored that what we do at Creative Time matters deeply to our community, and I am glad for that.

As ever,
Anne

********************
Anne Pasternak
President and Artistic Director

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/brianmoz Brian Fernandes-Halloran

    Oh my gosh. This should be mandatory reading for everyone who attended the summit. Between this debacle and Mike Daisey’s talk, the theme of the event unfortunately became, “art ignores reality” . We as artists can confront pressing social issues without loosing our credibility if we truly want to.

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