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Transatlantic Trade Agreement Could Spell Disaster for Culture

An anti-TTIP mural in Malmö, Sweden (photo by Johan Jönsson, via Wikimedia Commons)
An anti-TTIP mural in Malmö, Sweden (photo by Johan Jönsson, via Wikimedia Commons)

We all know about NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, but TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being brokered between the United States and European Union, has received some attention in Europe and remarkably little in the US. The Partnership, which has been under development since 2013 and isn’t expected to be in place until next year, is aimed at facilitating trade between the two unions. It would streamline national and international regulations and make it easier for companies from one region to do business in the other. Measures up for inclusion in TTIP, which is being hashed out in closed-door meetings from which the press and watchdog organizations have been barred, would discourage governments from introducing any legislation that might negatively affect companies’ profits — even laws intended to ensure the safety of consumers and the environment — and would enable corporations to sue governments that did pass such measures. But what does TTIP have to do with art?

“TTIP certainly does not mean the end of creativity,” jazz musician Angelika Niescier told the Goethe Institut earlier this year. “However, the situation of non-mainstream art is difficult enough and will get worse. A very important part of culture risks being marginalized, which could affect the vitality of niche genres. ”

The Partnership has come under criticism from many in the European cultural sector not only for its wholesale privileging of corporate over social and environmental interests, but also for the potential threat it poses to the various cultural funding models of the participating countries, however fraught they may already be. Specifically, European artists are concerned that a model like the one that exists in the US — with artists catering to the market, taking second jobs, and relying on grants from private foundations — could become the standard across all TTIP countries, while the inverse transmission of cultural funding models — with the US adopting a more European system and increasing the level of public funding to the arts — seems utterly improbable.

“Small arts organizations in the US place an emphasis on individual donations and private foundation support, which is perhaps a by-product of the lack of substantial government support,” Ryan Muncy, a New York-based saxophone player, told the Goethe Institut. “Adopting a publicly funded approach for the arts in the United States would require a significant shift in societal thinking  not just concerning art, but attitudes toward taxation and a general discussion of the government’s responsibility to support or provide critical services.”

In addition to voicing their fears over how TTIP may undermine public funding for the arts, artists in Europe have been trying to draw any attention they can to the enormous but relatively under-the-radar trade agreement. The group Artists Against TTIP was formed by British theater director Carrie Cracknell and includes actor Mark Rylance, designer Vivienne Westwood, and musician Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens), and author Natasha Walter. The group recently released a video explaining its opposition to the Partnership.

A petition to “Stop TTIP” that is circulating among citizens of the European Union has thus far garnered over 2.2 million signatures, underlining that opposition to the Partnership is coming from all sectors, not just the arts.

“There is absolutely no reason to believe that TTIP will make it possible for the starving and uneducated in developing countries to have better opportunities in life,” Olaf Zimmermann, the Director of the German Council for Cultural Affairs, said in a statement last month. “Globalizing the markets does not free the poor from their misery. On the contrary, globalized markets simply make the rich even richer. And for this reason, the fight against TTIP isn’t just about keeping fixed prices for books, about being able to use public funding to secure the welfare of cultural institutions in the future, about the continued existence of public broadcasting, or about the multitude of small businesses in the cultural sector in Germany, who can do very little to counter unbridled competitive pressure from large American multinational media companies. It’s about so much more!”

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