And the ZEMOS98 Festival drowned

And the ZEMOS98 Festival drowned

Seventeen years. This is what we have achieved. We are going to say this bluntly: the next festival will be the last ZEMOS98 Festival. We are shutting down. This is what it has come to. We are worn out and sad. But we will use our remaining energy, like we have always done, to try to make our final meeting on 15 to 18 April the best possible edition, despite the conditions we find ourselves in.

From the start, the Festival has been the emblem of our project. The spirit was always the same: learning with people involved in interesting things. A very simple rule that has been in effect, year after year. With right decisions and wrong ones, we wanted to program content that is not usually seen in our city. To make it so people who do not usually have a chance to meet have the time and space to do so here in the south. But now this is over, at least for us. The good news is that, despite the crisis and the precariousness, even despite its leaders, Seville today is a city that is full of interesting projects. We will continue here, but involved in other matters.

The Spanish state is going through a democratic revolution. Actively experiencing and witnessing the efforts of so many people to achieve a political transformation has led us to reconsider where and how we want to place our hopes and efforts. Although we speak as proponents of culture and, for a long time, we may have defended the position of intermediaries between institutions and the citizenry, we are aware of what the priority is now: to revive the institutions so that a change can be brought about in the way in which our lives are managed. For that reason, we will not take a single step back. With this text we want to contribute to the deconstruction of a management model for cultural policies that, we are hoping, has its days numbered.

Institutional Dismissiveness and Precarization of Cultural Practices

Our displeasure did not simply spring up from one year to another; it has been a long accumulation of affronts, neglect, apathy and economic losses. Those who know us know that we are prone to self-criticism, so we accept that part of the story of this farewell is our own fault. However, those who know us can also testify to the countless number of times we have tried to rethink our festival model and how, through all of that, the response from the institutions has been increasingly disappointing. Each year has been more difficult. For six years we’ve been in a process of constant decline in terms of not only economic and monetary support but also other types of assistance. Make no mistake: this cannot be solved with more money. To put it simply: there is no cultural policy. That is the debate that we would like to start.

We have always made our work public, with all kinds of content released under licenses that allow free access and reuse of videos, books, photos, audio, etc. We have also contradicted ourselves, and we have never denied that. The ZEMOS98 Festival is a non-profit project where the process has always mattered more to us than the results. We prefer building relationships over covering spectator fees, generating networks over having an impact. Moreover, we have always made up for the lack of money with our own lives. For us, the festival has always been a political project in which, unfortunately, we have lost a lot of money. Money that we are still paying to this day. We need a deeper reflection regarding how non-profit projects end up becoming personal “profit loss” projects.

Our funding is not based on private entities. In recent years, 90% of our budget has come from public institutions. The budgetary framework we worked with at the time of the project’s greatest economic sustainability (2008) was worth €211,000. The 10th ZEMOS98 Festival was an international success, with 30 guests from 10 countries and 20 activities that were open to the public. The in-flow of people, which has remained practically unchanged–we have neither grown dramatically, nor lost audience–has been between 2,500 and 3,000 active people and 20,000 people involved digitally. The festival’s production team was made up of about 20 people during this period. Yes, 20 people hired for a few months. Since then, we have been facing one setback after another.

Some of these setbacks include:

  1. A lack of long-term commitment.The ZEMOS98 Festival is an activity that takes place every year. So why do we feel the need to re-explain what it is every year as if it were something new? Why can’t agreements be reached that could guarantee some fairly stable resources confirmed for periods of 3 to 5 years?
  1. Fees for cultural work. How does cultural work get paid for? Why are we almost always embarrassed to bring our precarity into negotiations? We believe that, generally, there is a trap when it comes to financing culture. Because, in the end, the one who comes out most affected is the entity that receives the money. Thirty to forty percent of the festival’s expenses go into hiring the staff responsible for producing the project. Why can’t these funds be properly allocated? Is there something wrong with presenting a payroll to prove an expense? Sometimes it is easier to pay a printing house than it is to pay the salary of the employee who handles communication with that printing house. We may not be motivated by profit, but we do need to live with a certain degree of dignity.
  1. Administrative clumsiness. With few exceptions, most institutions have led us on and posed problems that, over time, became real management problems. The instances are many but perhaps the most serious example has to do with a lethargy towards deadlines that has reached levels of illegality, often accompanied by phrases like “it is the administrative system’s fault”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’ll leave to your imagination a very common practice in this category: asking for detailed proof of expenses with invoices, without making the deposit of the aforementioned subsidy. Guess who wins: Exactly! The banks that the money has to be borrowed from in order to pay for the expenses of a subsidy that must be justified and whose deposit has not been paid.
  1. Political negligence. Political neglect can kill your project. In our case, we carried a debt of €18,000 because in 2010 a politician signed a letter of support and a document acknowledging the debt which we were never able to cover due to  a change of government. The new staff did not want to take responsibility because the administrative records were disorganised. We went to trial and the judge waived the City of the debt and encouraged us to go against the politician individually. When a politician holds a public office, does he not represent the institution? The politician disappeared and we had no money to engage in a second trial. We continue paying that debt to this day.


The exception of 2014 and our conditions for 2015

How the Festival has survived or how we have gotten here is easy to understand if you follow our trail: In 2012, we applied for a COOP57 loan worth €98,000 which was endorsed by 271 people and both national and international organizations. Like many other initiatives around us, we have had to lay ourselves off and become freelancers that charge per project (one of our proudest anti-precarious projects had been the ability to maintain the social security contributions of a stable group of people). This was at a time when up to 4 people were becoming parents.

In 2014 the festival had total revenues from local and regional Spanish institutions worth a total of €33,000. If we look back over 2008, our revenues were:

  • 2008 – €211,000
  • 2009 – €150,000
  • 2010 – €181,000
  • 2011 – €143,000
  • 2012 – €70,000
  • 2013 – €61,000
  • 2014 – €33,000


How was it possible to organise a Festival in 2014 with an 85% reduction in revenue compared to 2008? Here we meet the most recent and most ambivalent of the determinants: European support.

In 2012 we were fortunate enough to become part of the Doc Next Network. This network received a European grant thanks to the leadership and support of the European Cultural Foundation in developing a project called “Remapping Europe“. That project was designed to take advantage of the ZEMOS98 Festival as one of the most interesting events organized by network partners, and it seemed like the ideal place to celebrate their final activities: an international meeting, a book presentation and a Live Cinema show that has traveled all over Europe. A total of €150,000 was pledged for that year and for those activities. But we insist, only for that year and in a circumstantial manner. We made this clear to the institutions. Its response was painfully predictable: a lack of foresight and lack of commitment.

For these reasons and because we did not have European assistance like the previous year in September 2014, we decided to summon the entities that still support the festival to pitch the following message to them: “For less than €60,000 the festival cannot take place” (an amount we thought we could raise 60% of locally and 40% of internationally). After enduring the weary and relaxed pace imposed on us by these institutions whenever we attempted to dialogue with them, eventually the support from the Spanish entities came out to €55,000 and a commitment to “seek more money between all of us.” That was on December 18th. Once more, we were running late. But we decided to go ahead and, at the last minute, we managed to link it to the European project we are carrying out this year. This time, however, we were only able to raise a contribution of €21,500. We arrived at a total of €76,500 after including Spanish and international entities. We decided that, even though we could not reach the minimum we had imposed, we would go ahead and fight to the end to get some more funding.

After rushing through the month of January and beginning the planning of an international event with 80 guests from outside Seville, on February 19th we received devastating news. One of the institutions that had committed to contributing €32,000 (not on paper, of course–why would anyone put such a thing in writing and on time?) finally told us it would be reduced to €24,000. Paradoxically, the contribution is greater than the previous year; but what good is it if the figure drops by 25% barely two months before the festival? Moreover, one of the people who had promised to support us resigned at the same time that the Andalusian elections were being held. His successor has yet to answer our phone calls. Thus, we were left with a €12,000 hole in one week. The fact that we received more money than last year left us little room to complain or call off the Festival, since many other projects have not even been able to recover contributions from previous years. So going forward, we can no longer tolerate these kinds of issues: there will be no ZEMOS98 Festival in 2016.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Disrespect and constant belittling of our work seem to have no limits among the institutions, which are quite aware of our weakness. They know that if they keep us in a painful state of precariousness we will not complain. But honestly, this is not just about money. There are professionals working within cultural institutions that have always strived to be concerned about what we do, giving us reasonable deadlines, assisting and accompanying us throughout the process. Many politicians and public managers simply do not understand that resource management problems are not only solved by allocating budget items. Sometimes, counting on €1,000 with 9 months of advance notice can be more useful than finding out that you have €2,000 one month prior to the activity. Sometimes, a discussion about content and the relationships between institutions are more valuable than financial contributions. And these are things that we have not seen in Spain in a long time.

We are drowning, but we are dissolving into the tide

Beyond the contributions and the situation of the ZEMOS98 Festival, who truly cares about the sustainability of cultural projects? Is there such a thing as partners who manage budgets for culture and are qualified to make decisions? Are there managers who are actually worried about the ridiculousness of confirming a budget with less than two months’ advance notice and the argument that “no news is good news”? Who actually cares for cultural projects that engage with the social situation in Spain and Europe? Is it possible to continue defending culture as a tool for social transformation and not as mere entertainment? What will happen if we depopulate our cities and towns of the people who have cultural ideas and interests that are not exclusively hegemonic ones?

We never liked the idea that “the crisis is an opportunity.” It seems like a phrase designed more for the shareholders of a large bank than for precarious workers. Certainly, we hope that this death will lead us to reflection, and in turn take us to another place. One where we can organise content linked to free culture, independent and experimental audiovisual work or education that expands and goes beyond the limits of formal education. A place where we can defend culture as a research process that is geared towards collective learning. A place where care takes the center stage. A place to think of ourselves and to recreate. A place where we can carry out our modest and laborious work: culture. If you know of any place, let us know–we still need to earn a living.

During our festivals, we experienced incredible moments, like watching the Mexican writer Fran Ilich cross the Atlantic Ocean to come to a village festival organised with less than €600. We were thrilled when we saw DJ Spooky remake the history of racism, filling 600 seats at the School of Engineering during the first edition we did in Seville. We saw Peter Greenaway video-jockeying at the Lope de Vega Theatre. We got to meet filmmakers from over 50 countries as they exhibited their work at our festival. We had once-in-a-lifetime experiences like seeing Israel Galván perform with Fernando Terremoto and Orthodox. Dat Politics made us jump from our seats at the Alameda Theatre. We saw Ronaldo Lemos listening attentively to Jesus Martín Barbero as he spoke about expanded education. We saw all that remains to be done in the field of care, the commons and copylove. We scheduled a workshop with the son of Augusto Boal. We published a book about remixing in which people from all eras dialogue with one another, like Wu Ming, Lawrence Rassel or Mar Villaespesa. We listened to Marina Garcés as she presented her audiovisual source code. We felt less alone thanks to the Ateneu Candela, the ETCS cooperative or Patio Maravillas. Friends from around the country infected us with their laughter. We shared projects, hopes and life with Colaborabora,ZZZINC, the PRPC Tramallol La Carpa DNN  and many others who, though they are not cited here, we hope feel represented. We uploaded thousands of texts, photos and videos of the Festival.

We will not bid farewell without saying thank you. Thanks to the people that have attended one or ten times, in person or digitally. Thanks to the people who came to exhibit their work. Thanks to the people who worked overtime to bring us each and every one of the 17 editions. Thanks to the few people from the institutions who actually understand us. Thanks to our families, for always being there, for supporting us emotionally and financially. Thank You.

For many of us, the history of the ZEMOS98 Festival is the story of our lives. For this reason we want to bid farewell with a message. We are drowning, yes, but as Belén Gopegui says, we are doing it “to become snow, to become rain, to become a tide.” We will see you in the future.

Picture above: Julio Albarrán – 14th ZEMOS98 Festival

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