This report was prepared jointly with the Ukrainian Institute and in partnership with CEC ArtsLink. The research was presented in November 2023 at the international ArtsLink Assembly 2023, where artists, curators and academics shared their thoughts on the future of the cultural sector globally and in Ukraine in particular.
Introduction and Research Methodology
The full-scale Russian invasion of 2022 increased the tendency of artists and cultural professionals, particularly from the field of visual arts, to leave Ukraine, which aggravates the problem of the loss of intellectual capital. Сultural institutions abroad and donors support Ukrainian cultural workers. At the same time, this support is mostly either crisis-oriented or aimed at their integration into the cultural space of other countries, rather than at preserving the integrity of the Ukrainian cultural field and building connections within it.
The purpose of the study is to describe and analyze the experiences of collaboration and the practice of forming and strengthening ties under these circumstances of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine between Ukrainian and institutions abroad and workers in the field of visual arts who left Ukraine more than two years ago or have a high level of transnational mobility. This study will also provide recommendations to cultural organizations outside Ukraine regarding the development of opportunities for supporting Ukrainian cultural workers in the field of visual art in order to maintain their connection with the Ukrainian cultural field.
- Identify existing practices of strengthening ties within the Ukrainian community in the field of visual arts.
- Determine how connections are formed between institutions in Ukraine and cultural actors who live abroad or those who live in Ukraine but have a high level of transnational mobility.
- Discover the prerequisites for cooperation between organizations abroad and Ukrainian institutions in the context of building connections within the Ukrainian intellectual field.
- Determine the factors that most affect cooperation.
- Find out how to build sustainable cooperation with Ukrainian cultural institutions.
We define the Ukrainian cultural field in the visual arts as a system of networks, connections, practices, and interactions between artists, communities, institutions, and other cultural workers who work with visual art and are related to the Ukrainian context but may be located outside Ukraine.
The study consisted of desk and field research, in which we applied a qualitative approach.
During the desk research, we studied the materials of the ArtsLink Assembly «Greener Grass? Cultivating Transborder Connections Between Ukrainian Cultural Communities», organized by the Ukrainian Institute (Kyiv, Ukraine) and CEC ArtsLink (New York, USA) on November 30 – December 2, 2022 in Warszawa, Poland. The research team processed the introductory part and key speech by Kateryna Botanova Everything Everywhere All at Once: Facing the Reality of Rebuilding Culture in Post-War Ukraine; presentations: Needs of Ukrainian culture during the war and recommendations for the next steps; Art Residencies’ Adaptation to New Challenges During the War; Activities of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation and the state of culture and creative industries during the war; International Experience, Part 1 and Part 2; Surviving by developing: Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund. 9 months and 9 days of action; presentation of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine; and the Independents Panel Discussion, NGOs Panel Discussion, Private Institutions Panel Discussion, Museums and State Institutions Panel Discussion and The NGO Community Panel Discussion.
The field research took place in August-September 2023. 12 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 4 groups of people from the visual arts sector, namely, 3 interviews with cultural workers who left Ukraine more than 2 years ago, 3 interviews with cultural workers with high transnational mobility, 3 interviews with representatives of cultural institutions that collaborate with Ukrainians who live abroad, and 3 interviews with representatives of cultural institutions that could collaborate with Ukrainians who live abroad, but do not do so. The main criterion for the selection of respondents was their experience in the area of visual arts and interaction with cultural workers in this field, in particular, after February 24, 2022. The presence in the sample of both individual cultural workers and representatives of institutions made it possible to understand the specifics of the Ukrainian cultural field from different perspectives. Conversations took place by video call and lasted on average 1 hour.
Limitations of the study
- This study is exploratory, since such studies in Ukraine which would pay attention to various aspects of connections within the Ukrainian visual arts field in particular, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, have not been conducted.
- The chosen methodology makes it possible to notice and describe the specifics, problems, and trends in connections within the Ukrainian intellectual field in the area of visual arts, at the same time, the research results cannot be extended to all representatives of this field.
- This study is not exhaustive, and the topics covered in it require further study and discussion.
- The project provided for a limited number of in-depth interviews, and therefore the formed sample of experts cannot claim to reflect all available experiences of representatives of the visual arts field.
- The research team did not conduct interviews with representatives of cultural institutions abroad, and therefore we cannot take into account and analyze their perspectives on the experience of cooperation with Ukrainian cultural actors.
Conclusions and Recommendations
There can be some caution in describing the Ukrainian cultural field as coherent. Instead, the connections within the field are more likely to be described as heterogeneous. Despite the lack of cohesion, participants in the Assembly and interviews acknowledged the importance of interaction and cooperation among Ukrainian cultural actors. The experience of living through the trauma of a full-scale war has contributed to the growing trend of Ukrainian cultural workers to unite.
A wave of rapid short-term support from cultural workers from abroad was provided to Ukrainian cultural actors at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. As a result, Ukrainian cultural workers were able to resume or continue their professional activities during times of crisis. The study participants considered such assistance to be important and necessary. Furthermore, after nearly two years of full-scale war, it has become even more urgent for Ukrainians to engage in long-term activities, programs and projects aimed at increasing their interaction with each other and with cultural actors from abroad.
There is also a need to establish cooperation with those who have left and who, especially after the start of a full-scale invasion, feel disconnected from the field and, as a result, may gradually lose contact with it.
This can be facilitated by programs and projects initiated by Ukrainian institutions, particularly those funded by external sources, aimed at enhancing cross-border interaction among Ukrainian cultural actors.
One of the conclusions of the study is the importance of local connections and communities, in particular physical spaces for uniting, creating and strengthening communities. Therefore, one of the key requests of the Assembly and interview participants was the creation and development of opportunities for networking, building solidarity networks, as well as offline communication between Ukrainians and Ukrainian institutions. In addition, it is important to maintain the policy of decentralization and the development of local institutions and initiatives located outside cultural centers such as Kyiv or Lviv.
One of the needs is the development of the subjectness and agency of Ukrainian cultural actors in the international cultural field.
This can be achieved through the reinforcement of Ukrainian cultural policy, ensuring the representation of Ukrainian artists not solely in exhibitions centered on the Russian war against Ukraine, but also through the active involvement of cultural workers in program activities organized by institutions abroad. It is also important for the strengthening of solidarity with Ukraine and the development of sensitivity to the context of the Ukrainian intellectual field among cultural workers from abroad.
Interaction with Russians is one of the most controversial issues. Most of the interview participants agreed that such interactions are impossible in today’s conditions. Therefore, projects that involve contact between Ukrainians and Russians, even participation in joint exhibitions or festivals, may be inappropriate and insensitive to Ukrainian cultural actors, at least until the victory of Ukraine and the full restoration of its territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders.
Recommendations for cultural workers from abroad, namely for national cultural institutions, national and international foundations, national and international NGOs:
- Maintaining long-term and sustainable programs to help Ukrainian cultural activists who were forced to leave after the start of the full-scale invasion. The priority beneficiaries of such programs should be representatives of vulnerable groups, in particular artists with children, LGBTQ+, and representatives of minority communities. These can be long-term residencies, scholarships or fellowships that last half a year to a year, or opportunities for employment in institutions abroad.
- Involvement of Ukrainians in the program work of cultural institutions abroad, such as museums, galleries, cultural centers, festivals, public or research organizations, for long-term cooperation. This will contribute to reducing the vulnerability of Ukrainian cultural workers abroad and, probably, in the future will help establish cross-institutional ties and partnerships with Ukrainian institutions. It can also have an impact on the transformation of the colonial vision and practices of institutions abroad regarding Ukrainian cultural actors, as well as increasing sensitivity to the Ukrainian context.
- Support of local institutions and projects initiated by institutions from small towns of Ukraine, forcibly displaced organizations or those located closer to the front line or the Russian border. This will provide resources to more vulnerable cultural workers, particularly those affected by full-scale war. It can also strengthen the development of local cultural ties and communities under decentralization policies.
- Support of platforms and activities aimed at networking with Ukrainian cultural actors in the field of visual art. These can be short-term trips to exchange experiences or thematic events, such as forums. Strengthening networking opportunities will contribute to the development and strengthening of ties within the Ukrainian intellectual field in the field of visual arts.
- Creation and maintenance of platforms for the exchange and presentation of information about activities abroad related to the Ukrainian context. This will contribute to the strengthening of ties between cultural workers who are abroad and cultural workers in Ukraine. In addition, it can help maintain the focus of Ukrainian artists living abroad on the Ukrainian context.
- Creating and maintaining opportunities for Ukrainian cultural workers who emigrated or left Ukraine after the start of the full-scale war to work with the Ukrainian context, for example, to participate in exhibitions or come to Ukraine for a residency. This will provide an opportunity for Ukrainian cultural workers to restore ties with the Ukrainian cultural field that were lost as a result of migration, to strengthen existing ties that may be gradually lost due to the lack of such opportunities, and to create new ones. It can also prevent Ukrainian cultural activists from dropping out of the Ukrainian cultural field.
- Development of practices of joint exchange of experience and networking between Ukrainian and cultural actors from abroad. These can be both short-term joint trips, in particular educational, and longer programs or residencies.
- It can also be multi-day networking meetings that bring together participants from Ukraine and other countries. This will help establish cooperation between Ukrainian and cultural workers from abroad and strengthen ties within the Ukrainian intellectual field.
- Creation and maintenance of opportunities for cultural workers from abroad to work with the Ukrainian intellectual field, in particular to come to Ukraine for exchange or residency programs. This will contribute to the establishment of international relations and partnerships. It can also create opportunities for a deeper understanding of the Ukrainian context.
During the war in Ukraine, we collect and analyse data on its impact on Ukrainian society, especially housing, education, social protection, and migration