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What are the best texts on the politics of refusing "dirty money" in the arts?

The black money vortex

Ethical funding is a concern in the arts that we should all be well versed with, especially given the rise of corporate sponsorships and dwindling of public funding. It could be argued that accepting money from a “dirty” institution is tantamount to endorsing that institution.

Artist Jesse Darling recently made a blog post featuring a friend’s email who was deeply concerned with her participation in a Zabludowicz Collection event. It’s a well-conceived argument against collaborating with an institution that is a huge financial supporter of Israel. They write:

“I also think the boycott that is called for is more than a symbolic act, and that the role of the Zabludowicz collection in establishing an appearance of (critical) culture that buttresses a politics of outright barbarism and colonial violence really does need challenging by the artistic community.”

With that said, what are the most important texts about the politics of refusal of “dirty” money? What are some famous examples of this. Let’s make a reading list!

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Dirty money comes in many forms. As a Director of the Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice, currently located at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, I applied for funding from the City of New York. However, Union Theological Seminary, under whose name the application was made, changed the nature of my application so that we could be the recipient of money directly from a Councilperson’s fund, rather than going through the jury process. Since there was a conversation in advance between the Councilperson and someone at the Seminary, we were sure of getting the money, rather than undergoing a peer jury process. To my mind, that is dirty money. It is essentially money given as legal bribery, to get votes for the next round of elections. In the end, the reporting system was so complex that we never received the money. I was relieved, because I was not comfortable with the adjudication process (or lack of process). It was legalized favoritism, from my point of view.


I agree with you AA, and I think this is a specific issue that we can look to as a bridge between ethics/theory and practice, and one that so many people make ethical exceptions for.

I had the experience of being shortlisted for a prize with a theme: “Green Energy” that turned out to be funded by a company that not only is known for its dirty coal-burning power stations but was also at the time suing Greenpeace for 1 million euros. It only took me a minute on Google to discover this. I considered entering the competition and then doing something “green” with the money - but what could one do? Give it to Greenpeace for their legal fees, I suppose. However, reading the small print, I then discovered that the company reserved the rights to use anything from the artist’s proposal for publicity, whether they won the prize or not.

I found it very difficult to write a reply to the person who had proposed me for the prize, because of course I was flattered and I respected their judgement, but I did and they of course understood my position.

I would have definitely benefitted if there WERE texts dealing with refusing or publicising “dirty money” in the arts. One could of course ask: what is “clean money” ? I wish in a way that a public refusal was possible. Only acceptance is ever made public.

The only thing I can offer is a classic text about money (or lack of it) in the arts in general: Hollis Frampton’s famous (?) letter to MOMA.


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As I mentioned in another forum on Zabludowicz, it seems that the binary “dirty” and “clean” money is a false dichotomy and a not particularly useful route for finding an accountable socially-driven economic paradigm for the arts. All money in capitalist economies has provenance in some form of exploitation, whether it be on the scale of suppressed minimum wage or supplying lethal weapons for war. Similarly, both private and public actors are involved in such businesses, so once again the distinction is only useful in so far as “state” money is associated with being accountable to the state and its people, whereas private funding is associated with being accountable to the private donor and its agenda (although most private actors make claims to what are traditionally considered public agendas, while a lot of state money is used for hyper subjective practices that are only relevant to very small constituencies (which does have public benefit but a very private definition of publicness)). The real concern seems to be that the socio-economic organization of contemporary art is complicit with embedding neoliberealism as the inevitable (in part through CA’s constant critique of it). The best formulation of this argument that I am aware of is made by Suhail Malik in the lectures that he did at the Artist’s Space in 2013 and in his to be soon published book, On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art (http://urbanomic.com/pub_onartsexit.php).

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