with AIM Network

The AIM Network (Artists’ Initiatives’ Meetings Network) was initiated to establish contacts, exchange knowledge and organize meetings between artists’ initiatives throughout Europe. In our interview with the network coordinators, Andreas Ribbung and Alice Máselníková, we had the opportunity to talk about their recent networking event AIM Plovdiv 2019, which took place last month in Bulgaria, and learn more about how AIM has been set up and what role it can play in building a strong network between artists’ initiatives, both young and established, across Europe. 

Since 2011, AIM Network (Artists’ Initiatives’ Meetings Network) has organized several network meetings, exhibitions and events all over Europe and produced a publication. Can you tell us more about your understanding of the function of such a network of European artists’ initiatives and why do you think it was important to establish it?

AIM Network: To explain this, it is good to first understand that artist-run initiatives are usually launched on an enthusiasm-basis, and often they continue to function in such a way, driven by the passion of its members and operating with limited time and budget. For this reason, they can end up having quite a limited audience and connections. It is difficult to connect with spaces in different cities or internationally if there is no time or means to work on it properly.

AIM Wroclaw 2016 – Politics of Collaboration_photo alicja kielan(1)
AIM Wroclaw 2016 – Politics of Collaboration. Photo: Alicja Kielan

AIM Network works as a connecting platform for artist-run initiatives who are otherwise unaware of each other, or would never get to meet. We feel that it is a great loss that there is such limited contact in the artist-run scene when we could all benefit so much from meeting and exchanging information, both as artists and organizations. 

The incentive behind starting the network was then above all to connect the artist-run initiatives internally and to raise the visibility of the artist-run sector for the public. We serve as a point for sharing professional experience and knowledge about different artist-run spaces and their different working methods. We facilitate physical meetings for our members and for invited initiatives, predominantly from neighboring countries, in order to introduce them to each other and to the network.

AIM Wroclaw 2016 – Politics of Collaboration_photo alicja kielan
AIM Wroclaw 2016 – Politics of Collaboration. Photo: Alicja Kielan

The network currently has eleven artist-run member spaces from across Europe and you actively involve other artist-run spaces. What does it mean to be a member and how can one get involved?

AIM Network: The members of AIM Network are invited to meetings and projects, usually one or two every year. In the past three years, we have been focusing on connecting our events with the European Capitals of Culture as a way to connect the artist-run sector with public art and programs. From the beginning, we chose to have a smaller number of network members and instead focus on the quality and frequency of the meetings. Nevertheless, at the moment we actually decided to expand the network and invite several new initiatives to become members.

Painting workshop by Gideon Smilansky from Artist-Run Alliance at AIM Planning meeting in Plovdiv, 2018, photo_ Mariko Hori
Painting workshop by Gideon Smilansky from Artist-Run Alliance at AIM Planning meeting in Plovdiv, 2018, photo: Mariko Hori

Aside from organizing and producing events AIM Network also functions as a framework for any of our member spaces to apply for additional funding or realize a project of their own. Last but not least, we work as an information channel and the members can share opportunities, open calls, and information on our website and social media. We also cooperate with two online artist-run maps, the Artist-Run Alliance and Alternative Art Guide, who are doing a great job at placing artist-run initiatives on the public map. 

Could you tell us more about some of the individual members, how they differ from each other and how you work together?

AIM Network: If you look at the network you can see that the diverse members of AIM really reflect the variety of artists’ initiatives that exist. Some are run by one person or a small group, whilst others are large organizations with an exhibition space or residency program and organize exhibitions on a regular basis. They also vary in terms of their internal structure and length of existence: whether well-established spaces running for many years in the same venue, or more informal and flexible initiatives that change their physical location or even their name and direction over the years. Either way, all of them have substantial experience in the artist-run sector, with which they contribute to the network’s activities. The variety of members in the network, their knowledge and skills make it possible to reflect on the differences and similarities in each country’s art contexts. The member organizations also provide valuable connections to local initiatives and new partners.

Planning meeting AIM Plovdiv 2018, photo_ Mariko Hori
Planning meeting AIM Plovdiv 2018. Photo: Mariko Hori

At the moment the network is coordinated from Stockholm by the member space Candyland, but each of our events or meetings is organized in cooperation with the hosting member in the country where the event takes place.

AIM Plovdiv 2019 – Local Connections took place from 1 to 10 June 2019 in Bulgaria. It offered a range of events including public workshops, panel discussion, guided tour, and an exhibition. How was the event set up and how does it relate to the network’s long term program?

AIM Network: AIM Plovdiv 2019 was organized by AIM Network from Stockholm together with Water Tower Art Fest, one of our member organizations, and supported by Plovdiv 2019 European Capital of Culture. Water Tower Art Fest is based in Sofia, but for the event, we connected with coordinators from Plovdiv and we were working closely with the administration of Plovdiv 2019 ECOC, who provided us with our main venue and PR support.

Presentation by the fridge from Sofia at AIM Plovdiv 2019_photo Todor Nenov
Presentation by the fridge from Sofia at AIM Plovdiv 2019. Photo: Todor Nenov
Printing and flâneur workshop by Marcos Vidal Font, AIM Plovdiv 2019, photo_ Todor Nenev
Printing and flâneur workshop by Marcos Vidal Font, AIM Plovdiv 2019,. Photo: Todor Nenev

During the ten days, we managed to include a variety of activities, each of them with the purpose to combine a professional exchange of ideas with a public program, and at the same time reach out to the artistic community through social media.

The program consisted of an internal part — meetings and presentations for the invited artist-run initiatives, workshops, activities and social events — as well as a public part, which included public presentations, a panel discussion, and exhibition.

What kind of outcomes or outputs are important for you when you organise an event on this scale?

AIM Network: There are several key points that we focus on in all our events, despite the scale of it, although of course some of them are easier to pursue in large-scale events with a public outcome and some in the internal meetings. Overall, our key program items could be summarised in three points, which are: a) To strengthen individual artists’ initiatives and create spin-off effects through mobility and exchange of experience and knowledge; b) Enhance the visibility of the self-organized art scene among the public through connection with other events and organizations and c) Introduce and connect new artist-run initiatives from a more varied geographic spectrum with focus on active in-depth engagement of local/regional spaces.

Performance by Daisuke Takeya at AIM Plovdiv 2019, photo_ Todor Nenev
Performance by Daisuke Takeya at AIM Plovdiv 2019. Photo: Todor Nenev

We always try to involve all invited spaces in a joint activity such as collective workshops or producing an exhibition. Most of the people in the network and the invited guests are artists themselves, and it is so interesting and important to get to know about each others’ artistic practice, and if possible see it realized in real life. 

The theme of the AIM Meetings was ‘local connections’. What does it mean for the relationships with the European network that you are building? You mention that you work with the concept of ‘large-scale local’ – what is it and can you provide some examples? How can such a network connect to local networks and what is the importance of this connection?

AIM Network: It can become a bit tricky with international or European networks and projects of any kind if they fail to keep in mind their specific local contexts and issues. We are a network of artist-run spaces from different backgrounds and of various natures and that is what gives the meaning to uniting and working together.

Participants of AIM Plovdiv 2019_photo Todor Nenov
Participants of AIM Plovdiv 2019. Photo: Todor Nenov

The ‘large-scale local’ concept works from the idea of connecting local artist-run initiatives with those from surrounding regions and neighboring countries. What it means in practice was demonstrated in the event in Plovdiv, where we hosted local spaces from Plovdiv, regional artist-runs from Sofia and then guests from Greece, Romania, Turkey, and Macedonia. These initiatives had never met, or had barely known each other before.
We also keep track of the initiatives after the completion of each event, promote them and further introduce them, as well as involve some of them in other events.

One of the key objectives of the AIM Network is to exchange skills and knowledge and discuss common problems of the artist-run sector from different perspectives within an open process from which everyone can benefit. Could you elaborate on this and give some examples of your learning/teaching methods?

AIM Network: One of the positives about a network like AIM is the huge amount of different skills and experience that is accumulated amongst all its members and invited guests. Thanks to this, we can offer a program that is educative and inclusive, both for our different members and the public, and we also use the potential that is specific to artist-run initiatives – that is, that we are artists.

Meeting at AIM Plovdiv 2019_photo Todor Nenov
Meeting at AIM Plovdiv 2019. Photo: Todor Nenov

During our events, we usually combine presentations and focused round table discussions with workshops and activities of different kinds. The workshops can vary from hands-on creative sessions, such as printmaking or drawing, to discussion workshops or team-building activities. This is accompanied by visits to local studios and exhibitions, informal meetings and dinners. Altogether, the goal is to create an opportunity for an in-depth meeting between the participants.

The network started to develop an online map of artist-run spaces, but you abandoned the idea after a couple of years and now focus on physical meetings and activities. Why is it that you chose this format?

AIM Network: Initially we made a pilot map that would gather and connect artist-run spaces in their different locations, but we wanted to solve some important issues before launching it. We knew that other maps have been made before and they became inaccurate and outdated after only a couple of years. We identified some of the major issues, such as how to make a relevant selection of artists’ initiatives and how to keep the database updated once it is up. Eventually, we decided that instead of launching our own map we would promote and cooperate with two similar mapping projects who had already launched their maps, the Artist-Run Alliance and Alternative Art Guide. We wrote about the issues that we pinpointed during this process in our publication ‘Artists’ Initiatives Meetings’ with the hope that it can be useful for anyone who creates a similar platform.

Alice Máselníková and Andreas Ribbung with new AIM Network brochure, 2019. Photo_ Andreas Ribbung
Alice Máselníková and Andreas Ribbung with new AIM Network brochure, 2019. Photo: Andreas Ribbung

Our focus at the moment is to connect artist-run spaces through physical meetings to exchange knowledge and initiate further cooperation. One of our key beliefs is that there is a need to develop new methods for the transfer of knowledge and experience between artist-run initiatives. More structure and methodology can help new spaces by getting access to funding while they still have their initial energy. At the same time, already established initiatives can better cooperate, create stronger organizations and influence how cultural support is distributed.

What are your next projects after Bulgaria? We have noticed your future aims to cooperate more with the European Capitals of Culture. Why and which are the next ones? What opportunities do you see in these projects from the perspective of a network of artists’ initiatives?

AIM Network: At the moment we are in communication with Galway 2020 and Eleusis 2021 where we hope to host events similar to AIM Plovdiv 2019 – Local Connections. To be part of the public program of a European Capital of Culture is a big opportunity to address general audiences as opposed to it being very difficult if organizing an individual event. It also gives us internal insight to the locality where we hold the event, which is invaluable in terms of logistics, content, and issues that we address as well as local connections. 

More information on the AIM Network can be found here.