On June 12, autonomous members of the Arts & Labor Alternative Economies subgroup took part in a presentation and public discussion with members of Haben und Brauchen, a Berlin-based group dedicated to examining the intersection of arts funding and urban development. The two groups came together to share organizational strategies and compare the differing conditions of artistic labor in Berlin and New York. A&L began the presentation with a slide talk summarizing the different arts and culture groups involved in Occupy Wall Street and an overview of the organizational structure of the movement at large; we then spoke about the work of A&L thus far and opened the room to questions. We discussed the space that OWS seemed to create for disparate groups on the left to come together, and learned about the self-critique in Berlin’s art world and the reactions to the political involvement in funding for the arts.
After the discussion, we went to meet with members of Kotti & Co, a group of local activists from Kreuzberg in the Kottbusser Tor neighborhood organizing against increasing rents and gentrification. The area is home to a mixed group of artists and other residents with Turkish, Tunisian, Circassian, German and Afghan roots. People from all backgrounds and professions have come together to fight rapid gentrification, displacement, city housing laws and financial policies. We sat down with members of Haben und Brauchen and one of the Kotti organizers and had a lively conversation about solidarity and how the cultural workers in Berlin can offer support. Kotti & Co. had set up a 24-hour protest camp where tea was served, musicians played and people passing by could learn how to become active. At midnight some of us went to the camp and stood by a discussion between locals and politicians. This discussion, coupled with Haben und Brauchen’s advocacy for arts funding through formal written address to political representatives, showed us how certain artists in Berlin were engaging in strategies much different from our approach in Arts & Labor. There was an attempt to engage with politicians directly to achieve specific goals and demands, a strategy that we and most OWS arts groups have not embraced. This also speaks to the different economic climates that we are working within, specifically a system that offers state support to artists versus one driven predominantly by private funding and the market.