Since The Evening School was launched at the same time as the general election campaign for the November 2001 election for the Danish Parliament, a number of neo-liberal/nationalist-conservative politicians took the opportunity to abuse the project as an example of Social-democratic mismanagement of public money. The allegation was that we had spent cultural money on alcohol, and that The Evening School wasn’t even art. At least not in the eyes of these politicians. The press was generally in support of the opposition’s attack, and we, the organizers, became trapped in the crossfire of a dirty political campaign. The course of events became a precursor to the later “culture-war” waged by the new government against cultural producers.
The following is to give an idea of the nature of this media-trip.
Excerpt of letter from Goll & Nielsen to Deadline, late September 2001 (Deadline is a weekly TV program on contemporary culture broadcasted on Danish TV channel DR 1)
Last week, Thor Pedersen from the neo-liberal party Venstre presented his party’s proposal for a fiscal policy for the state of Denmark. The proposal featured a wide range of budgetary cuts, one of which was to shut down Kulturministeriets Udviklingsfond (The Department of Culture’s Development Foundation). The argument was that this foundation allegedly has supported an evening school course in partying and drinking.
We are the organizers of the course in question, and the following is a short briefing of the story about how our art project The Evening School, which is supported by Kulturministeriets Udviklingsfond, was first misrepresented by the Danish newspapers Jyllandsposten, Ekstrabladet, and BT, then as a consequence ended up as part of the electoral rhetoric of Venstre, in this party’s attempt to create a political profile for their fiscal policy. We would like to get the opportunity, through a serious media, to explain to the public how these newspapers abused our art event for their own purposes. First, we wish to defend our project, which is a serious attempt to analyze the process of integration in the Sound Region. Next, and more important, we want to state our defense for Udviklingsfonden. This foundation has suffered undeserved critique by politicians who have not done even the most rudimentary research, before launching a public attack.
We are Goll & Nielsen (artist Morten Goll & curator Tone O. Nielsen) who organized The Evening School; an art project, which have appropriated the form of the public adult education in order to create a hybrid between art, research and public education. The goal of this project is to take a close look at the process of integration between Denmark and Sweden one year after the inauguration of the Oresound Bridge. The Evening School is a forum for the discussion of cultural and national identity, not just in the polarization of Danish and Swedish cultures, since the citizens of the region cannot be reduced to these two stereotype identities. The Evening School asks: who are we? What does integration mean? Can we use the newly established Sound Region to enable alternative identity models, which might suit us better? And, are there alternative ways of integration?
The Evening School opened on August 31, 2001 and runs through September 22, 2001 in Galleri Signal, Malmö, Sweden. It consists of 15 courses, lectures, performances, events, and workshops by artists, musicians, anthropologists, historians, activists, and architects that all in individual ways have worked with different regional problems. Apart from that, The Evening School features a national and cultural identity crisis center in which six artists/curators act as free counselors for the audience.
One of the courses in our program is called “Living it Up in the Sound Region – Alcohol in Theory and Practice.” This course was held on the two nights of August 31 and September 1. Its purpose was to investigate the Danes’ stereotype view of the Swedes’ drinking manners and vice versa. The Swedish daily newspaper, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, published an article about the course and soon after the Danish daily newspapers Jyllandsposten, Ekstrabladet, and BT, followed suit with articles that in our opinion were a misrepresentation of both the course in question as well as the project as such. These three newspapers reduced the entire evening school, (all the 15 different courses and the crisis center), to one single course in “drinking”. They claimed that the idea behind the course was to get drunk with taxpayers money and they claimed that all the 100.000,- Danish crowns (roughly 14.000,- Euro, which the project received from Kulturministeriets Udviklingsfond), were spent on this single course to cover alcohol expenses.
All three allegations are untrue. As already mentioned, the course in question was one out 15 courses, which in each their way deal with different topographical, social, cultural, geographical problems of the Sound Region. In our opinion, the differences between the ways the two cultures deal with alcohol are one of the sources of the worst stereotype ideas about “the other”. Second, the focus of the course was not “to get drunk”, but to analyze the differences and reasons behind the two countries’ alcohol politics. Third, the grant received from Kulturministeriets Udviklingsfond has not been used to buy any alcohol (as a matter of fact it is clearly stated in the course program that the participants will cover the cost of the various national drinks which they will be presented during the course.) Fourth, the DKK 100.000,- were spent, not on one single event, but on 15 courses, a Crisis Center, a 36-page program, flyers, posters, traveling expenses for the participants, etc.
We are appalled by the lack of research that professional journalists and editors display in this case. But we are even more appalled to realize how political programs are created on the basis of a series of lies orchestrated to enhance profit for the media. The party Venstre displays a completely scrupulous opportunist desire to turn any half-baked lie into the basis of their political program. We refuse to be abused and we are very concerned about the fate of Udviklingsfonden. Apparently, Venstre is such a willing victim of deception, that they demand the foundation shut down without even looking further into the facts.
This letter was sent to the TV station, which did not respond to our request to go public in a live debate with the politicians who attacked The Evening School. However, other newspapers, such as the Danish Politiken, the Swedish Dagens Nyheter and even Sydsvenska Dagbladet wrote positive reviews in which the “alcohol” course did not play a significant role. Also, the national radio station P3 aired interviews and comments in prime time news about the case. Due to P3’s sober approach, their coverage was a support to The Evening School as well as Kulturministeriets Udviklingsfond. Later in the year, the Scandinavian art magazine NU came out with an extremely positive review of the project.
Still, the neo-liberal party Venstre won a landslide victory in the national election for the parliament. One of the first things they did was to shut down Kulturministeriets Udviklingsfond.
Click to download (in Danish): bkf_project_04_allpages
Click to Download (in English): nu-review
Later Goll & Nielsen were invited to contribute to a show at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning in Copenhagen. The show dealt with Populism and we chose to display all the press coverage, and let it speak for itself.