Reflections on AFK and its funding application procedure

Few days ago Google suggested me to read a news article, Google is a good friend, if it spies, it is only because it cares. The article was published on 14th September 2020 in Het Parool, about the transparency of subsidy decisions by AFK. The writer of the article Rob IJsendijk makes some valid points and is convincing in his criticism. Since it only deals with the subsidies granted by AFK to cultural institutions, I thought of adding to it, my own views and experiences with AFK as an individual artist.

It is a common practice amongst close friends to sometimes brush upon the injustices suffered by them, of life in general and if artists then art world in particular. To some of us in Amsterdam, the best catharsis is provided by our beloved institution; AFK. It is not unusual to glumly joke about the process of writing the application for AFK for a grant, even by those who have or are already receiving it. Majorly because the wounds they received while going through the tedious process of the application are still fresh. It is a pain that is not easy to get rid of, since it takes some time to start respecting your self again after you have signed and submitted the application with the required demands and expectations in written.

During this application one is expected to provide reasons of the decisions in the process of making art in such details, that one falls into a chain reaction of giving the reasons of the reasons itself. Often, times are not in one’s favour and this explanation of an explanation of an explanation creates such a critical pattern of thought that it leads to doubting art as a profession in the first place. One can argue, that this can even be a positive aspect and success of the format of the application. I would not shy of even taking this argument a little further and would suggest, that if one is not satisfied with their current way of living, it is even a good idea to apply for the AFK application once a week for a year and soon somewhere in the process it is possible to achieve Nirvana; freedom from the endless suffering, as a result of the extinction of individual passion, hatred, and delusion.

The inner satisfaction that is felt deep inside your bones, provided by its ingenious formula of project grant to visiting viewer ratio (that even after your humblest of requirements, can easily reach to 50 euros per head) is hard not to appreciate. Never ever such profound use of algebra is seen in the history of art before. Where the value of “x” is always touching the embarrassing figures.

It is also one of the expectations by AFK to have other funding support beside itself for the same project (congratulation! that would give you a chance to write a few more applications as a Bonus). My dear fellows trust me, If I would have another grant to my disposal, I would not go through such a tedious application process at AFK, no matter how much JOY it provides. It would rather be easier to convince my father to sell his Motorbike (which by the way is not a luxury or a Hobby item in Pakistan, but a mere means of transportation for a low to average income group) and provide me with the rest of the funds I require.

Such expectations and demands promote only specific kind of artists, who have better command on the qualities required for the request. These qualities do not have anything to do with the quality of art making. But no problem! if one belongs to the other group and lack these qualities, it is always possible to take the support of a psychoanalyst or a lawyer. It will also give you a chance to create an interdisciplinary application, since “interdisciplinary” is in fashion in art these days.

These requirements from the institution also give birth to another phenomenon in art, that is the profession of application writers. These professional who sometimes claim themselves to be the ex-employee of AFK are so talented in writing the application that sometimes I feel they know me more even than my own mother.

If one can afford, these professionals have two kinds of packages to offer;

Cheaper one: In this package they explain the basic requirements that are expected by the AFK. You write the application and during the whole process of completion they go through it for a couple of times, keep asking you to explain more and give the reasons of the reasons that you have given. In the end after tossing the application a couple of times to each other’s inbox, you get your self a nicely written application to be proud of (at least till the rejection of the grant).

Expensive one: In this package you just send these professionals the images of your works with some general text about it. After which they very skilfully explain it in “your” application, what your work is about and your conceptual concerns. They will also explain what you plan to do in the project under consideration or how you plan to develop your practice in the future. So if your are in a difficult time as a maker and feel uninspired to make art, this in itself can be a very good exercise, where you can avail this person’s imaginative powers to guide your future art development. Here you might think (like me) that it is not a bad Idea to hire this person and get yourself an application written by these experts, while you can always pay what they demand in return once you receive the funding. On this I would just say: don’t be over smart! It is very much possible that these professional might actually have been serving in the AFK brigade in past and they know what the chances are of your application being accepted, so they don’t want to take any chances.

Now I move to another format exclusive to the AFK organisation. It is my personal favourite and is called Spreekhuur! For those of you who do not know how it works -how I Envy you- let me explain it.

If you have never been granted the privilege of receiving the grant from AFK before, only then you can apply to it. In this format you can meet the organisation of the AFK for 30 minutes and explain them your project in person. You can reserve the appointment on a specific announced date of every month at 9 ‘O’ clock sharp! The selection for this privileged meeting for the acceptance of the grant is the most exciting part, as it gives the pleasure of winning a lottery as well. But of course the probability of success here is equally low as winning a national lottery. Since the selection is based on “first come first serve” bases your chances of wining this meeting to meet a real life AFK member completely depends on your speed. At 9 ‘O’ clock sharp you need to open a webpage from AFK Spreekhuur, as at this and only at this exact moment there will be a form accessible to you. The concentration and timing required to go through this process, where at one end gives you the benefits of performing a Dhiyaan in the depths Himalayas, on the other end also explain you the time warp theories of relativity. In this form you will be asked 5 to 7 questions which you can answer in a few words (my sincere apologies if the number of questions I mention are not correct, because at that moment I was captivated by an acute pain in my bladder). So far so good, sounds fairly simple and democratic right? Yes, but the only problem is that if you somehow manage to read, understand and answer all these questions very quickly and click submit, you realize that 50 seconds to do this job is not fast enough. The limited number of spaces for the spreekhuur has been occupied by others, who have quicker reflexes than you and have better control on their nerves and other body parts. The first time when I was rejected, my past life ran in front of my eyes like a movie (just as they say, it happens when you’re about to die) and especially bright and vivid were those scenes when in my childhood I was being beaten by my adversaries during a video game or a sport challenge, because of my mediocre reflexes. It is at this moment that I realize that all my subconscious calculations to stay out of those professions that require me to possess over average reflexes has been in vain, since these super humans also exist in the field of art and they have beaten me once again with their speed!