Cultural Agency in Urban Space

The Function of Cultural Agency and The Autonomy of Institutional Criticism in Urban Space

June 27 & 28, 2009

Organizers: Ayça İnce, Pelin Tan

meeting point: 9.30 am in front of the Londra Hotel

It was 1992 when Keyder, a leading Turkish sociologist, emphasised for the first time the dominating power of global capital with reference to competing cities discourse in his article “How to sell Istanbul?”. In 2009, Istanbul has been sold through its city image, cultural heritage and other values and “How to sell Istanbul through culture?” seems to become the motto. Most of the stakeholders including the central/local government, private enterprise, academicians, artists and NGOs invest in culture in order to attract more economic and symbolic capital. Nominating for Olympic games, Formula 1 or Cultural Capital of Europe are widely known examples of such attempts.

In the framework of the ‘economisation’ of culture, the question of ‘what to sell’ has become as important as ‘how to sell it’. This in turn is tackled in two ways either by marketing and selling the existing assets – usually through conversion projects, or, by creating new values. Istanbul is on its way to doing both, sometimes simultaneously, with a series of projects which are usually grouped under the wider theme: regeneration. “Culture” and the “production of art” become nearly tools of justification in order to create, distribute and to de-politizise the urban capital. Cultural and art institutions that are supposed to function within civil society in cities and supposed to search for grassroots, counter-cultural autonomous activities, however, have been transformed into tools that are creating policies for “normalization”.

The cultural centres with reference to Gugenheim Bilbao’s Bilboa effect has also been planned and projected for regeneration of Istanbul: Hasanpasa Gazhane project, Kartalite, Sutluce Cultural Centres and Renovation of Ataturk Cultural Centre are the major examples. Each of these projects are initiated by different stakehodlers of the city, but usually under the leadership of municipalities and state institutions. But the active scene has been shaped by the cultural centres built by private enterprise (banks or dynastic family companies), non-governmental organizations and civil initiatives. Furthermore, the position of Istanbul in the international scene provides international funding for initiatives that sometimes aims to misuse the multicultural urban context of Istanbul in which “culture” and “art” are often instrumentlized.

This study-trip aims to illustrate diverse funded and structured cultural institutions and discuss their role in Istanbul cultural scene and their urban-cultural policies? Their past, present and future perspectives.
First day, one example of different kinds of cultural institutions will be visited at a certain region of Beyoglu: run/ funded by private enterprises (Aksanat), State ( Tarık Zafer Tunaya), local authorities (Beyoglu Municipality Exhibition hall and Tophane neighbourhood mansion) and NGOs (Lambda), or civil initiatives (Garajistanbul), Başka Kültüevi, Hafriyat…

Second day, the group will focus to a certain cultural centre: DEPO, is a cultural and critical debate centre in Istanbul opened in January 2009 and serving as a platform for artists, artists collectives, civic and cultural organization in Turkey ( This cultural/arts institution in Tophane neighborhood will be the core institution of this workshop in order to understand the present and future function in a local urban area. DEPO established by the NGO – Anadolu Kültür that is collaborating with several social scientists, artists, curators, civil initiations, inhabitants as well as other local institutions, initiatives from Middle East, Balkan and other near regional contexts. The method of the will be an urban mapping consisting of interviews with inhabitant, meeting the directors/curators of DEPO and visiting the shops, barbers, grocery, municipality neighborhood house, Tophane neighborhood, association, Istanbul Modern, Özgür Universite.…etc..

The following questions are aimed to be answered:

The role of culture within these institutions: culture as a mission or an instrument?
Can culture be institutionalized? Where does it start and stop?
What is their role in community life? in the locality?
The representation and understanding of “culture” in context of everyday life in Beyoğlu – Tophane area?

June 27, Saturday:

Visiting and meeting the institutions.

June 28, Sunday:
Meeting with the coordinator and director of DEPO / Tütün Deposu.
Meeting with a local leader in the community and the headman (muhtar) of the neighborhood.
Visiting the Grocery, Barber shop, Tophane Lokantası, frame maker, Tophane Association, Siirtliler Assocation…

(Detailed program will be handed to the participants).

Some relevant bibliography in English:
Social centres: monsters and political machines for a new generation of movement institutions, Pablo Carmona, Tomás Herreros, Raúl Sánchez Cedillo, Nicolás Sguiglia
Notes on Institutional Critique, Simon Sheikh

do you remember institutional critique?

progressive institutions

instituent practices
Negri’s text: What makes Biopolitical Space?, A.Negri,
Paulo Virno’s texts:
Pelin Tan (2006) “Artist Collectives and Initiatives in Istanbul”, Artpapers, Summer, pp.20-23,
Asu Aksoy (2008) “Istanbul’s Choice”, Third Text, Vol.22, issue 1, pp.71-83
Pelin Tan (2008) “Neighborhood Resistance and Possibilities of Counter-Cultural Urban Spaces in Istanbul”, Derive – Zeitschrift für Stadtforschung, October, Vienna, (extended version forthcoming Grundrisse, Vienna, 2009).
Nina Möntmann, ed., (2006), Art and Its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and Collaborations, Edition: illustrated, Published by Black Dog Publishing

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