Blog: Institutional Diary #1

Photo: Sheung Yiu.

In 2022–2024, Frame is part of Islands of Kinship, a joint project between seven European art institutions, that aims to instill more ecologically and socially sustainable practices within contemporary art institutions. Each institution has a coordinator to develop these new practices and connect the organisations together throughout the two-year project.

As part of the project, each coordinator writes ‘Institutional diaries’, a series of texts sharing their experiences on implementing new social sustainability practices in the institutions. In their first Institutional diary, published on Frame’s blog, social responsibility coordinator Francisco Trento reflects on recent social responsibility day at Frame.

At Frame Contemporary Art Finland, two social responsibility days are organised annually. The structure of the activities on this day is usually flexible. The main aims are that, as a community, Frame staff members discuss how and what we did in the past semester on topics concerning social sustainability. As part of the most recent social responsibility day in February, I invited a specialist to facilitate a workshop on transformative justice for our staff. 

Concepts regarding transformative justice come from activism, art, and scholarship. I mainly highlighted Mia Mingus, an activist who focuses on issues of disability, race, and ethnicity in the context of transformative justice. According to transformative justice principles, we shouldn’t punish those who cause harm but rather develop accountability strategies that look into the social structures that make the unequal distribution of violence and power possible. This allows accountability measures to emphasise rehabilitating offenders and improve victims’ access to services. Instead of punishing wrongdoers, abolitionists investigate the systemic causes of crime to educate perpetrators, learn alongside trust, and repair victims.

Given that the climate crisis results from the unequal exploitation of Earth’s resources, a transformative justice strategy must be linked to a systemic approach to sustainability. When people engage in acts of reconciliation and reclaiming, resources are redistributed. Any organisation whose work involves the creation of content that could potentially harm individuals or groups should have personnel with training in transformative justice and creative interventions. In addition, I want to spread the word about neurodiversity and transformative justice wherever I go because I am an activist for this cause and an abolitionist of prisons and coercive mental hospitals.

On the day of our workshop, getting out of bed early was tough, especially on a grey day. Grey days often give me headaches, and even though I experienced this for years, I never understood how greyness triggers pain. However, I have learnt from other neurodivergent people that they share the same. It is always tricky since my body-mind requires a considerable amount of medicine in the form of swallowable pills to survive a world made for neurotypicals. As I arrived at the office, I noticed a table full of fresh fruits, coffee and smoothies. We chitchatted and discussed how the days would be much better if that table would be replenished with delicious food every day in the morning as we arrived at the office. 

Kay Han, the workshop’s facilitator, was already there, holding a cup of coffee. She promptly mentioned that it was the first time they had organised that morning workshop. Due to the potential heaviness of the topics discussed, they said it is usually organised in the afternoons or evenings. That commentary made me feel a bit afraid, even knowing that the topics we would approach potentially would not be so ´harmful´. I was worried the workshop would exhaust my emotional energy, as there was still an agenda to be fulfilled after the workshop; I planned to discuss how there is a need to remove specific terms of the institution’s open jobs calls, like the need for somebody with the ´very good communicational skills´ due to its ableist nature and exclusion of neurodivergent people, who do have very good social communication skills, that however, may not match the form of the abled and normative social communication skills required by the neoliberal understandings of current work environments.

We sat at a big table and started with a round of presentations. Kay invited us to form groups of three individuals and take a poster. They asked us to list the resources we have in our institution. What kind of resources? Well, just resources! Kay did not want to narrow the idea of what resources are. 

The resources mentioned by the staff in the workshop are broad. I often tend to think about care as one of the most critical resources in any environment. “I prefer to top my care from the bottom. Generous, firm, politicised, and consensual care equates to survival.” (Eales and Peers, 2021, p. 3). Frame´s list of resources ended up being quite long and heterogeneous. And making a list is only fun if you populate it with things that should not be together in the same list.  

List of resources

Legal aid and laws.
Policies / legal structures to protect rights.
Financial resources.
Availability for conversation and care.
The institution’s diversity represented (or not) in the staff members and their knowledge; structures for working together and alone.
Projects that inform our thinking.
Access to gatekeepers/partners/influencers.
Access to knowledge. 
Space (building) = new space.
Communication skills.
Invisible labour.
The institution´s board of directors 
More shared jumpers.

End of the list

After the break, we reunited for the second part of the workshop. Kay invited us to return to our groups and discuss how we can use our resources when there is an emerging conflict in the institution. As we were doubtful about the nature of the conflict, they divided it into two types: conflicts among the staff and conflicts that may involve Frame´s extended network (grantees, curators, visitors, etc.). I have trouble separating things into categories, such as internal and external. It seems my brain is not designed for that purpose, but the groups worked well on discussing these two separate issues. In this diary entry, I will focus on external matters. 

I offered a hypothetical situation to develop my arguments on how we could act in the emergence of a crisis. Suppose one of Frame’s grantees produces a piece of artwork that causes significant harm to a person or community. In that case, I suggested we invite representatives from the affected community to panel discussions. Even though the institution does not support making art, only its presentation abroad, this would help the broader society, particularly arts-based institutions, learn how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Additionally, it is essential to keep communication channels open and not try to downplay or ignore the issue. Unfortunately, this only happens sometimes in art organisations.

Because I believe authorship is never solely mine but always shared with the biosocial milieu that provides this body with its desires and beliefs, the concept of writing an institutional diary befuddles me. After spelling out this text and the food I am eating on my laptop’s touchpad, I like to assume that the bacteria responsible for fermenting the raspberry and pomegranate-flavoured yoghurt I’m consuming at the same time are also the writers of this text. To rephrase: who is the author? Is it me, as the social responsibility coordinator, or the institution, as an abstract, collective and concrete entity? Is it me embodying the institution or me and my embodied positionalities under the organisation’s coordinator? I try to understand the limits of the possibilities, as I am constantly trying to imagine how to do things differently, or, as in the title of Lola Ulafemi´s book, experimenting in imagining otherwise. Some things are not immediately possible, like using all the non-punitive resources at hand when a crisis emerges. Frame as an institution is obliged to follow legal procedures when there is a potential crime; therefore, it is not a choice to act differently. But for misunderstandings and other forms of doing harm, transformative justice is a tool that enriches the institution’s environment and its extended network. Still, I want to imagine otherwise by planting seeds of futurity that may feed, tinily, broader societal change (if not societal disruption). 

The workshop ended, and we decided that we would need another one, perhaps shared with our external network as well. After the long day, I slept for twelve hours.