Fazıl Say’s Response to the Government’s Attack on Art

Translated from Turkish by Translators For Justice


Fazıl Say has responded to the AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) new draft which is targeting all art institutions.

After the Prime Minister Erdogan’s acting order on privatisation, artists continue to react against the new draft which the AKP is planning to apply for art institutions.


It seems new laws will be implemented for all the institutions in the State Opera and Ballet, the State Theatre, our orchestras and choirs. Evidently, “incentives and premiums” will be cancelled. That means artists’ salaries will diminish by almost 35% as compared to before. Their lives will become harder. Furthermore, all of these state institutions will be privatised. Early retirement will be encouraged.

No, there’s even more. The state will give funds to “the projects it appreciates”. These funds will cover “utmost 50 percent of the project’s cost”. A newly composed 11-member art jury will decide on which project to choose.

The news is circulated in the media for days.

This is how I read it:

  1. Neither an opera-ballet institution not an orchestra can sustain itself only by its ticket income. All European art institutions depend somewhat on either the state or the municipality. Losing support means “death”. For example, approximately 500 artists work in an opera-ballet institution: orchestra musicians, dancers, choristers, vocal soloists, guest artists etc. For every art work there are also costs for décor, costume and project. Without the state, no one can pay for this amount. To be honest, this plan means to destroy art institutions. It is impossible to sustain this cost commercially. It’s impossible even if the venues accommodate 2000 or 3000 people.
  2. Sponsorship is an American phenomenon. Aiming to find sponsors for every project of every Turkish institution would be wishing for the impossible. In this context, “privatisation” means “leaving them to die”. Who will find sponsors? The yearly cost of an orchestra is around 5 million dollars; an opera house is around 20 million. Who will do it?
  3. Why would Turkey, as an economically emerging country, try to close its art institutions? We have only 5 opera-ballet institutions and 8 orchestras; the state theatre is in most of our cities. In a country of 75 million people, why would anyone want the destruction of this structure? Which system is better? Is there an explanation? The Department of Culture is already receiving the “smallest” portion of state budget. Why is there no motivation to be competitive in the world through art? Why doesn’t anyone search for ways for betterment rather than closing them down; or building up instead of demolishing? Why doesn’t anyone save art and the artists who are victims of a faulty system from the system itself?
  4. Why is our pop culture left untouched while our art institutions are being manipulated? Why do the trained and active artists first come under the guillotine? How will the world respond to the image of the government which harasses the artist?
  5. What would come out of presenting the projects to the approval of the selection committee? Will they compare a first class contemporary performance on Omar Khayyam to a populist low art, because, let’s say, people will enjoy it? Will this comparison be political? Which art work will win the race? Who will decide? What will be the criteria? What does it mean to say “If the jury appreciates it, the state might provide partial support for the cost”? How much? How? What about the other unsupported part of the total cost? Who will interfere with the freedom of the artist?
  6. How and in which ways can our art institutions, which have been remote from the people due to the ongoing faulty systems, communicate with the people, or hear their responses? With which art works? What is the underlying project? What will be the direction of our contemporary art?
  7. What will happen to young artists? How will they be oriented? Who will play the piano in Turkey, who will play the violin or the flute? Who will be a ballet dancer? Who will pursue a drama education to act in a Shakespeare play? Who?
  8. In the ongoing faulty system, there were economic problems already. For the last 20-30 years, orchestras and operas have been unable to invite world famous artists, conductors, soloists, opera singers, choreographers, opera directors with this limited budget. Will this condition continue?
  9. Of course we are against the fact that artists in Turkey are employed as civil servants. Of course. We are also against the position of a ballet dancer who quit dancing at the age of 36 but still receives a salary for 25 years. But the dancers are against it as well! If their artistic potentials after their active dancing periods have not been planned systematically, excuse me, but a number of these 60 or 70 retired ballet dancers are not among the most guilty or shameful people. They have contributed to the art scene anyway… It’s not the older generations’ fault if younger generations can’t find positions to apply for. It’s the system’s fault. How many ballet dancers are paid salaries in Turkey? 300? 400? Is it worth arguing so much on such a limited group of people? In this mighty state? Instead of establishing a better system? Is it worth it?



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