These words, spoken by Artistic Director of the Pinchuk Art Center Björn Geldhof at a presentation, are more than relevant today.
Following the non-renewal of 28 mediator contracts, justified by the biggest contemporary institution in Ukraine as a desire to "redetermine what a guide should be... They need to be more mature", an open letter has been published by those affected, supported by multiple artists, to denounce a decision motivated by the creation of the Trade Union of PAC (Профспілка медіаторів ПАЦ).
"We are concerned about the humiliating style of the letter and the acts of public mockery performed by some of the current workers of PinchukArtCentre. We consider it to be an offense against all of the former mediators and guides, not only those fired. During the conflict, we received a lot of messages from former mediators telling their stories of unethical treatment while working at PinchukArtCentre," the letter reads.
Whilst Björn Geldhof has recognised that "our communication wasn't perfect, and the institution has issued an apology to all mediators, the change was justified by an excessive rotation of staff: "We hired 47 people in 2019, our education management team had to interview 200. They didn’t stay enough to have a good knowledge."
“Hope!”, Pavilion of Ukraine at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia. Björn Geldhof, Deputy Artistic Director of the PinchukArtCentre, curator of the project. Photographs provided by and © the PinchukArtCentre, 2015. Photographed by Sergey Illin
The development of overseas opportunities for Ukrainian students over the past few years was used to exemplify the situation. "We just now want a more professional team. Mediators unionized just two months before the end of the contracts — nobody was fired," continued Björn Geldhof.
The Trade Union of PAC published the open letter on Facebook, containing three conditions that could appease the situation. The Artistic Director responded:
1. PinchukArtCentre apologizes to the fired mediators and guides for all of the violations of their labour rights, acts of intimidation, public allegations of lies and attempts of public discreditation;
"They are a branch of one of the biggest unions in Ukraine, if there are violations of rights, they can go to a commission, who can access all the documents etc. We maybe made some technical mistakes (and if this is the case we will assume responsibility and pay) — but we haven’t violated the law, intimidated etc."
2. PinchukArtCentre restores the practice of mediatorship in a public dialogue with artists, curators, trade union representatives, former mediators and guides, media etc. All of the fired mediators must be prioritized in employment;
"We decided to create a work group, which is addressing how to continue mediation, with a new model, open to all parties; we have members of the union in the group, former mediators, two artists, and we’re inviting one independent curator to give his own view, and one person from another institution…"
"This work group will start next week, we will have 4 sessions. How should mediation proceed ? If we work with mediators, which qualifications will be requested… etc"
3. PinchukArtCentre creates conditions for the functioning of the trade union and concludes a collective employment bargain with the workers.
"They are a union for the entire Foundation, and the Ukrainian law forces an organization to give 0.3 % of the total of salaries to finance the Union; they can request it!"
"In this story, of course if you look without detail, it looks like we are violating everybody’s rights, but we didn't. In this context, it is also time for an apology. I’m sorry that we failed to see timely that we seemed ignorant of hopes and expectations of the students who worked as mediators. Especially, that it could be perceived as a statement against dialogue with people who self-organized. With our apology, we propose a place for dialogue to resolve it," concluded Björn Geldhof.
Because the PinchukArtCentre is fantastic even so.