Dayra and Communal Debt

Lara Khaldi on behalf of and with the Question of Funding

The Question of Funding (QoF) collective grew out of long conversations in connected ecosystems in Palestine and the Arab world. We belong to a generation of artists and cultural practitioners who survive on donor’s economy. In Palestine in particular this has been quite palpable after the Oslo Accords of 1993. The Oslo accords planned to be not only a compromised slow peace process turned into an opportunity for more land grab, annexation and dispossession for Palestinains, but also the beginning of neoliberalization (as opposed to liberation), individualism and co-dependency on international donors. Older Art and cultural institutions transformed into NGOs, and new ones were based on the depoliticised model. This is the hegemonic form of cultural institutions in Palestine since the mid nineties to today. The consequences of this ideological and economic dependency has among many other, according to Hanafi and Tabar in their book “The Emergence of a Palestinian Globalised Elite” contributed to disengage the grassroots organisations from the political and economical spheres and their constituencies in Palestine “re-embedding (of) the social relations with international organisations, financial institutions and European and North American Governments” (Hanafi & Tabar, 2005:28). The ramifications of this NGOisation of civil society in Palestine are colossal, however the funding/donor’s economy culture is familiar to others in cultural institutions and spheres all around the globe. We see how funding bodies and sponsors influence decisions, censor exhibitions, and condition discourse. However both independent contemporary art practitioners and institutions are aware of those dynamics, some refuse to adhere to some of its policies, both in public and clandestinely through ‘tricking the system’.

In Palestine, even though cultural practitioners and civil society workers have learned through practice to transvest conditional funding, there is a general agreement that it remains to condition cultural production and knowledge. However the situation is such that there usually seems to be very few alternatives. The discussion amongst NGO worker peers hits a dead-end after complaining about this donor culture and the agreement that ‘something’ needs to be done about it. The situation in Palestine is such that there are no alternative infrastructures. The Palestinian Authority itself depends on international funding, and is heavily conditioned politically by it, it does not fund institutions nor practitioners. Palestinian economy is a subeconomy of its colonizer, Israel, as it controls roads, borders, export-import laws and conditions..etc., so one reaches a dead -end for alternative economic support for cultural institutions. Yet there have been quite some amazing attempts in recent years. 1

There are already several ways and routes taken by cultural practitioners to build alternative ways of survival and sustenance. One of those we have collaborated with in order to chronicle their ways of transvestment2 is the artist collective Eltiqa’. They have managed to remain a collective, not register as an NGO and run a space which is open to younger artists for the past twenty years in one of the most dystopian places on earth, Gaza. Through divesting usual art funding channels they redistribute the resources in a different way which funding conditions them to, such as becoming an institution. We have detailed many anecdotes and examples while also including what context these interactions and exchanges are taking place within the exhibition in documenta fifteen, where the members’ paintings were also shown. Several other facets of our discussions and questions took shape in publications about grassroot economies as children’s and young adults’ books. Yet it is Dayra which we hope would be more of an economic structural intervention.

Dayra is a medium that uses blockchain technology for circulating communal economic value, by helping the community to measure, and exchange the value of their local resources in the absence of money. It is an Arabic word meaning circle and circulating. It is a noun and a verb, where the act of sharing, and circulating local resources helps the community to maintain its wealth. The model starts with the premise that individuals but also local organizations, cooperatives, and associations who have no funds to sustain their operations but have (and are) an abundance of resources and knowledge of varying types, whether they are material, physical, or intellectual. The currency thus aims to generate and store value through the act of exchanging and putting to use resources for the common good.

Dayra started from a discussion about Muneh (an Arabic word which refers to a historical lavantian tradition of provisions for the future, within the discussion of QoF it came to mean the pot of resources). The idea was to invite different cultural institutions to share resources such as equipment, member’s skills, time…etc. Another set of events which propelled it were conditions faced during the pandemic in Palestine. Many daily workers in the service sector became unemployed. Simultaneously local Palestinain cultural institutions called for a meeting with funders to argue for an increase in funding because of the pandemic. A question propelled by those two ongoing crises was: why do cultural institutions see themselves outside of the wider economic crisis? We started to think of some kind of economical network which allows different economies in society to connect. While we (QoF) were trying to look for models we were also trying to find or to produce structures.

While being members in the lumbung (documenta fifteen) our interest in ‘liberating’ money grew. In documenta fifteen others referred to it as transvestment, while we call it ‘liberation’ of money from one hegemonic system into another which liberates the money from donor conditions. It was an interest to return to the essence of money as a medium of exchange rather than a medium of speculation and financial industry. Neoliberal structures, such as finance, took over the practices of economy. We wanted to address the economy as a political practice. Economy is about interdependence. Money should not be wealth. The wealth of a community is the existing resources of a community. We saw money only as a medium of exchange rather than where wealth is stored.

We started by making assemblies with agricultural workers. When we started, compost was our medium of exchange. Slowly we discovered this might be limiting, so we started to do research on different forms of cooperatives around us. We also hosted colleagues and members in learning sessions on local currencies, focusing on how community currencies work.

We are now building the architecture of an application for Dayra. Below are different principles, values, and questions we are still attempting to resolve. We hope that these might help inspire others:

Funding based on abundance instead of on scarcity

Dayra functions in a way where the community funds itself while circulating its resources. It self- funds with an abundance of resources.

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