Nicol Foulkes Savinetti, social scientist, founder of IMMART – International Migration Meets the Arts
For an artist, moving country is not only about finding housing and work in a foreign community. It is also about entering an art world governed by its own codes and networks. In Denmark, the non-profit organisation IMMART works for the social integration of foreign-born artists.
Commensality, the word we use for preparing and enjoying food together at the same table, is at the heart of the IMMART Dinner – a social event that combines art, networking and food that has created an alternative social space for foreign-born artists in Copenhagen and abroad. IMMART is a migrant-led arts organisation and network based in Denmark. Originally thought of as the “action” part of an action research post-doc proposal for the Refugee Migration and Governance program at the Department of Global Political Studies, University of Malmö, The organization was born out of conversations about the artistic and creative skills that new arrivals were bringing to a then very “Danish” arts scene.
When I wrote the proposal in 2016, there were no organizations that had the interests of artists of foreign origin at their core. Very few foundations, artist interest groups and associations had information in languages other than Danish, nor any schemes dedicated to artists of foreign origin. I wondered how newcomer artists (who are not big names in Denmark prior to their arrival) get a foot in the door if there is no institution, organisation or network facilitating their access. I did not get the post doc, but the foundations were laid for what would become IMMART.
With the support of Nordic Culture Point and Nordic Culture Fund, IMMART expanded its work in the Nordic region by co-establishing the Network for the Diversification of Nordic Arts and Culture (NECDAC). Within this framework, the first IMMART Dinner Abroad took place in Malmö in 2019. Right : photographs by Angelique Sanossian (Armenian Syrian). Photos : Nicol Savinetti
Accurate designation for better inclusion
In February 2016, under the highly contested name Immigrant Art, we started to build a Facebook community. There was a big discussion about the name with our core team, with artists we met, and with different kinds of experts in the Nordic countries and beyond : historians, human rights specialists, activists and academics who focus on discrimination and racialization, artists from different disciplines and actors from other arts and culture institutions. To them, the name Immigrant Art was incongruent with the goals of the organization, and suggested the pejorative classification and exoticization of art made by visibly ethnic others in white-majority countries. Another critique was the implied exclusion of Danes, including visibly ethnic-other Danish citizens, who were confronted regularly with similar forms of discrimination as artists with non-Danish citizenship. Moreover, the name Immigrant Art was also negatively perceived by many of the organization’s target group. Numerous artists of foreign origin living in Denmark didn’t want to be personally or professionally defined by terms like “immigrant” and “refugee”. Insisting on the origin and status of artists was counterproductive : it denied the empowerment that we wanted to give them. For these reasonsFor more details on this debate, see Nicol Savinetti, Sacramento Roselló Martinéz, Sez Kristiansen, “Stitching IMMART. Overcoming the challenge of inclusion without exclusion through the arts”, in : K. Riegel & F. Baban (eds.), Fostering Pluralism through Solidarity Activism in Europe : Everyday Encounters with Newcomers. … Lire la suite, the organisation was finally named IMMART – International Migration Meets the Arts.
« The production, practice and consumption of art is at the core of IMMART activities, rather than a person’s heritage or migrant status. »
Today, the IMMART NetworkIMMART Network On Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/groups/104286233304333/ has over 700 members. We do not have enough knowledge to be able to profile “the migrant artist”, but we do know that the artists in our network have not moved here because of the Danish arts scene ; they are here for other reasons such as fleeing war, accompanying a spouse, married to a Dane, self-initiated migration and such. To date, we have had projects and partnerships with artists and stakeholders who have migrated from over thirty different countries : from El Salvador to Brazil, Finland to Italy, South Africa to Syria, and Indonesia to Australia. You can only imagine the culinary delight that this diversity brings to our pot-luck dinners !
Building bridges through community dinners
Our first major event in 2016 was an interdisciplinary arts festival showcasing the work of foreign-origin artists living in Denmark, Artival, where we organized a dinner for the participants. We immediately saw the potential as we witnessed commensality stimulating and facilitating social interaction. We started to arrange artist dinners in the privacy of our homes first, and then, given the success, in galleries and public spaces to have more impact.
IMMART benefited to some extent from favourable culinary conditions. There is indeed plenty of literature supporting the idea that breaking bread and sharing food has social valueSee David Sutton, “Becoming an ‘Other Human’: On the Role of Eating Together in Crisis Greece”, EuropeNow Journal [online], n°20, Sept. 2018. URL : https://www.europenowjournal.org/2018/09/04/becoming-an-other-human-on-the-role-of-eating-together-in-crisis-greece/. Denmark is also well-known for its culinary practices, world class restaurants, and community kitchen and social food are also very popular in citiesIn Copenhagen alone, the municipality lists seventeen different options, and this does not include other privately run restaurants and cafés that offer communal dining on a regular basis. See https://international.kk.dk/artikel/community-kitchens-folkekokkener.. However, the success of IMMART Dinners is the result of purposeful intent : to showcase and promote artists and upcoming festivals, to workshop ideas and projects, or simply as an opportunity to mingle and meet new people or celebrate the completion of a project… Depending on the theme, the dinners are attended by artist peers, cultural workers, gallerists, journalists, art consumers and other stakeholders.
Create a true feeling of community membership
The IMMART Dinner is a dynamic space where thoughts, experiences, emotions and ideas emerge, evolve and are discussed. It serves as a way to maintain reciprocity in social relations and create a feeling of community membership. As one artist and social entrepreneur expresses, Tina Israni (US/India), the dinners also support and encourage artists in their creative process and practice :
“As an emerging artist myself, IMMART dinners provided a great sense of support to encourage my expression and exploration within the arts. While I personally believe we all are artists of our own life, meeting established artists as well as those exploring different mediums as hobbies at each dinner, enabled me to embark on my own path as artist by identifying myself amongst the IMMART network. Today I now travel on that journey and life of an artist, armed with the courage and support of such a network that IMMART provides, through the mediums of painting, singing and dancing.”
It is challenging to feel a sense of inclusion and find community without a solid network. Being able to socialize and network is key to accessing work opportunities, regardless of location or sector. For migrants, forging ties with people unlike themselves – developing linking social capitalMichael Woolcock, “The Place of Social Capital in Understanding Social and Economic Outcomes”, ISUMA. Canadian Journal of Policy Research, vol. 2, n°1, Spring 2001, p.11 – 17. URL : http://www.social-capital.net/docs/The%20Place%20of%20Social%20Capital.pdf – is extremely important, not least for gaining a good understanding of cultural practices, codes and normsNicol Savinetti, Encountering Difference : The Experience of Nordic Highly Skilled Citizens in India. Tampere, Tampere University Press. Acta Universitatis Tamperensis, 2015, 368p. Accessible at : https://trepo.tuni.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/97220/978 – 951-44 – 9816‑9.pdf?sequence=1. As such, creating an informal network with actors from different areas of the Danish artscape was a central goal. As the former co-ordinator of the dinners, Charlie Brown (Australia/UK), relays,
“Denmark is a great country and if you are part of the community, life can be easy, however, if you are not, the networks are opaque and hard to crack. The IMMART dinners [are] a way of trying to interrupt this, to disrupt and create community, where there was otherwise none.”
We witness firsthand how sharing different cuisines cuts through any sense of social difference ; for instance, simply (not) knowing about a particular dish and how to eat it sparks conversation and can cause a shift in the interpersonal and group dynamic.
Open to all artists beyond their nationality
I was convinced that IMMART has the greatest chance of success if we operate with an ethos of inclusion without exclusion because of my personal journey that has allowed me to deal with these issues in various forms:, in my work, education and research, belonging to a visible minority everywhere I have lived, and also in the struggles of my parents, as migrants, left-wing activists and ethnic minorities in 1970s and 80s UK. The background research for the project also revealed that foreign-origin artists, regardless of nationality or reason for migrating, found the Danish arts scene challenging to access.
IMMART is particular in that it is open to artists, cultural workers and art lovers, whether they are foreign-born or Danish. Among our members, many feel or choose to be at the fringe of the local arts scene. We have not had to search for Danish artists nor fight for cross-cultural collaborations — they have come completely organically. Dorthe Witting, Danish hobby artist, ”attended many different ‘Danish’ artists or creatives meet-ups but never felt quite comfortable…” She concludes : ”I feel like I have found my tribe in IMMART.”
« Numerous artists of foreign origin living in Denmark didn’t want to be personally and professionally defined by terms like “immigrant” and “refugee”. This name disempowered the very people we were striving to empower. »
The production, practice and consumption of art is at the core of IMMART activities, rather than a person’s heritage or migrant status. As such, we have never targeted a particular cultural or geo-political group, neither have we ever asked the members how they define themselves in migration terminology. Furthermore, while “out-group only” organizations are necessary in the fight for equity and equal rights, I believe that cross-nationality organisations such as IMMART are necessary if the ultimate goal is to co-create sustainable and peaceful ethnically diverse societies.
After four years of intense volunteerism, we are making efforts to become more sustainable. We aim to invite chefs to prepare the meals and hold our dinners four times a year, and also to bring commensality to virtual spaces by feeding and nourishing foreign-born artists and wider artistic communities with online services (e.g., an arts and culture directory) and education (e.g., virtual seminars on how to work with galleries).
|↑1||For more details on this debate, see Nicol Savinetti, Sacramento Roselló Martinéz, Sez Kristiansen, “Stitching IMMART. Overcoming the challenge of inclusion without exclusion through the arts”, in : K. Riegel & F. Baban (eds.), Fostering Pluralism through Solidarity Activism in Europe : Everyday Encounters with Newcomers. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, p. 140 – 143. URL : https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030568931|
|↑2||IMMART Network On Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/groups/104286233304333/|
|↑3||See David Sutton, “Becoming an ‘Other Human’: On the Role of Eating Together in Crisis Greece”, EuropeNow Journal [online], n°20, Sept. 2018. URL : https://www.europenowjournal.org/2018/09/04/becoming-an-other-human-on-the-role-of-eating-together-in-crisis-greece/|
|↑4||In Copenhagen alone, the municipality lists seventeen different options, and this does not include other privately run restaurants and cafés that offer communal dining on a regular basis. See https://international.kk.dk/artikel/community-kitchens-folkekokkener.|
|↑5||Michael Woolcock, “The Place of Social Capital in Understanding Social and Economic Outcomes”, ISUMA. Canadian Journal of Policy Research, vol. 2, n°1, Spring 2001, p.11 – 17. URL : http://www.social-capital.net/docs/The%20Place%20of%20Social%20Capital.pdf|
|↑6||Nicol Savinetti, Encountering Difference : The Experience of Nordic Highly Skilled Citizens in India. Tampere, Tampere University Press. Acta Universitatis Tamperensis, 2015, 368p. Accessible at : https://trepo.tuni.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/97220/978 – 951-44 – 9816‑9.pdf?sequence=1|
To go further
- IMMART Website : http://www.immart.dk
- IMMART social medias : Facebook Network : www.facebook.com/groups/104286233304333/ ; Facebook Page : www.facebook.com/immartdk/ ; Instagram : @immartdk
Nicol Savinetti is a Doctor of Social Science (Social Policy, University of Tampere). She is Founder and Director of IMMART.
To cite this article
Nicol Savinetti, « Share a meal, co-construct a community and create. The menu proposed by IMMART », in : Elsa Gomis, Perin Emel Yavuz et Francesco Zucconi (dir.), Dossier « Les images migrent aussi », De facto [En ligne], 24 | Janvier 2021, mis en ligne le 29 Janvier 2020. URL : https://www.icmigrations.cnrs.fr/en/2021/01/06/defacto-024 – 03-en/
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