Rethink and Renew: what we can learn from Visual Artist Sibumski

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good as the saying goes. Although the CCIs have been hit very hard on the whole, the Covid-19 situation has benefited some in one way or another, either consciously or accidentally.

Simon Uyterlinde just graduated from a Dutch art school and is now bent on making a name with his brand Sibumski. We are glad with his collaboration as this one-person firm situated in the creation part of the production network is very telling of a broader segment of the visual arts sector. He promptly confides that Covid-19 definitely doesn’t help in the process of securing a foundation of clients, exhibitions and networking. Ironically, though, he actually notices a higher demand, more people approaching him (online) than before. Why does he think that is? “As people are working from home, they notice their empty walls and realize the space for artwork.”

Besides, he recognizes the learning opportunities that are exposed in the small, squeaky, wrecked window that Covid-19 opened. This is, for one, not the first nor the last time that the visual arts sector has to endure great setbacks.

“Covid-19 is limiting and constraining, but on the other hand; we are used to being thrown in the deep end. I try to see it more as a challenge and a motivation, as a test that requires out-of-the-box thinking, creative solutions. What are the possibilities, what can I do? For me, this confirms the capability to handle and rethink those challenges, challenges that I will stumble upon for the rest of my career.”

Thus, just as Sibumski is determined to try and cope, rethink, renew and adapt to today’s challenges, we as researchers must too. To capture the volatility and fluidity of CCIs we have to need new methods and strategies regarding the gathering of data. The CCIs tend to be very dynamic in terms of business organisation and orientation – adjusting their products and their way of producing to new circumstances. The existing statistics tend to pigeonhole CCIs in a way that does not fit real-life situations over a longer term as businesses may transform, shift and change their ways of operation. We, as researchers, should learn from the CCIs and become as mobile, flexible and adaptive in our data collection as artists, architects, musicians and writers are in running their business.

The networks that characterise cultural and creative industries (CCIs) are subject to even more precarity and insecurity than pre-Covid. These unsettling times call for new measures, more adaptation and a higher resilience than ever before[1]. As a result, production networks are changing, and they are changing rapidly. The existing challenges that were already prevalent in the networks that underlie the creative output of CCIs (precarity, insecurity, unpredictability, etc.) are being reinforced. What can an upcoming visual artist tell us about coping with these challenges? And how can CICERONE consortium keep up with these ever-changing, dynamic and complex networks while still applying the GPN approach in a legible manner?

Current data sources (e.g. CBS and Eurostat) provide us with rather ‘rough’ and, moreover, ‘siloed’ classifications of how economic activities in the industries are organised. The statistics based on NACE classifications focus on traditional sectors, and are not adopted to translate the codes into dynamic flows of economic activities. As a result, current statistics do not adequately monitor market dynamics and imbalances (EC, 2017).

By conducting case studies, we select several cultural projects and disentangle their production networks. By means of semi-structured interviews, we gather insights on more specific issues such as labour conditions, influence on social identity, social cohesion etc. We thus propose an alternative method to gather and use data. Central to this idea is a more pragmatic, question-driven approach to measure CCIs, its functioning and socio-economic impact.

CCIs are characterised by a dominance of small firms that ought to be flexible and adaptive to survive. With their distinct economies of scope, small firms are able to relatively easily shift to explore new opportunities regarding their designs, products and production methods. Upcoming artists, like Sibumski, are always required to find ways to differentiate and distinguish themselves. So, to paraphrase Johan Cruijff, every drawback has its advantage. This Covid-19 crisis is too big to mark as ‘just another setback’, and too constraining to call it a ‘worthwhile challenge’. Sibumski is determined not to despair, but instead to use his creative knowledge to twist, bend and shape his ways.

Written by Suzan van Kempen, Milja Vriesema and Robert C. Kloosterman (University of Amsterdam)

© Photo: Watching Movies by Sibumski (on


[1] See also blog by Lía Barrese and Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway

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