Making new instruments from scrap at a junkyard challenge. Now it’s time to save STEIM from becoming scrap. Photo (CC) by termie.

Just a "niche", eh? I can’t think of a time in recent history during which creative technology research was as profoundly relevant to mainstream design as it is now. Tangible interfaces, sensor-rich environments and pervasive computing, multi-touch and gestural interfaces, rich media — virtually all of the trends now leading technology were pioneered by or deeply influenced by research by music and visual artists. So, you’d think one of the world’s leading centers for work in research and development for artists and performers, one that hosts theater, music, DJs, VJs, video artists, and the like, would be in good shape.

Instead, Amsterdam’s STEIM research center is under attack by a government board that claims it’s a niche. Fortunately, you can help.

Things are not well at STEIM. We are in the danger of losing our structural funding from the government, based on a review from the advisor board which called us ‘closed and only appealing to a niche audience’. The outlook isn’t exactly bleak, but at the moment our future is unclear.

What you can do is to send a letter of support, and make sure we receive it by May 26. We hope that these letters will show the variety and depth of the effect STEIM has in the real world. The contents are up to you, a few good lines will suffice. You could tell how you or someone you know benefited from their contact with STEIM: making or refining an instrument or an idea for a performance or meeting fellow artists, or what you feel would be lost if STEIM ceased to exist, or waxing aphoristic, just 12 words about STEIM.

STEIM needs your support!

Thanks to Tom and Music thing for the call to arms; Tom forwarded this to me, so please forward to people you know

STEIM’s work includes a vital series of workshops and residencies / hosted research with international reach. I expect a number of readers here have either worked their or know folks who have. In addition to writing that letter, it’d be great to hear, in one place, ways in which you’ve been connected to STEIM.

Add to comments by Monday morning the 26th, and I’ll send my own email with the CDM community’s thoughts then.

  • Not to sound callous, but we are talking about government funding here (something us Americans would never see as an artist/inventor/musician), not them being "under attack by a government board."

    Why don't they look for angel investors?

  • Sizzurp Sippa

    Yeah, these people aren't "under attack by the government". Give me a break.

    There are thousands of foundations that are entirely funded through voluntary donations. Instead of writing a letter to the government, try writing a check to STEIM. Try doing some fund raising. If there is really a community around STEIM, and it isn't a vanity project for a couple of electronics geeks, then it shouldn't be a problem for the community to show support.

  • Well, look — STEIM asked for support in this way, so this is what we're giving them. And having been involved in not-for-profits, losing government funding is a *very* big deal. It's absolutely important to supplement that with other donations, but losing a huge chunk of your funding all at once can be a major problem. It takes time to adjust funding sources. You have to diversify over time.

    "Under attack" means — they were criticized by a government inquiry that labeled them as unworthy of funding. And that seems unfair to me.

    STEIM is an institution. American institutions still receive government funding — some depend on it as a vital piece of their funding sources. I think in the US, the one advantage we have is probably more private funding than you'd find almost anywhere else in the world. But even we still depend on government funding for some of our institutions, even if we don't directly see that as artists.

    If you aren't involved in STEIM, don't worry about this. If you do have experience with them, though — and I do know people who have been part of work there — we'd love to hear from you, and I'm sure STEIM would love to have this letter.

  • @John: also, "angel investors" generally expect a return on investment. That's not something you get as a not-for-profit. It's not even a possibility. You'd have to reincorporate with a different corporate structure and mission. I think what you mean is getting donations or new funders. That's possible, but again, you don't want to be backed into making up a whole chunk of government money just to break even — and in this case, apparently because of having the work you're doing mischaracterized.

  • @ Peter. Yes, you are right. I guess I meant to say "corporate donors" or "private donors."

    I also think it's fair to say that STEIM is not comparable to a U.S. non-profits. We are talking about social subsidies for the arts (which I'm totally for btw!).

  • Sizzurp Sippa

    Let me explain something:

    While it would be cool for everyone who wants to mess around with electronics to do so with government funding, the government has finite resources. The government can't afford to fund everyone's pet project.

    By subsidizing STEIM, the government has that much less money to subsidize other things. Subsidizing STEIM means *NOT* subsidizing some other project. It isn't a choice between subsidizing STEIM and not subsidizing STEIM. Subsidizing STEIM means shutting down someone else's project, a project that is as important to them as STEIM is to you!

    A rational government looks at how many people benefit/participate from a subsidy, and they obviously found that STEIM did not benefit as many people as if the money was spent on another project.

    If it is a choice between shutting down a project that serves a handful of circuit bending geeks, and one that serves thousands and thousands of people, a fair and democratic government SHOULD shut down the one that only serves a tiny handful of people. That is how democracy works.

    STEIM can cry about the 'injustice' of losing their funding all they want, but they are really only arguing that the 'injustice' should be subjected on a more popular program.

  • Sorry, Sizzurp — I don't disagree, I just don't see a point.

    Yes, of course, governments spend lots of money on various things. And yes, of course, they have a finite amount of resources to spend.

    The whole point of the call from STEIM is that they feel they have a greater benefit than was recognized by a *single* government report, and I happen to agree. Arts spending and research of this time represents a tiny fraction of what governments spend money on, even in the Netherlands where there isn't a wildly disproportion amount of the GDP spent on defense and increasingly inefficient private insurance, as in the US.

    I'm not asking anyone to balance the Netherlands' budget; I'm just taking issue with the evaluation of the impact on this research. I'm not an expert in Dutch government expenditures, but I am enough of an expert in this particular kind of research to be, at the very least, entitled to my opinion.

  • Jay Kreimer

    I'm aware of STEIM in Lincoln, NE USA. This geographical fact in itself argues against STEIM as a niche entity. There is a strong community here that values STEIM's work and participates in similar activity. As Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote, "We need more tinkering: Uninhibited, aggressive, proud tinkering." It's how we make our own luck. Steim is a luck factory, the kind of place where anomalies can turn into breakthroughs.

  • Jack

    Sorry, but I can't tell much from the verbiage except that folks are frustrated… would be nice to see some calm objective substance on both the government position as well as the real exclusive value of this STEIM center… otherwise this is just a load of blah blah blah and am gonna look for somethin more useful to browse… like a porn site…

  • @Sizzrup – This is much more than a "handful of circuit bending geeks". The type of music technology research that goes on here and at places like CCRMA, CNMAT, and IRCAM (and others…viva Recombinant Media Labs!) pushes the envelope for all kinds of more mainstream artistic works. Avant garde projects and technology research work benefits the entire art world.

    If you don't understand the value of research institutions, and of government art funding, then you either haven't really been involved in the electronic art community, or are completely dense.

  • d

    I live in Chicago, but have dealt with STEIM many times (I love my Cracklebox!).. they are an absolutely brilliant organization, and if they were to lose their funding and be forced to close their doors, the global artistic community would be losing one of its best resources for truly groundbreaking work.


  • Evan B.

    As an undergrad student attending a large state school in the US with a comparatively small Electroacoustic program, (or electronic, interactive arts program in general) I absolutely support government funding for STEIM. It is hard to get an audience to perceive new media artists as more than a "handful of circuit bending geeks," (though I'll claim that label any day) let alone receive government funding for such projects. I'll even rant that it's partially because my school lacks in such funding for interdisciplinary programs that I probaly won't be going on for a B.F.A. at this school; (my "mixed media" concentration Art B.A. doesn't recognize Electroacoustic music classes as part of my degree other than electives). So… government funding for the arts? Yes, an obvious yes.

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  • deb

    I am a professional musician specializing in world music percussion living in Toronto Canada. Apart from studying traditional percussion techniques and systems (traveling internationally over the years with the support of Arts Councils at the federal, provincial, and municipal level), I am also interested in the use of electronic tools to extend the vocabulary of traditional instruments. The work that is being done at STEIM is a vital contribution to the international discourse surrounding development, research and practice in contemporary music. I have been following their work for some time, and they have inspired me to try out ideas I never would have thought of on my own.

    STEIM's work reaches far beyond a small niche audience, and demonstrates what proper support for the arts on a government level can achieve.

    Please continue funding for STEIM.

    Debashis Sinha

    Toronto, Canada

  • My Musical co-conspirator Mike Victor dragged me to STEIM on our Amsterdam trip. We were totally un-expected and they were very gracious and fetched him a Cracklebox (world's most un-controllable instrument).

    STEIM is more of a Dutch cultural treasure than a institute grubbing for money. If a letter will help, they will get one from me. We need more of them in more countries, period.

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  • Mike Nickel

    I have attended a Workshop at STEIM this spring and it was a fantastic and highy inspiring experience learning the basics of PD, experimenting with alternative

    intrument controllers and meeting like-minded audio geeks from all over europe. to my knowledge, It is the only educational institution outside an academic context that offers these kind of courses in europe and i don't think the dutch government takes this aspect much into account, judging from the bits i understood from their "recommendation". The people at STEIM are a bunch of very nice and dedicated people with inspiring visions and it would be a shame if it ceased to exist.

    Their Junxion (HID to MIDI) software in combination with a Wii Remote + nunchuck controller was the best purchase i made in years and got me an incredible flexible and customizable wireless sensor based instrument & DAW controller for under 150 euros.

    @peter. Thanx for bringing this to our attention and keep on the good work

  • John Aufderheide

    Now that we live in the age of computers, it is important to have places such as Steim to help foster art, especially new art. Computers can narrow our vision into the world of facts, figures, and prices- which while very useful can also be myopic. Places such as Steim remind us that these tools can expand our world as well. For years I have been grateful to Steim for their presence as well as their vision.

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  • Wisefire

    Steim has world wide fame, as seen above and our little country is just that, LITTLE. understand that steim is such an important force and motivation for much of the students of electronic music such as myself.. DONT LET STEIM DIE!!

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  • Alex Pages

    On the same level I've been told by a trustable source that Ircam will be facing the exact same problem, as our french government is said to be willing to withdraw all its funding in less than 5 years…

    If there is no more money for research in general, it's clear there won't be any for *musical* research…

    Hard times.