The Arts-Economic Nexus

Sarah Lipkis
March 5, 2014

Arts Policy Nexus

(To read other articles in our Arts-Policy Nexus series click here.)

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“It is easier for an artist to talk about [financial systems] than an economist,” according to Dutch performance artist Dette Glashouwer. Artists can more easily communicate with people in a way that they will comprehend.  Glashouwer admits that before the 2008 financial crises, she had an aversion to money, preferring instead not to think about it. However, after losing her income when her theater company closed, Glashouwer realized that she could no longer live in fear of money.

She began researching money systems and theories around the world – research that culminated in the Money Project, a multi-part play that explores various facets of monetary systems across the world. From her performance Glashouwer wants her audience to realize that when it comes to money we are “not as powerless as we might think”.  It is possible to understand the monetary system and change it so that it better reflects the needs of a greater number of people.

Monetary systems and attitudes about money fluctuates depending on location. Glashouwer talks about money in countries that are relatively rich, such as the United States and Norway, and how they differ from talking about money in parts of Africa. Glashouwer’s performance piece makes a point of noting the similarities between systems and attitudes. She breaks her performance into two parts, the first focusing on peoples relationship to money and the second part focusing on the global banking system and alternative monetary systems.

During all her performances, Glashouwer uses the story of her “friends” as well as personal anecdotes to explore the notion of a healthy relationship to money. She tells the audience that when her “friends” reached an income ofapproximately $75,000 a year their happiness plateaus. She further illustrates this point by showing the audience a graph she glued onto a man’s dress shirt emphasizing the lack of growth of happiness. Once you reach this level, money can no longer make you any happier.

Glashouwer then takes this theory a step further by introducing the concept of “sprit of desire.” It is the “sprit of desire” that causes people to constantly try to seek out greater happiness through money. Her advice for dealing with the “sprit of desire”, is to treat money like you would a relationship. You should, “enjoy your purchase, feel your richness…”

In the second part of her play, she explains to the audience that the current global monetary system is based on debt. In her TEDxLeiden 2013 talk, Glashouwer states that, “…money is made by the bank…made by debt…without debt there is no money.” She then begins to discuss the idea of complementary money. Complementary money is not legal tender but rather used as a form of local tender in order to address issues and encourage spending. Complementary money encourages people to spend due to the fact that it has no value when saved but rather only meant to be spent.

Glashouwer defines complementary money as “money made by the society, not by the banks.” In order to deal with the effects of the Great Depression, the town of Wörgl, Austria created a form of complementary that could only be used in Wörgl. An influx of capital and trade due to this new “currency” allowed the town to thrive. Similarly, the use of Brixton Pound is helping stimulate the local economy be encouraging local business and individuals in Brixton, London, to use complementary money in order to limit the negative effects the Pound is having on the economy. As with Wörgl, the Brixton pound is helping to invigorate the local economy.

In both cases, complementary money is used to help a community grow without the interference of the bank. In her latest installment of the Money Project, “Dette Goes to Africa to Follow the Money,” Glashouwer looks at the rise of complementary money through credit on cell phones.

Glashouwer mentions other money systems that are not based on the banks. In Japan fureai kippu is a form of complementary money where people earn credit by taking care of the local elderly or the handicapped. The credit can then be traded in for care by caregivers for elderly relatives living in different cities. This idea has spread to Los Angles, Switzerland and London, meaning that someone can earn a fureai kippu credit outside of Japan and have it redeemed by an elderly family member in Japan and visa versa. However, the fureai kippu cannot be traded with the yen.

For her next installment, Glashouwer plans to go to Sardinia in order to study the use of another complementary currency called the Sardex. The Sardex is a virtual form of money that was created to help Sardinia’s economy by encouraging people to spend money instead of saving. Businesses can sign up to be part of the Sardex community, entitling them to an interest-free loan and the ability to conduct business using the Sardex and not the euro.

Although she studies many different types of monetary systems, Glashouwer does not have an opinion on the best system, and says that as an artist it is “not my duty to do that.” She believes complementary money “should not be the only money” but rather should work in tandem with national currency. By exploring these systems she hopes to show them allow her audience to decide for themselves.

At the end of her TEDxLeiden talk and other videos, Glashouwer tells the audience, “If you want to know how this ends, invest. Buy stock in my next part. Do it now. And support my research for money and complementary money from South Africa to Dubai. From Belgium to Brazil.”

Artists often need investors and money in order to continue their work. Audience members from around the world can become shareholders, giving them a small say in what Glashouwer studies next. Glashouwer holds shareholder meetings in order to show people what they have invested in, using the meetings as a teachable moment to talk about shares and stocks and encourage conversation. The current chairman of Glashouwer’s board of investors is a former banker, who helps to explain global monetary systems from a professional perspective. Overall, Glashouwer believes that “the dividend is spiritual.” Instead of capital gain people feel better about themselves and their relationship to money. She wants people to develop “a better relationship to their own money.”

Dette Glashouwer plans to continue traveling, adding and performing new installments to the Money Project. This March, Glashouwer will be talking and performing at the MoneyLab conference in Amsterdam.. She hopes to encourage people to not be afraid to question and ultimately change the current monetary system. Through her art, Glashouwer wants to get a “revolution started” that will result in “less stress about money, less inequality, and of course less poverty.”


MoneyLab is an international event bringing together international artists, activists, programmers and scholars — such as Saskia Sassen, Bill Maurer, Franco Berardi, Matthew Slater and Dette Glashouwer — to critically probe alternative economic models, and the future of money against the backdrop of the ongoing global economic crisis.


Sarah Lipkis is an editoral assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photo from Flickr]

Sarah Lipkis

Sarah Lipkis is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

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