Istanbul is going through a rough patch. With all the necessary attributes for a cultural hub, the city has been losing its reputation regarding its hip atmosphere, due to the conflict-dominated political scene and its economic outcomes.

Browsing through the recent articles reveals the transformation of the art scene in Istanbul. Socio-economic dynamics have inevitably had serious implications on everyday life, as well as the art market. Lack of certainty in funding, the unwillingness of investment by the private sector and news such as Turkey, leaving Creative Europe, a European Union cultural fund, affected the future plans of institutions, and perhaps also, small initiatives. Lack of demand for available positions by foreign artists and directors has been another side of the transformation according to an essay from December 2016.

Commercial pressures include the prohibition of the alcoholic beverage brands in event names, straining sponsorship agreements for concerts and music festivals. The increasing entertainment taxes, as well as increased real estate taxes in Beyoğlu, the neighbourhood hosting most of the cultural institutions, galleries and events, is an additional burden for businesses. At the same time there have been some tactical moves, which created advantageous positions out of disadvantages, as mentioned in an article in Guardian earlier in 2017. The resulting increase in the number of collaborations between venues, promoters and the local musicians have had a positive effect on the local scene.

What is widely agreed is that artists, designers, institutions, and events are operating within and beyond these challenges. After a number of years as one of the world’s most exciting emerging creative hotspots, the knowledge and experience that Istanbul has accumulated is now fuelled with passion and drive.

Istanbul is home to many creative people and their compelling interpretations stem from sincere investigations of the local dynamics. From the scale of a single installation to a biennial, Istanbul’s non-stop cultural production is repositioning itself in the global arena.

Over the next few weeks, in the lead-up to the Istanbul Art Biennale, from September 16 to November 12, DAMN will be profiling the city’s outstanding people, places and projects. They are each focusing on different subjects and operate on completely different scales. They have certainly all been affected by the recent changes, limitations, and traumas. Nevertheless, they all have their own story and they all deserve to be evaluated within their own context, instead of a generalisation on what is happening in Turkey.

This is Part 1 of The Life and Times of Istanbul series about artists and designers in the city. In Part 2: the SALT cultural institution.