SKWAWKBOX readers will be interested to know about a very unusual ‘bank job’.
Can the power of art and documentary cinema help to buy off payday loans and help fund four local causes? This is the question that pre-occupies filmmaker Dan Edelstyn and his partner in crime artist Hilary Powell as they work on their multidisciplinary project ‘Bank Job and Hoe Street Central Bank‘.
‘Bank Job’ is what Edelstyn calls a ‘community heist where we get together to do a number against the banks – and pull off a job highlighting the unjust consequences of the current debt-based money system‘.
Edelstyn told the SKWAWKBOX:
We’ve taken over a disused bank in Walthamstow (we’ve called it Hoe Street Central Bank), and we’re using it to print our own art-based money – with local heroes fighting the fall-out of austerity economics on the front of the notes.
We’re using half the proceeds from the sale of our notes to support the causes the characters are fighting for – (a food bank, a soup kitchen, a youth project and a local primary school suffering from the cuts). The other half of the money we’re raising goes to buying up and abolishing £1 million of local payday debt from the secondary debt market.
As I’m a documentary filmmaker – we’re also filming everything, with the intention of creating a theatrical documentary film, which will bring widespread awareness about how money is currently being created in the real economy – and lead to a public debate over the future of banks in our democracy.
The SKWAWKBOX talked to Edelstyn about the aims and methods of his ‘bank’ and the wider context for the project:
What are the goals of Bank Job?
To raise £25,000 for local causes affected by the fall out of the financial system as it is now – and another £25,000 to buy up and abolish £1 million of local payday debt.
To do this by printing out our own money in the bank to sell at face value as limited edition artworks.
We then want to make a theatrical feature documentary showing our journey towards these goals.
Who is the Bank – the people involved and its supporters?
The Governor of HSCB is artist and my key collaborator Hilary Powell. I’m head of pyrotechnics – as I will literally blow up the debt.
We have an amazing team of print makers who we’re employing to help make the money, headed up by Spike Gascoigne who many from the art trail know runs Walden Press, just a few doors away from our house and Phil Seddon graphic designer – who we’ve collaborated with on the note designs.
What is the bank’s view of credit and what it means to our lives?
We believe that banking system is a run away train, effectively creating money as interest bearing debt on an unprecedented scale. As our welfare states are being stripped back in the west, under the guise of temporary austerity cuts, more and more people are being indebted in order to access the basic social goods, such as housing and education. This profits the creditor class while indebting the rest of us. We will never repay these debts – and the extraction will never cease. But it’s not good for them either – as without a balanced economy the politics will become increasingly bitter and our small businesses will fail.
We still have free healthcare at point of access, but the health trusts are indebted to PFI – as are our schools and many other public services. Credit surrounds us, the financial elites are wrapping it around almost everything, but their tentacles are quite invisible. We are trying to shine a spotlight on this and encourage a public conversation so things can begin to change.
The scale of credit has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Why do you think this is the case and what damage does it do?
In the 60s in the US there was free education, and many of the students, stripped of the worry of having to pay their way while at university began to think about what was happening politically and economically across the world. This became an issue for the government, and they commissioned a piece of research from the Trilateral commission.
The conclusion in the 1976 report stated that there was an ‘excess of democracy’ on student campuses and this began to inspire a movement for the introduction of tuition fees and debt. Once people are indebted after all, their freedoms are minimised and the question which pre-occupies them is how to escape the trap in which they find themselves.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that it was during the 1970s that Reagan and Thatcher set about the task of stripping back public institutions and cutting the red tape for the financial industries. The process of stripping away welfare provision and replacing it with all encompassing credit began apace.
And you’re countering this by printing money?
Yes – Hilary and I came up with this idea of a local form of money which would work as a way of raising enough capital to destroy a drop in the ocean of the most predatory debt in our community.
The story of how banks create money in our society was something I had learned about both from Strike Debt and other civil society groups in the UK. Everyone relates to money, we’re all pretty much obsessed with it. Having enough of it is the difference between life and death, we shape our lives and our choices with money – we crave for a stable income and a good retirement plan, and if we do this effectively we avoid the worst traps of debt. But it’s the spectre of financial failure that drives us. So money felt like the right way to frame this story.
The idea of that is that people buy up our notes at face value – so 10 Garys would cost £10 and so on across the Sairas, Steves. And Traceys. The notes are strictly limited edition art works devised by Hilary and me, along with a team we employed to design and then screen print, adana and foil block them.
The notes are beautiful – they are really a currency of hope and ideas. They are not exchangeable as for instance the Brixton pound or the Bristol pound is – however what happens to them once they leave the building is in the hands of the public. Hilary’s last works of art were collected by Museum of Modern Art and The V&A, so they may prove to be a much better store of value than £5 sterling.
Steve – who runs the Soul Project has said he would be happy to accept them as payment once he re-opens Tumble in The Jungle. That’s up to him – let’s let the people decide whether to hold them as a store of value, or if they prefer, to exchange them for goods and services. We are so busy with making the film and making sure that we raise enough fiat currency to support the local causes and buy up and destroy the predatory debt that we don’t want to take on the job of trying to control the future of the currency. Let’s watch the space.
The fundraising for charities is straightforward. How does reducing the debt work?
We buy debt on the secondary market. If you have a debt to a bank, or a credit card, or indeed on a utility bill and you fail to pay it, after a while – it could be a month or two, the owner of that debt may decide to sell it at a loss to get it off their books.
So say you have a payday loan of £1000, the company may decide to sell that at £500 to a debt purchaser. The purchaser will then chase the debtor for the full amount. If they are unsuccessful in this, perhaps they will sell the debt on cheaper to another debt buyer – and this process continues on and on, until the debt may be sold for as little as 5p in the pound.
That’s is where we are trying to get involved – and buy up £1 million of local payday debt for £25,000. The idea is educational, once the public understand how the secondary debt market works, they will feel more empowered the next time they are pursued by a debt collector. Above that, it’s a symbolic howl of rage at the economic policies that have led people into the desperate situation of relying on the kindness of payday lenders.
How did the idea originally come about?
We had been filming quite a long time before this money printing idea came about. I became increasingly interested in how banks create money – and also a need to raise significant capital ourselves, and to work with Hilary and the local community – did we struck on the idea of creating our own money printing press. It was time we made some money – so… we made some money! The irony of course is that none of the money we are creating actually goes to us – and indeed we are critically underfunded in our pursuit of this project.
What other things have you got planned
There’s a series of talks – check it on the website. They will probably be finished when this article comes out, but if people subscribe to the website they will be able to see free films and podcasts exclusive to subscribers.
How will you judge the scheme’s success or failure?
We have to hit our 50k target. We have to get the film out there – into cinemas / top festivals, targeted distributions across communities, schools.
We also need to grow our online community and we want to change the public conversation around money.
How else can people can get involved?
Please buy some notes! We can’t do this unless the people of Walthamstow and beyond give us this support. We need local people to get behind us, realize that this is one of the most important stories of our generation – and buy it!
You can come to future events – and you can even act in some of the drama scenes we will be filming over the next months to complete the movie.
The ‘HSCB’ project ends as a live ‘bank’ on Sunday.
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