Monday, 2 March 2015

What have we got to do with this?

In the last 2-3 years, it has been a pleasure seeing the way museums have been marking Saint Valentine’s Day on their Facebook pages. From objects in their collections, to architectural elements to flowers in their gardens, they’ve made me smile, laugh out loud, look better, learn something new. In a simple, imaginative, humorous way, and from a distance, some cultural institutions have marked on my calendar a day I otherwise find rather uninteresting.

Not all cultural institutions mark this day. Some might be thinking that this is not a serious thing to do, that it is something frivolous, commercial, it doesn’t relate directly to their exhibition or theatre play or concert programme. It does relate to something else, though: life.

When hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, MoMA PS1 director, posted this on the museum’s Facebook page:

How did this relate to his museum? To the temporary exhibition? It didn’t. It related to something else, though: life.

In 2014, the year of the Mundial in Brazil, some cultural institutions presented exhibitions, organized events, made all sorts of references to football. Some might have hoped to lure followers among football fans. Others might simply have thought: this is also life, let’s celebrate it!

The Charlie Hebdo attack made me once again think of the role cultural institutions have in society and the capacity they have to relate to it. And also to put their theory into practice. Theory says that culture helps us to be humans, to be tolerant towards the ‘Other’, to live together, to learn from each other, to share and defend values, to think critically. When the cultural sector comes under attack, we use these same arguments to defend it and to defend the importance of what we do for the society. But when that same society laughs, cries, falls in love, feels in despair, celebrates, mourns... then we take some time (too much time, even) to consider whether it is appropriate for us to acknowledge it, to relate to it. Quite often, we remain quiet.

So, the morning after the Charlie Hebdo attack, I expressed my dismay at the fact that no Greek or Portuguese cultural institution had acknowledged the tragedy. A tragedy that related directly to most things culture stands for. Seconds after I published my post, the Onassis Cultural Centre published theirs. Later on, the Benaki Museum. Relief.... After that, some colleagues let me know of similar attitudes on behalf of the Museu Nacional da Imprensa or the Bordalo Pinheiro Museum. Some more cultural institutions followed. On the 9th of January, the Carmo Archaeological Museum was inviting us for a debate with cartoonists and academics. Relief.... Still, I am not aware of any large / national portuguese cultural institution acknowledging the events.

A friend wrote to me at that time and asked: “But which cultural institutions do you expect to react? All of them? The ones that somehow relate to what happened? (that would be, for instance, the Museo de la memoria e de los Derechos Humanos in Chile or the Museu Nacional da Imprensa in Portugal, wouldn´t it?) The French cultural institutions? Well, I don’t want to sound naive, but I would have liked to see reacting all the cultural institutions which claim to want to have a role in forming a better society; which claim to embrace and promote certain values; which claim to want to be relevant for people; which claim to want to be part of society and to help form responsible and critical citizens.

Let me clarify here that by “reaction” I don’t mean a hasty response to an incident or a superficial association to a celebration, without consideration for what the institution stands for and with the intention of using it for cheap public relations or simply for not being “left out”. People know opportunism when they see it and they don’t appreciate it... By “reaction” I mean the thoughtful, responsible, honest and coherent response of a cultural institution that is clear about its mission and about the role it wishes to play in people’s lives. And this does not only involve programming or educational activities. It involves being constantly aware of what is going on around us and the way it affects people's lives, so that, as a result of a defined and coherent policy of intervention, the institution may promptly give its contribution towards the kind of world it aims to help build.

What is relevant and what is not relevant for a cultural institution? Well, that’s probably not the question. The question is rather: what makes a cultural institution relevant? I recently gave a course, where we discussed the place and role of cultural institutions in the contemporary society. In the last part of the session, we did a practical exercise:

Please consider:

- The Charlie Hebdo attack
- Saint Valentine’s Day
- The natural disaster in Madeira in 2010
- The big anti-austerity demonstration in Portugal on 15 September 2013.

Would your institution react?
If yes, how?
If not, why not?


More readings:

Monday, 16 February 2015

Welcome, neo-cosmopolitans!

Photo: Adriano Vizoni/Folhapress (taken from Folha de S. Paulo)
"Black Presence" is an action promoted in São Paulo (Brazil) by black artists, writers and activists who visit exhibition openings in art galleries in group. They arrive one by one, they become numerous and attract the uncomfortable stares of other visitors. Because the presence of blacks (as artists and public) is not usual in these contexts. Not everyone agrees with these actions (as can be seen in the comments in the Folha de S. Paulo), but to me, this act of claiming by citizens caught my attention.

And it reminded me of another. At a conference last year, I heard Sylvain Denoncin, of the French company EO Guidage, tell the story of the Louvre - Lens. The museum was designed by Japanese architecture studio SANAA. The inhabitants of the city threatened to take the project to court if the new museum was not accessible. At that point, EO Guidage was called to intervene and remedy something that should have been thought from the first moment. In an exchange of views with a colleague on Facebook, we shared the same concern: how many generations for the citizens of this country to become more demanding in relation to access to the cultural offer of public cultural institutions?

These are two cases which raise once again the question of what is meant by "access to culture"; what culture professionals mean when they say "are doors are open" or "we are here for everyone"; the difference between the concepts of "democratization of culture" and "democratic culture".

John Holden has been quoted more than once on this blog, specifically his identification of the guardians of culture in the essay "Culture and Class" - the "cultural snobs" and the neo-mandarins (see references at the end of the text).

First point: we are still suffering from the mentality of the "cultural snob", which considers the cultural offer - certain cultural offer – to be only for the initiated. In what concerns the others – the non-initiated, the non-cultured - the option (defended less and less publicly, but present in the way we programme and communicate) is to exclude, there being nothing really one can do, since neither the family of these people nor the school had the capacity to educate them, to prepare them for this experience.

Second point: the neo-mandarins have changed the context created and defended by "cultural snobs", and have come to promote access, the democratization of culture. Although it is a different attitude, more open and inclusive, in practice it also reveals another kind of guardian. The neo-mandarins defend access, but they want to be the ones to define what is worth having access to and how. In more than one meeting lately, when the issue of "inclusion" was raised, the need for cultural spaces to be more representative of the societies in which they are inserted and more welcoming for the diverse people that make up this society, the answer varied little: it usually referred to initiatives of the education service, guided tours or shows which people attend as part of specific groups (people with disabilities, seniors, immigrants, children and adults living in social institutions, people from “underprivileged” backgrounds , etc.).

Third point: the emergence of the neo-cosmopolitans in the cultural sector, willing to give up their role as guardian and to truly open the doors for a greater collaboration and involvement of "outsiders", for making the cultural offer more representative and relevant, has also come to change this relationship with people and the way they perceive and gain ownership of cultural institutions. The goal of the neo-cosmopolitans is to move towards a more democratic culture.

In order for change to occur, the contribution of various agents is required. I will concentrate on two of them: the associations representing the groups of people referred above; and the professionals of the cultural sector.

Undoubtedly, we need to have more participative citizens, who know their rights, who ask for what’s theirs, who want to have a say on cultural institutions and access to the cultural offer. The role of associations representing certain groups of citizens is crucial here, because their voice is sometimes stronger and more respected. These associations must promote and defend the rights of their members, should intervene whenever necessary, should take into good consideration the solutions they propose and those they accept. A few months ago, an actor who would represent in a municipal theater reacted negatively to the presence of sign language interpreters in front of the stage. The theater sought alternatives and asked the Federation of the Associations of the Deaf what they thought of the solution to broadcast the play in another room, from which deaf viewers could follow the performance. The Federation considered the solution to be acceptable. It was not. No solution that discriminates against citizens and their right of access to culture is acceptable and associations should be the first to defend it.

However, there must also be a movement from within. A movement that allows to counteract snobbish attitudes; a movement that allows neo-mandarins to develop and to become neo-cosmopolitans. I believe that we will not have more demanding citizens if we have snobbish cultural professionals, professionals only prepared to repeat past recipes, without questioning them, without thinking about the next step: promoting inclusion in the medium and long term.

Citizens need to feel and see in practice that there is a different mentality on the part of the professionals, a mindset that seeks to foster the relationship with people, many people, not just the initiated, and create space for this relationship to exist and to grow, to be real and lasting. We will be more inclusive if citizens, in all their diversity, feel that the programming of public cultural institutions is relevant to them; if they feel represented and the representation entails an increased involvement; if communication is developed with a view to getting accross to them, to engage in a dialogue using a language understood by all; if our action does not promote access to the cultural offer by maintaining people in segregated groups, but by taking steps every day so that people can co-exist in the same space, enjoy the same offer. If culture professionals fail to convince people of their honest intentions to foster this relationship and to work towards a democratic culture, the offer (not culture) will continue irrelevant, and therefore non-existent, for them.

Essays by John Holden:

Monday, 2 February 2015

What we know and what we don't do about it

In the last few weeks, I had the chance to talk to a couple of colleagues regarding some accessibility issues in their exhibitions. Things like poorly illuminated labels, bad contrast between letters and background, labels placed too low, objects exhibited at a high level and without inclination, long and complicated texts. I believe that these are issues that can easily be solved, without any further investment in money, just with some forward planning and the concern not to exclude. Actually, when exhibitions are designed to be inclusive, not only do they not cost more, but they can actually bring more money in, as more people will be able to access them.

I felt a bit puzzled when the people I approached told me that they knew all about those problems. Why did things happen that way, then? Is it possible that we are consciouly creating barriers to our exhibitions’ content? What do we do them for, then, if not for people to enjoy them?

I feel the same kind of puzzlement in conferences or training courses, when we discuss issues of management, communications, marketing, visitor services, education, etc. Quite often, some colleagues approach me and say: “We’ve been telling our superiors what you’ve just said to for years and years.”

Thus, it seems that there’s no lack museum professionals (including museum guards) who are aware of a number of small and big management or communications problems.  We have also got feedack from visitors themselves, through visitor books, comment cards, visitor studies, etc. Finally, there is also the contribution of academics, thinkers, bloggers, such as Maria Isabel Roque - who recently reminded us of some of the things that are still to happen, in her insightful post Acerca do que (ainda) falta ao património - or Luís Raposo - one of the few museum professionals in Portugal who regularly share their views publicly, his latest opinion article concerning the opening of the new Coaches Museum and future plans for museums in Lisbon’s Belem area.

So, we can’t complain that we haven’t already got truly valuable feedback – both from insiders and outsiders - which can help build strategies, correct mistakes, make decisions, register trends, understand changes and developments. Why don´t decision makers and those directly responsible for museum management act on it? What´s stopping us, what kind of barriers are we dealing with? Why are we going after more studies, new studies, if we haven’t done anything yet about the things we already know? Why existing knowledge seems to have no impact whatsoever on museum management and practices?

Here’s my attempt to identify some reasons:

It might be because, despite politically correct statements that museums are at the service of society, they are rather at the service of those who manage them. People – those who come and those who don’t come – and their interests and needs are actually not our principal concern. Objects are and it’s enough that they look beautiful for those who know how to appreciate them.

It might be because in this field we work with very short-term plans, which follow the electoral circles and which may easily be abandoned, with no further explanation or responsibilities taken. Thus, big and small issues remain and their discussion is perpetuated without brining any concrete developments.

Finally, it might be because we tend to settle for what’s “good enough”. We know what the problems are, but there comes a moment when we cannot insist anymore: either because we can’t get our arguments across or because we feel that we cannot expect or demand more from other people. Only that “good enough” is not good enough and the argument of “one step at a time” doesn’t always take us as far as we should go. In fact, it often keeps us just where we are.

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Monday, 19 January 2015

On loyalty

I was recently told of the Head of a Regional Service of Antiquities in Greece, whose work had been positevely appreciated by many of her colleagues and members of the public, but who was threatened with disciplinary actions and was later also transferred, what was considered to be a kind of discreet ‘punishment’. Why did she become “persona non grata”? Maybe because she repeatedly informed her superiors of the inadequate guarding of one of the most important archaeological sites in her region, which has actually become a pasture for goat and sheep herds, and, having received no answer at all, she informed the general public of the situation and made available photos of the site. Maybe because she had also repeatedly informed her superiors of the lack of guards in a specific museum, warning of the possibility of closure as from a certain date if no solution was found. Her reports having been met with silence, she went ahead and closed the museum, apologizing to the public and making the reasons of the closure known.

I happen to believe that this is exactly the kind of attitude we should expect from a person who has the responsibility of running a public (and in this case, cultural) institution: to strive for adequate management; to take appropriate, responsible, action, in order to safeguard what is a common, public, good; to keep one’s superiors informed of any issues that might joepardize the proper running of the institution and stop it from fulfilling its mission; and, when necessary, to share that responsibility by informing all stakeholders, including the general public, the citizens.

I was not surprised, though, to hear of the threats of disciplinary action against that person. What is, in fact, expected of those people – and this is not only the case in Greece – is to be loyal to their superiors, local authority or government. What is understood by ‘loyal’, though, is to embrace each and every decision and practice coming from above, and, in case of disagreement, not to question them in public or to keep the discussion in the ‘family’, where it can be easily ignored. Sharing the discussion more broadly, with the society, is rarely tolerated and the punishment is seen by all of us, even if not in agreement, as expected, inevitable, natural to occur. We don´t support our colleagues, we don’t openly question the punishment, we don’t join them, so that, together, we may become stronger. Thus, we are all witnesses of the management of public cultural institutions in a way that is little transparent, where plans and actions are not being discussed, where public dialogue is not encouraged and where the professionals of the sector themselves keep silent or express their criticism very carefully and discreetly. In this context, of fear and self-censorship, it’s not easy to be critical, much less when acting alone. It’s not easy and it’s not very efficient either.

When living in a democratic society, though, we should expect a public manager’s loyalty to lie first and most of all with their service and the citizens. They have the obligation to challenge or oppose any decision or omission that jeopardizes that service. When required, they have the obligation to share the information and to help shape the public opinion regarding issues that are of public interest. In the UK, there’s such a thing as the National Museum Directors’ Council, which represents the leaders of the country’s national collections and major regional museums. The Council acts as an advocate, it represents its members to Government and other bodies, it is proactive in setting and leading the museums’ policy agenda and it is the forum where its members can discuss issues of common concern. Although the members are national museums – thus, funded by the government -, the Council is an independent organization. How do they do it? Have we got something to learn from them?

Recently, David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liveprool expressed a wish on Twitter that museums may “find their voice in 2015 in alerting the public to the impacts of austerity on what we are able to do compared with before”. I was left thinking: What does the Greek or Portuguese society really know about the actual conditions of a number of public cultural institutions? About the lack of money for the execution of basic and essential tasks, the multitasking, the extra (unpaid) hours, weekends at work, so that the boat may keep going? And are they interested in knowing? Do they consider these institutions to be theirs? Would it make any difference to them if they closed tomorrow?

What is our role, as professionals, in this context? Can we expect to have critical and demanding citizens, though, if the professionals of the sector themselves are not being openly critical and demanding? How do we help form informed and responsible citizens? Is there democracy without critical thinking and public dialogue? How do we defend transparency, meritocracy and intellectual honesty? Where is our public forum? Where does our loyalty lie and why?

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Monday, 5 January 2015

To take 'no' for an answer

The Acropolis Museum (Photo: Maria Vlachou)
When I was last at the Acropolis Museum and while taking some photos in the sculptures gallery, I was approached by a guard who kindly informed me that I couldn´t take photos in that room and also quickly informed me of the  areas where I could take photos. No explanation was given to me as to why that distinction was made. When a bit later I took a photo of a label (not an exhibit, a label), another guard saw me and made sure to inform her colleagues that I should be watched. She also followed my every step...

All this being very uncomfortable for me – and, I am sure, for the guards too -, I took the opportunity of questioning an archaeologist who was in the room in order to answer visitors’ questions. She explained to me that some of the statues preserve their original colours, that flash could be harmful, and that, as it’s not possible for the guards to control the use of flash, the museum thought better to totally prohibit photography. I thought that I took her by surprise when I asked why the museum doesn’t actually assume its educational role and explain to visitors why flash mustn’t be used, instead of totally prohibiting photography in certain rooms (most digital cameras don’t need flash) and creating such an ambiguous policy regarding photography in the museum.

It was not something I invented at that moment. It occurred to me that, a couple of years ago, in the Workt by Hand exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum – composed of extremely fragile quilts, made in the last two centuries - the museum had chosen not to show the objects behind glass or surrounded by rope and at a distance. So, when entering the room, the visitor was asked to 

Brooklyn Museum (Photo: Maria Vlachou)
Some people might be thinking that this is a different culture, a more respectful one, but it is not the case. The Brooklyn Museum opens its doors to all sorts of visitors, with and without the habit of visiting museums, with and without specific knowledge regarding the objects and their preservation. It assumes its educational role, though, and doesn´t simply expect visitors to take ‘no’ for an answer, just because the museum said so, without further explanation.

Little after my visit to the Acropolis Museum, I read an article in the Guardian about the fundamental role of ushers in theatres, especially regarding disruptive audiences. In the article, we are given the example of Stratford East Theatre, where ushers and front-of-house staff are trained to deal with such situations. And more: at a theatre which has “a particularly high number of first-time theatregoers, who sometimes need to be helped to understand what effect their behaviour is having, not just on other audience members but also on ushers and cast members”, the management chooses to invite them back “for backstage and front-of-house tours and maybe even to meet staff and casts, so that they can understand more about how a theatre works and how their behaviour impacts others”.

I believe it is part of the educational role of cultural institutions to help people better understand the details of the work that is being undertaken, but also their own role – the spectators’ and visitors’ role – so that it may be carried out in appropriate conditions for everyone involved. I believe it can be much more effective than simply saying ‘no’ to a certain behaviour or asking people to leave and it can also make them feel co-owners of and co-responsible for that work.

More on this blog:

Say click!
Please define danger

Monday, 15 December 2014

The educational dimension

Last October, during the intermission of a performance of Brahms' “Requiem” by the Saint Louis Symphony, twenty three protesters sitting in various parts of the auditorium stood up and sang “Requiem for Mike Brown” (the black unarmed youth that was shot by a policeman in Ferguson). Some members of the audience were shocked, others applauded, the same happened with the musicians on stage. Noone interrupted the protesters, noone called the police. Maybe because what happened made sense, at that place, at that time, in that specific context. Music being an integral part of protest in Ferguson, this, acoording to one of the organizers, was an attempt to “speak to a segment of the population that has the luxury of being comfortable. You have to make a choice for just staying in your comfort zones or will you speak out for something that’s important? It’s not all right to just ignore it”. (read full article)

The recent killings of black people by police in different US cities have provoked an intense soul searching among cultural institutions in that country. In a recent joint statement from museum bloggers and other culture professionals regarding Ferguson and related events, one reads:

“The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)? (...) Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission. (...) As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case.”

Last August, serious controversy involved the decision of Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival, for the first time in eight years. The reason was that the festival received support from the Israeli Embassy in London and, given the ongoing assault on Gaza at the time, the Board felt it was inappropriate to accept financial support from any government agency involved”. They offered to provide alternative funding, but the Festival did not accept (read full article). The conflict in Gaza was also the reason why participating artists in this year’s São Paulo Bienal (later supported by the bienal curators) called on the organizers to return funding from the Israeli Conusulate. Negotiations resulted in the removal of the conusulate logo from the general sponsors and its association only to the Israeli artists that had received that specific financial support (read full report).

We may agree or disagree with the decisions taken by these organizations. But the questioning of the role of cultural institutions in today’s society, especially their educational role, must be permanent, constant. Just like Rebecca Herz, I believe that they shouldn´t act irrespective of their mission (as it is suggested in the above mentioned statement of the US museum bloggers), but any museum collection or theatre /orchestra / festival programme can have a connection to contemporary life and help shape the kind of society we need or dream of. As the work of many contemporary artists is a response to contemporary life issues, it is not unusual to find this kind of connections, and the fertile thinking associated to them, in the programming of theatres, companies or galleries (the Maria Matos Theatre, the Gulbenkian Programme Next Future or the alkantara festival are the first to come to mind, among the organizations whose programming I follow in Portugal, but there are others). Museums or orchestras presenting works that are not contempoarary are not used to linking their collections or concerts to contemporary life though or, if they do, it does not become obvious to me. Quite often I find myself thinking “What is the point of this exhibition or concert?”, “Why is this relevant?”, “How does this connect to contemporary portuguese society and its diversity?” (the inspiring work of the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment comes to mind once again...)

This brings me once again to a recurring issue on this blog: accountability and responsibility. I don´t see cultural institutions as islands, cut off from what is happening around them. I believe they should make it clear for people how what they have to say or show can be relevant to them and a way of finding meaning; they should share their vision and objectives publicly and take responsibility for fulfilling them; they should be a public forum, where people can find comfort, but also the necessary discomfort. They clearly have an educational role (in the sense of providing what the Ancient Greeks called “paideia”), one that I wouldn´t necessarily make depend on what happens (or doesn’t happen) at school or at home and one that doesn’t firstly depend on an education department, but on the director him/herself.

Two museums directors and a curator will be with us next Tuesday, 16 December, at the Gulbenkian Foundation conference “What places for education? The educational dimension of cultural institutions” (more information). Charles Esche (Director of Van Abbemuseum and one of the curators of this year’s São Paulo Bienal), David Fleming (Director of National Musems Liverpool and President of the International Federation of Human Rights Museums) and Delfim Sardo (Curator, University Professor and Essayist) will challenge us to think on our responsibilities and practices in the current social and political context.

Note: For those who cannot be in Lisbon, the session will be livestreamed from 10am Lisbon time. The link for the livestream as well as a number of papers, posts, interviews in english may be found on the conference webpage (in “Oradores” and in "+Info")

More readings :

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Monday, 1 December 2014

An apology of criticism

Critical thinking is a mental and emotional function in which someone - based on his/her knowledge and information available – decides what to think or do in relation to a specific situation. The result is a substantiated opinion. It is subjective. It may be positive or negative. It must be intellectually honest.

There is a tendency to associate solely negative aspects to the word ‘criticism’ and to see it as an attack. That´s why many times a critique provokes reactions such as “criticising is easy…”; or a hasty clarification by the ‘attacker’, such as “please, don´t take this as a criticism”; or even the need to declare that the ‘attacker’ has nothing personal against his/her ‘target’.

A couple of weeks ago, I reacted – critically - to the interview of a national museum director and, specifically, to a statement regarding an issue that is of extreme importance to me in our profession. This means that, based on my knowledge and the information available, I decided what to think of that statement and I shared that thought. Other people reacted to my criticism, agreeing or disagreeing or adding other aspects to the process of critical thinking. At a certain point, though, a colleague intervened to say: “One shouldn´t speak ill of colleagues on Facebook”. This intervention has kept my mind busy since.

I see a distinct difference between speaking ill and criticising. Speaking ill can only be negative and there is something too personal in it, something too sentimental, something that ends up neutralizing the strength of arguments and severely affects the credibility of the critic. Speaking ill is not constructive, it might be temporarily ‘therapeutic’ for the speaker, but it is ineffective.

Criticism is something different. Criticism is the wish to be aware, to put one’s knowledge in good use, to contribute for something better (through positive or negative appreciations) and also to assume responsibility. Thus, criticism is not easy.

Very little critical thinking is shared in public, with the exception, perhaps, of whatever relates to the governement and politicians in general – which makes me think that maybe we don´t feel as responsible for this country´s political life, thus, criticising (or speaking ill) becomes easy... In what concerns everything else, and considering specifically the cultural sector, public criticism and debate regarding decisions, positions, projects is rather limited. The professionals of the field might be feeling that all this is beyond their control and this feeling of impotence makes any intervention seem hopeless. Others might not like the exposure public criticism brings along, wary about personal/professional relationships that tend to get mixed up on these occasions. Others still might not like to take the responsibility of criticising publicly. Thus, as criticism is actually seen as something negative, as an attack, it is better kept behind closed doors, ‘in the family’, or, better still, untold. For some people, it shouldn´t be happening on social media. (I can´t help thinking that, when a couple of years ago I wrote positevely about an interview of the same national museum director, nobody told me I shouldn´t be doing it on Facebook; I suppose it was not considered criticism).

I envy cultural bloggers in (mainly) the US and the UK, who contribute to the open debate and criticism of all important matters, keeping the dialogue alive, their voice heard and the interested public informed. They are too intelligent to fall into the trap of ill speaking. This is an act of responsibility. This should be an expected act in a democracy. All important, major, things must be discussed openly, positive and negative things must be largely debated, responsibility must be assumed. The direction of all public cultural institutions concerns us all, starting from the professionals of the field.

Which brings me to another point: criticism is associated to accountability. When Nina Simon completed her first year as director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, she wrote the post Year one as a museum director... Survived!. Both accountability and criticism stem from a deep sense of responsibility and Nina´s text is the perfect example of what I would like to see happening here.  But it´s not happening. In a country where those holding public positions are not expected to be accountable – that is, to openly define their objectives and to regularly explain what it is that they do, how, why and how successful they are in it - criticism might actually make less sense and we enter a vicious circle. A circle where few substantiated opinions are heard publicly, having no impact whatsoever, and where things happen anyway, no matter what, and success is declared... no matter what. We even consider normal that someone with a public position might be defending the indefensible, might not be giving an honest opinion, out of duty to his/her superiors. A vicious circle, a game, where we sacrifice our intellectual honesty. What´s the gain? And at what cost?

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