Monday, 15 November 2010

Article 27

This week I came across Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights twice in my readings. The artivle says: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

The first time, it was in the book
No Culture, No Future by Simon Brault. Brault in the director of National Theatre School of Canada, Vice-President of Canada Council for the Arts and President of Culture Montréal. His book concentrates on issues related to cultural participation. In the first chapter, “Culture as a forward-looking sector for the future”, the author presents the development of cultural policies in countries such as France, Great Britain, the United States, as well as Canada, he reflects on the conditions of artists, on the economic impact of culture and on its funding. It is in this context that he refers to Article 27 and the right to freely participate in cultural life, a right that justifies governmental involvement in supporting culture.

The second chapter of the book, entitled “Culture as an essential dimension of the human experience”, presents the author´s vision of culture, as a lifeline, as not only a factor that forms and defines every human being, but also one of civilization and progress. Brault refers here to
The Values Study, carried out by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and with the support of Wallace Foundation, that presents the results of approximately one hundred interviews with citizens with different levels of cultural participation. The aesthetic experience, as well as cognitive, political and spiritual values are common among the interviewees, but they also give importance to the impact of cultural participation on the connection between mind and body, gaining an appreciation of ethnic and generational differences, also mentioning notions of identity, self-esteem, pride and dignity. Brault reflects on all those factor that form barriers to cultural participation (social, educational, financial and other practical – lack of time, transport, etc.) and presents a number of examples of cultural institutions that aim to provide better access, contextualizing their offer, simplifying the language they use, promoting encounters between artists and the public, but also using surtitles in opera, with live transmissions of the shows at cinemas, performing outdoors and completing the experience on the social point of view (restaurants, bars, shops, etc).

I found out in this second chapter about the Belgian Association Article 27, that brings together a number of cultural institutions and whose role is considered exemplary in the area of cultural democracy (I did not find the association´s site, but there is a reference to it
here). The Association offers free tickets or tickets at a very low price, in many cases tickets that hadn’t been sold, to all those that have financial difficulties and cannot attend the performances. Currently, the Association is considering extending the offer to other types of cultural and artistic activities, apart from the performing arts. This is an initiative that makes sense and may even generate some revenue, but it concentrates in the elimination of the financial barrier, which doesn´t seem enough to me in order to consider its action fundamental for cultural democracy. The big issue here is not money (it may also be part of it), but mental and cognitive barriers.

Simon Brault embraces the declaration “Elitist culture for all”, by French director
Antoine Vitez, and claims that, apart from supporting, protecting and funding excellence in art, it is important not to forget to develop the demand. In the third chapter of his book, he presents the city of Montreal as a case study of the creation of a cultural development policy in a city that wishes to be seen as a metropolis.

Simon Brault´s book didn’t tell me something new. But it is a well-written book, by someone who believes in what he´s doing and does it with passion and dedication.

I found the second reference to Article 27 in Sharon Heal´s editorial in the October issue of Museums Journal (the monthly journal of
Museums Association). In September it took place in Liverpool the inaugural meeting of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums. The Federation brings together museums that deal with issues of slavery, human rights or the Holocaust, museums whose mission is also to educate and campaign for the respect and against the abuse of human rights. In her editorial, Sharon Heal claims that dealing with these issues should not be the exclusive responsibility of museums whose subject is directly or obviously related to them. Evoking Article 27, Heal reminds us that cultural rights are human rights and believes that all museums must look at their local communities and try to understand if there are people in them that are financially, intellectually or socially excluded. And if there are (we know there are), don´t museums have the obligation to do something about it?

Up to now I had not thought about the issue of cultural participation and audience development with reference to Article 27. We are all so worried about proving the value of culture and convincing governers, sponsors and the society in general of the importance and need to support it, that all too often we forget that cultural participation is a declared right. Thus, the starting point, as I claimed in my post
Who deserves to be funded? (II), should be different: it should be about facilitating access (physical, cognitive, financial).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post made think that this is one of the values that so many times also leads us to question where are the limits of the copyrigth's exclusive.
Somehow there is a moment when this Human Right of everyone's spiritual and intellectual evolution has to overcome the author's exclusive rigths!
Mafalda Sebastião