Monday, 26 September 2011

Back to numbers

Photo taken from the website of the newspaper Público.
The Secretary of State for Culture is absolutely right when he says “I don´t think it´s fair that a company, a director or a producer does not express concern regarding the audiences”. But this is where our understanding ends. Because concern regarding the audiences is not only and in the first place proven based on box office results. And because "the creation of new audiences” has become yet one more politically correct, but empty, concept.

I feel less and less comfortable with the expression ‘creation of new audiences’. Because it comes to reinforce the role of ‘god’, of ‘guardian’, taken on by many of us working in the cultural sector. We are the owners of cultural institutions, we (and only we) know what should be presented in them, what is of quality, interest, value. What the others, the ‘audiences’ we aim to ‘create’, should see and appreciate.

We know a lot of things, that´s true. We shouldn´t be working in this field if we didn´t. But there is a lot of knowledge, many experiences, visions and ways of enjoying culture and the arts also on the ‘other side’, among the ‘audiences’ out there, who exist and with whom we haven´t established contact yet. Thus, when I think about these issues now, I prefer the concepts of ‘participation’ or ‘involvement’.

Having said this, to express concern regarding the audiences doesn´t mean, in the first place, to consider box office results. Because, in the first place, a company or a director or a producer doesn´t express concern when he´s not conscious or insists on ignoring the specificities of his socio-cultural environment; when he´s out of touch with the different realities existing in it, with the art and culture that is created and consumed there; when he does always… what he´s always done, without any sort of adaptation to new trends or needs; when he sees Communication as an accessory, sometimes an ‘inevitable’ one; when he´s concentrated in creating, as he should, but is not available to consider the necessary timings in order to communicate to the outside world (the one we want to buy tickets…) what´s the dream, the aspiration, what´s being done, how and by whom; when he refuses to give interviews, when he doesn´t go to TV Show X or Y (because he considers it to be representative of ‘low culture’), when he makes the press wait, when he does not allow filming and photographing during rehearsals, when he does not collaborate in the scheduling of interviews and dress rehearsals (just as all technical aspects and those related to production in general are scheduled in advance). A company, a director or a producer do not express concern regarding the audiences when they don´t want to realize that it´s not enough to create, there is a need to communicate as well. It´s part of their job.

But because I am not only concerned with theatre and cinema box office results, but with museums as well, I don´t think they should be left out. Because a museum director or curator as well must express concern regarding the audiences. And he doesn´t when, just like other culture professionals, he´s concentrated in his museum without considering the surrounding environment; when he doesn´t know or ignores the motivations, interests, concerns of the people he´s supposed to serve; when he doesn´t find ways of involving them in the museum´s activity; when he writes texts (that elementary means that all museums possess) that are understood only by him and his peers; when he´s only worried about exhibiting an object - beautifully and elegantly, placing (or hiding…) a minimal label -, but at the same time does not give the visitors the means to interpret those objects, discover their story, to become fascinated, touched, surprised, to surrender; when there are no channels for visitors themselves to be able to contribute to the choices, interpretations and approaches that are being made; when he doesn´t put people at ease in the museum environment (physically, psychologically and intellectually). Museums that are mystical, closed in themselves, that communicate only with those who know them already and appreciate them, become irrelevant for a large part of their community and they are not ‘used’, even if entrance is free or tickets very cheap.

The answer to give when concern is related, in the first place, to box office results is not at all complicated, neither for theatres nor for cinemas nor for museums: we programme what is more popular; we distribute more invitations; we allow for more school group visits. And thus we strangle the experimental; we put aside what is not known; we finish off with quality in museum visits. Spectator and visitor numbers are important, yes. But before they become performance indicators (and they don´t indicate anything just by themselves), there is a lot to do in the way cultural institutions relate to people. Let´s take care of the relationship first, with respect and honesty. And let´s not forget that the State itself has got responsibilities in building this relationship, in what concerns the objectives it must share with culture agents and the resources, both human and financial, it must make available. As well as we cannot forget that a support with public money should also result in certain responsibilities regarding the 'public', namely in what concerns access – physical, psychological, intellectual.

It´s a good thing that evaluation, numbers included, takes place a bit later and relates to all those involved.

Still in this blog

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