Monday, 12 November 2012

The "culture fiction" lobby

Fernando Birri (Photo taken from
I am involved in a european project called CETAID – Community Exhibitions as Tools for Adult Individual Development. It brings together partners from four european countries: Hungary, Great Britain, Italy and Portugal. Last month the partners met for the first time in Manchester and London. In three days of intense meetings and exchange of experiences and ideas it once again became obvious how big the distance between actual practices and concerns in Great Britain and the rest of the countries is. Quite often in meetings like these I see expressions of frustration or despair on people´s faces, accompanied some times by comments of self-mockery or self-pity. For our British colleagues, our realities were theirs 10 or 20 years ago (in some cases, maybe even more...). What we are desperately still aiming to achieve, they did it long ago. They´ve already evaluated it, criticised it, took it further forward.

Question nr. 1: What is the point of bringing together realities which are so far apart? What is the point of putting around the same table institutions and professionals with different visions, different priorities or different means?

In a second meeting with the Polish colleague I mentioned in a previous post, we had a long discussion on issues that seem to be common in our countries: a rather short vision in the cultural sector (or total lack of it in certain cases), lack of trained professionals (especially in what concerns management), lack of space to discuss new ideas and approaches, when most people feel the need to launch fireworks just because things happen, without considering how they should have happened and how their future can and should be planned (it´s very much worth reading Ines Fialho Brandão´s opinion text on the announcement of the creation of a new municipal museum in the portuguese town of Peniche; and, once again, it was incredible to see, in the Facebook discussion that followed, how willing – maybe needy too? – people are to launch fireworks just because a municipality had this ‘noble’ idea).

Question nr.2: Do culture professionals who think differently have a place or any impact at all in a sector that seems to be still quite conservative, quite amateur, determined to avoid evaluation, and rather more concerned with guarantees of personal/professional wellbeing rather than serving the purposes of the cultural institutions they work for? 

I´ve given a lot of thought to both questions. And I think they are related too.

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano tells the story of a lecture he and his friend Fernando Birri, the argentinian film director, once gave in a university. Apparently, when asked by a student “What´s utopia for?”, Birri answered: “Utopia is in the horizon... I know very well that I will never reach it... But that´s what utopia is for: to keep walking.”

Realities that are far different, far better or far away from our own are that kind of utopia that makes us keep walking. They inspire us, they make us want to be better, they help us dream. It´s true that when I was younger I got frustrated for not reaching them, or for not reaching them fast enough. What I appreciate now when I encounter them is the comfort of knowing they are there, they exist, someone else did make them happen, we can get there too.

There are occasions when what was a utopia the day before becomes a reality the day after. In order to come true, these ‘utopias’ do need people who think differently, who have a vision, who are persistant, hard working and also good at what they´re doing. It might take ages before some actual change happens, but these people can and do have an impact. They can´t do it alone though, especially when they are young, little known in their field, not in a position to take or influence decisions. Thus, they need to identify their peers (and by ‘peers’ I don´t mean people who necessarily think the same, I mean people who are open-minded, open to dialogue, who want to do better and more); they need to create their own space, their own platforms of expression and debate, so that their voice can be heard (and nowadays “liked” and widely “shared”); they need to support each other in order to avoid exclusion and isolation; thus, the “culture fiction" lobby is born.

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