|All photos taken from the Facebook page of Accion Poetica.|
The Eurobarometer carried out a new survey on Cultural Access and Participation (full study and executive summary). The previous one had been in 2007, before the crisis hit Europe, so this recent study may give us an insight into the possible effects of the crisis on peoples habits and practices.
Speaking in very-very general terms, and in what concerns Portugal, the study shows that Portuguese participation is under the European average in all activities considered in the survey, both in terms of attendance and in terms of involvement in artistic activities. The biggest differences refer to reading a book (EU: 68%; PT: 40%), visiting a historical monument or site (EU: 52%; PT: 27%) and going to the cinema (EU: 52%; PT: 29%).
The main barrier to access referred by Europeans is lack of interest or lack of time. For the Portuguese, lack of interest was the main reason for not participating, marking a higher percentage than the european average in all activities considered in the survey. The activities that least interest the Portuguese in comparison to the rest of the Europeans are reading a book (PT: 49%; EU: 25%), visiting a museum or gallery (PT: 51%; EU: 35%) and visiting a historical monument or site (PT: 44%; EU: 28%).
The reason I want to write today about the study of the eurobarometer is not to analyze graphics and results. It is to question how we are going to interpret them and what we are going to do about them, being professionals in the cultural sector.
The results were primarily met on Facebook and the blogosphere with pessimism or a certain fatalism; with statements such as “We are a country of uncultured” or “The Portuguese don’t want to know about it, they are not interested, they think it´s not worth it” - with some kind of implicit accusation, I thought, of the kind “Is it worth doing anything for those ignorant and ungrateful people?”.
I confess that I was full of questions, some of them permanent ones, frequently discussed in this blog, regardless of the existence of formal studies. Trying to summarize them here, I would like to consider two main issues:
Question 1: How large was the definition of “cultural participation” in the study? Did it only consider attendance and involvement in what we may call “formal cultural institutions”?
Having access to the full report and questionnaire, I was happy to see that the definition was not a narrow one (it did consider participation through the internet, activities like dancing or doing photography or handicrafts), I am just not sure if, the way the question was asked, it also helped those surveyed consider their activities in such a broad sense (how many people, for instance, would have thought that dancing at a wedding or club is a form of cultural participation?). The “Public Participation in the Arts” surveys of the American National Endowement for the Arts, carried out every four years, do give is this kind of details regarding the “what exactly; where exactly; how exactly” – all reports are available online, but check, for instance, the last full report, referring to 2008 (some highlights here), or the highlights of the 2012 survey, the full report expected to become available 2014.
Regarding especifically participation on the internet, one should highlight that the Portuguese mark above the European average in what concerns playing computer games (+11%), putting their own cultural content online (+3%), listening to radio or music / dowloading music / reading or looking at cultural blogs (all +1%).
Question 2: Are people little interested in culture in general or in the kind of culture “formal cultural institutions” offer them? Do we programme bearing in mind people’s interests, concerns, existing knowledge, questions, needs, practical and psychological barriers that might be keeping them away? Are we ever going to question the way we are doing things and the sincerity of our statement “We are here for the people”?
Some personal facts: some times I look at the agenda of exhibitions in museums and, judging from the titles, nothing sounds exciting or interesting enough for me to go all the way and visit them; a number of concerts and interpreters, of all musical genres, are promoted as “the best in the world”, but this is simply not enough for me to make the decision to buy the ticket, as the world is so full of “best” artists; in what concerns lesser known artists, the big majority of the institutions presenting them behave as if we should already know about them, adding absolutely nothing to the title and/or name.
So this may be my problem as culture consumer. But it might also be a problem for cultural institutions that wish to communicate with me (at least, they say they do): a problem of choosing interesting and inspiring titles; a problem of choosing subjects (meaning stories) that might appeal to a more diverse, less specialized, audience; a problem in trying to attract more using basic information that is only understood by few; and also a need (I would even say obligation) to understand what people choose to do in their free time and why. Because, when I, as a person /consumer, don´t go to your exhibition / concert / theatre play / festival, it’s not “simply” because I am uncultured, uninterested, ignorant or ungrateful (and frankly, I don’t appreciate hearing you say this about me...). It might be because someone else was more sincere in wishing to communicate with me and engage me and did a better job in getting my attention, interest and precious time.
In 1996 Mexicans would, in average, read one book a year. Writer Armando Alanis Pulido, concerned with the decline of literature and poetry and with the widely held idea that poetry is opaque, difficult to read and understand, turned to city walls in an effort to make it part of people´s everyday life. He initiated a movement called Accion Poetica (Poetic Action). Since then, it has spread in about 20 Latin American countries and even crossed the Atlantic. The other day the newspaper Le Monde had this title: The walls in Latin America speak of love. Only one, unique, signature: Accion Poetica.
Still on this blog