Sunday 24 March 2024

How does living in a “declining democracy” feel?

Claudia Roth, German Minister of State for Culture, at Belinale.
Photo: Andreas Rentz | Geety Images (taken from The Guardian)

I was in an international group discussion a few days ago, where the subject was museums and declining democracies. We heard about the woes of Polish museum directors, widely reported in the international press (examples from 2017 onwards: here, here, here, here, here); we heard about museums in Hungary, expected to “interpret for the people the wills of the government” or getting censored because of a participatory art project depicting the President or, more recently, seeing a director getting sacked for ignoring the law against the “promotion of homosexuality, which he had voted for when he was a member of parliament. We also heard about the Netherlands, where the extreme right has been attacking museum narratives for some time and is now trying to form a government, after winning the elections in November.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Culture prescribed

Les Kurbas Theatre, Lviv, Ukraine, 2022. Photo: Adriano Miranda

Attending performances of ancient Greek plays in ancient Greek theatres is an experience that always gets me thinking. I find particularly moving the stream of people heading towards the theatre to watch for the umpteenth time the same stories that tell us of love, hate, respect, arrogance, thirst for power, war, justice, revenge. Stories written many centuries ago about human nature and all that is good and bad about it. And then, once I look around me at all the people filling up the theatre, and also seeing them leave after the performance, I often wonder “So what? What now?”. To what extent people use the “food for thought” provided by the play to think about contemporary life, about themselves and others, their place in the world and what could be their contribution towards a better world? When I consider contemporary Greek society (and other societies), the way we take care (or don’t take care) of each other, I am reminded that the power does not lie in the play alone, but also, and perhaps even more, in the individual and what that person will (or will not) do with what was given to them.

Tuesday 26 December 2023

We yearn for the future (still)

The façade of the National Theatre D. Maria II, Lisbon, 2020-2021

Two recent programmes on Portuguese public TV focusing on culture, as well as numerous meetings with professionals in the field throughout the year and in recent years, have intensified my concern regarding how this sector is understood and managed, what vision it projects and how it practices it.

Friday 10 November 2023

Zia and Manuela were present.

RTCP conference in Portalegre, 7.11.2023

Professional meetings are, increasingly, a precious moment for those who can give themselves or manage to ask their managers for the time to participate. With more and more cultural professionals talking openly about mental illness, exhaustion, depression, senseless rhythms, these moments of encounter - when we can be together, hug each other, look into each other's eyes, smile, talk – are more than necessary, they are urgent.

Friday 3 November 2023

Fit for democracy: as natural as water?

Photo: Maria Vlachou

This year, I had the opportunity to spend three days at FOLIO – Óbidos International Literary Festival. I attended, among other things, the launch of “Voltas e Reviravoltas - A Cidadania”, by Ana Maria Magalhães and Isabel Alçada, with illustrations by Mantraste. This is the second of 12 books in the children's collection “Missão: Democracia” (Mission: Democracy), an initiative of the Portuguese Parliament, curated by Dora Batalim SottoMayor.

At this event, Isabel Alçada said that, for young people today, democracy is as natural as turning on the tap and water coming out. I wrote this statement down in my notebook. It caused me a certain discomfort at that time and I later returned to it on several occasions. Because, from an empirical point of view, I don't see anything like that around me. Because the opposite of political repression is not necessarily a democracy of quality, a healthy democracy, a democracy as natural as water coming out of the tap.

Monday 16 October 2023

Politics and classical music

Logo of the "Yes" campaign for the "Voice Referendum"

Reading that the Oakland Symphony’s Playlist will host and celebrate Angela Davies gave me some hope this morning, in the midst of the terrible news we´ve been following in the last week. “Activist. Educator. Conscience of a generation. She will share the music that inspired her courage and her commitment”, one reads on the orchestra’s website. “Courage” and “commitment” have become essential attributes for US cultural organisations, considering the challenges democracy has been facing in that country. Just a few days ago, I had felt truly depressed when reading about the refusal of a North Carolina radio station to broadcast Met operas it considered “inappropriate”. The refusal, I read in an article, “comes at a time when the Metropolitan Opera is eager to showcase its commitment to recently written operas and works from outside the traditional canon of music written by white men. Three of the operas that WCPE plans to reject in the 2023-24 season were written by Black or Mexican composers. This past April, WCPE also refused to broadcast another Met-produced opera written by a Black composer that included LGBTQ themes.” Considering the Met’s efforts to move beyond the “canon” and become more relevant for more US citizens, the general manager of the radio station expressed deep moral concerns, such as “What if one child hears this? When I stand before Jesus Christ on Judgement Day, what am I going to say?”. On 5 October, news came that the radio station had reversed its decision due to widespread criticism.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Censorhsip doesn't always bother us, does it?

Image taken from LUCA - Teatro Luís de Camões Facebook page.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is one of the best-known university museums. Its current exhibition Black Atlantic: Power, people, resistance questions us: “Which stories get remembered, and why?”. The museum states that this exhibition explores some new stories from history, questioning Cambridge's role in the transatlantic slave trade.

In 1816, Richard Fitzwilliam donated large sums of money, literature and art to the University of Cambridge, which gave birth to the museum. The donations were made possible by the enormous wealth of his grandfather, Sir Matthew Decker, a Dutch-born English merchant who helped establish the South Sea Company in 1711, responsible for the African slave trade. Responding to a need and a demand from part of the society – but also its own, it seems to me – the museum puts the finger in the wound, questioning itself and its contribution to the perpetuation of a certain History.