Monday 28 June 2010

About the Culture Minister´s interview

Culture Minister, Gabriela Canavilhas, gave an interview on the 25th of June to the newspaper Público (read here in portuguese only), announcing significant cuts in the area of culture, that will affect all sectors.

I believe there are various points that should be better explained. The fact that the reactions of various cultural agents obliged the Ministry to issue a press release on the day the interview was published (read
here in portuguese only) indicates that there has apparently been little dialogue and sharing of information. Everybody has manifested solidarity, but they don´t like being taken by surprise and feel that they should be more involved in the search for solutions. It makes sense.

I believe that the Culture Minister is someone who knows what she wants, confident, courageous and focused. She was very fast briefed on the situation of the various cultural sectors and took initiatives in order to initiate processes aiming to tackle issues that have been on standby for a long time.

This is why I feel disappointed every time the Minister seems to avoid answering certain questions and even gives information to the general public that is not precise. She is using the ‘tricks’ of politicians, which do not work with people that have a more profound knowledge of the field and, I repeat, keep the general public misinformed.

There are two moments in the interview that caused me this feeling, both related to museums. First, when the Minister was questioned about the controversial transfer of the National Museum of Archaeology, she answered:

“The public visibility of the controversy, if we look carefully, has been motivated by two or three people. It doesn´t have a large dimension. It´s the restricted movement of a restricted group. The fact that it has gained a lot of visibility in the newspapers doesn´t mean that it emanates from a significant civil force”.

“Rarely in culture do we see movements from large civil forces”, insisted the journalist Vanessa Rato.

“It is not so”, answered the Minister. “Look at the case of the Popular Art Museum. This was really a movement, with a very interesting strength. In the case of the Museum of Archaeology, it is the director and two or three more people…”.

I don´t want to believe that the Minister is not aware of the disagreement of a large part of museum professionals, of the intense activity of the National Museum of Archaeology Friends Group, of the heated debate in this group´s
blog, of the declaration of the Assembly-General of the National Committee of ICOM (International Council of Museums), that originated a petition. All these people are not simply against the transfer of the museum. They are against the transfer of the museum while there is not a study that can guarantee that the Cordoaria has the necessary conditions in order to receive a collection of great national importance.

But I would say more. Even if there were only two or three people against the transfer of the museum, even if it was only one, the Director, the fact that these people are museum professionals should be enough for the Minister to pay more attention and not try to minimize or ignore the validity of their opinions an actions. Because Luís Raposo is an excellent professional. Because he is a man of dialogue, looking for consensus. Because he´s not just whining. He´s fulfilling his responsibilities, trying to guarantee, in the name of all of us, the conditions for the preservation of the National Museum of Archaeology collection.

The second point in the interview that left me feeling uncomfortable was when the Minister was questioned about the efficiency of the articulation between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Economy, giving as example the case of the exhibition “Encompassing the Globe”.

“I didn´t follow that process. I was in the Azores”, answered Gabriela Canavilhas.

Well, we all know now that the exhibition´s objectives are far from having been achieved and that the costs for the State, for the tax payers, have been considerable. The details were published in the newspaper Público in the 21st of April (read
here in portuguese only), Gabriela Canavilhas being already Culture Minister. In my post of the 26th of May, entitled NMAA in the news, I was commenting on the fact that former Culture Minister, José António Pinto Ribeiro, the minister responsible for the exhibition coming to Portugal, declined to comment on the news. I considered that it was his obligation towards the citizens to assume his responsibilities and answer the questions. Similarly, I don´t think it was correct on behalf of the actual Culture Minister to avoid answering when questioned about the efficiency of the partnerships between her Ministry and the Ministry of Economy. Even if she was still in the Azores, she would have surely heard the news. The question asked is very valid and what I would expect from a Minister who knows what she wants, confident, courageous and focused, would be a clear answer, guaranteeing that cases of bad management of public money, as the one of the exhibition “Encompassing the Globe”, will not be repeated.

No comments: