Monday, 22 November 2010

"Get a job!", they say...

I was reading the various comments on Publico online regarding Luis Miguel Cintra´s interview to Tiago Bartolomeu Costa entitled “There is a concrete aggression against the companies”. On many occasions in the last months I felt uncomfortable, even shocked, with the violent, furious way some of the ‘commentators’, the majority anonymous, expressed their opinion against funding for culture, the arts and the artists and their contempt for them, demonstrating in certain cases – like in this one – big ignorance.

The ‘phenomenon’ is not exclusively portuguese. At the time the cuts were announced in the UK, some comments left by newspaper readers demonstrated the same fury, the same contempt, a lot of incomprehension and ignorance.

Given my profession, I tend to read these opinions from the point of view of communication. And I feel more and more that there are two issues the cultural sector, and the arts sector in particular, should address.

First of all, ‘institutional’ marketing (in quotes, because I use the term referring both to institutions and individuals). It is not enough to promote and communicate our programming. Nevertheless, because of the lack of resources and time, this is exactly what we all concentrate on. Only that in this way we end up reaching mainly existing audiences and not conquering non-audiences. Institutional marketing is a tool that would allow to communicate a vision, it would raise awareness regarding the values we defend, it would show the way a project is being built, it would try to define an accessible language, it would present ‘proofs’ as an answer to the concerns expressed by the public, it would create the basis for a relationship, it would help get support (I am not referring to financial support, but that also), it would commit into making evident the relevance of what is being created for the lives of all of us.

The second issue, very much related to the first, is that of the professionalization of those working in the area of communication and cultural marketing. It is curious that Luis Miguel Cintra himself, when he refers to the multiple tasks his small team is asked to carry out, he highlights the importance of two of them, both related to marketing: choosing photos and writing a press release.

Very often, the people working in this area are there by chance. Not questioning for a moment their commitment and dedication, many times we feel there is a lack of professional training, lack of general and specific knowledge that would allow for rigorous, consistent, relevant, innovative work. In order to work in this field, just like in any other, it is important to be well prepared, to have the knowledge and tools that would allow us to question, test, adapt, evaluate what is being done and at the same time offer good counseling to those dedicated to a different art.

It is not exactly the comments mentioned above that made me think about solutions and ways of reacting. It is very little honest on behalf of someone who believes to be informed and who pays to see the shows of Broadway, to claim that Luis Miguel Cintra does not convince anybody to go and see his shows. Although the number of spectators is not exactly a proof of quality, as we all know, the fact is that Luis Miguel Cintra, apart from having many shows sold out at the small Theatre of Bairro Alto, he manages to sell out day after day much bigger rooms when he moves to other theatres, mixing traditional and non-traditional audiences, those who follow him faithfully and others that are being exposed to his art for the first time. And that means something.

The above mentioned comments reminded me once again that ignorance exists and in the majority of the cases it is not intentional (like in these comments), but genuine. The challenge for those of us who work in the cultural sector - not only communications professionals, but also education professionals, without forgetting of course the artists themselves, programmers, artistic directors, museum directors, etc. – is to recognize it, to understand its causes, to fight it. And that means, in the first place, that we need to have adequate training in the field we are working. It also means that we should rethink and adjust our strategies and priorities.

No comments: