Thursday, 16 December 2010

Guest post: On access to culture, by Cecília Folgado

In the last days access to culture and the universal declaration of human rights have been in the centre of the debate within the cultural sector. Personally, I do not rejoice in the centrality of the issue. I confess that it upsets me and induces me to ask for space in a borrowed blog.

I get upset because of my personal experiencenad those who know me know, of course, that I grew up in a town (capital of a district) without cinema, without a library and with a cultural activity concentrated in the local theatre group, its international festival and the town popular festivals. There was also, of course, television, where one would discover things, films, musics.

I left the town in 1993 and, 17 years and a Centre for the Arts and Performances later (a result of the network of cinema-theatres envisioned by Minister Carrilho), there´s not a big difference. It´s true there is a larger offer, there are shows, there is even a jazz festival. And there´s a new museum. Cinema is still residual, such as other cultural and artistic expressions. There is still, of course, television, and nowadays internet as well (which gives the illusion that we are in the centre of everything and have access to everything).

These days, the centrality of the issue of access to culture and the claim to it is taking place in the context of the 23% cut suffered by the structures that get a quadrennial support by the Ministry of Culture (in reality, a cut suffered by all structures receiving support). Now, to be honest, this is not a claim for access to culture, what is at stake is exclusively the access to the financial means that are necessary for one part of the cultural sector: the artists/authors and their structures (a central part, but, even though, one part, because culture is not only about creation or creators).

State funding is necessary, that´s for sure, even though there should be some urgent and serious thinking regarding its volume, form and opportunity; but it should be distinguished from the right of access to culture. Because the later is bigger, larger and more fundamental than any funding system.

Access to culture implies that we all have the same opportunities, whether we were born in Portalegre or Cova da Moura, whether we walk or use a wheelchair, whether we know how to write or not. This is the access defended by the UN: access that allows for equality and non-exclusion. This access, recognized and guaranteed, will only become true if we bother (we, the cultural sector) to elaborate a cultural policy that is consistent, whole, for the future, a policy that strengthens the cultural tissue, in the areas of expression, creation, but also, and fundamentally, in the territory; it will only become true once we understand that funding is an investment and it should go beyond creating, beyond producing.

It´s true that in times of crisis and in times of cuts can be frightening and scary times: the sector is fragile and orphan (6 ‘adoptions’ in 11 years), the dependency (instigated by the State) immense. But, as it has already been written in other texts and other blogs, maybe this is a time of opportunities. It would be better if the time and energy spent claiming money that does not exist were used to take a look at ourselves, each one of us, each agent, each structure, each area of expression and try to understand in what way we can work better, more efficiently; to work more efficiently not in order to make ‘profit’ or to become ‘merchants’ of culture, but in order for the sector e culture not to succumb after each ministerial change or each economic and financial crisis, and in order to guarantee real access for all to culture.

CECÍLIA FOLGADO BA in Marketing Management (IPAM, Matosinhos) and MA in Arts Management (City University – London). In the areas of Marketing Management and Cultural Production, she worked with Núcleo de Experimentação Coreográfica (NEC), Companhia Instável, Fundação Narciso Ferreira de Riba de Ave (2000-2003), Henri Oguike Dance Company e Akram Khan Company, (London, 2003-2006). In 2007 she was part of the production team of the Cultural Forum State of the World (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation). Since July 2007 she is Deputy Communications Director of São Luiz Municipal Theatre. She studies Creative Cities and sustainable development through cultural planning (subject of elaborated her MA thesis). She gives training in Communication and Marketing (Setepés) and Cultural Management (Theatre and Cinema School, Lisbon Polytechnic Institute).

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