Wednesday 2 March 2011

Guest post: On voices, by Cecília Folgado

Once again I borrow Musing on Culture. I could have my own blog, but I believe I would be only contributing for the debate and opinion pulverization we deal with most of the time and I don’t find it productive. So, let us keep concentrated here, as long as Maria Vlachou allows it and challenges us to do it.

Jorge Marmelo’s article in the newspaper Público, P2 section, on the 15th February, reflected on lusophony and ironically connected its use in the cultural discourse to cultural marketers. Being a cultural marketer myself, by choice, option and training, this comment has touched a rather sensitive point, better saying, two sensitive points, both related to the voices that speak for the cultural sector and to the people who make up the sector itself.

So, let us start by marketing and by what cultural marketers do. Risking sounding defensive, I’ll start by saying that marketing is neither good nor bad. Marketing is just a tool, a management tool that, if well used, can be of great benefit to the organization. The benefits for the organization are mainly related to efficiency, effectiveness and to building a strong and long-term relationship with consumers (with the audiences, as we say in the cultural sector). It is true that there was a time when it made sense to talk about ‘hard marketing’, about the classic image of a salesman that would try to sell a vacuum cleaner to a household without electricity; later on, marketing started identifying the households that had electricity to sell them the vacuum cleaner; today, it knocks on the door, asks permission to step in, checks what is needed, presents what it has and starts a conversation that envisions a long-term relationship. We call it “relationship marketing”. If put like this it seems really nice and for some it may be difficult to believe it, but, like many other ‘blockbuster expressions’, namely Lusophony, the word marketing has also entered the cultural vocabulary, and if there are nowadays many ‘cultural marketers’, there are not that many people actually ‘doing‘ cultural marketing.

Let us also say that marketing doesn’t invent anything, it doesn’t create anything, especially in the cultural field. Working on marketing starts with vision, with a mission, and operates them, it makes them happen. It can bring words, like lusophony, into the organization’s vocabulary, but it will always be a ‘cliché’ if the organization’s action and mind-set don’t embody it.

The reference to ‘cultural marketers’ takes me to my second point, a point that is bothering me for quite a long time, which is who makes up the cultural sector and who speaks on its behalf.

Let us start with who has ‘a voice‘ in the sector, who speaks on its behalf: for reasons that I believe are connected to tradition and practice, but mainly to the imaginary and symbology, artists are the ones who have a saying (with the exception of a few cultural thinkers and programmers, some very strong references within the sector*). Artists are the ones who represent the sector and express its concerns, building up its ‘official’ speech. Taking a look at the diversity that the cultural sector expresses, this doesn’t seem enough.

Looking at the cultural sector: we may see that it includes the performing arts, cinema, museums and crafts, visual arts, design, architecture, heritage, etc., in its institutional, independent and commercial versions, national, regional and municipal, urban and rural. I believe that all the sub-sectors each one of these combinations would have a lot to say. Then, let us look at the people: the producers, managers, administrators, marketers (yes, us as well), all of them with different experiences and perspectives on the sector.

It is necessary to claim voices, it is necessary to speak up, it is necessary to organize thoughts about the ‘state of the art’. It is necessary to lobby and to work with the media in order to keep them and public opinion informed about us, the sector. It is necessary to show what we do, what we aim for (so they don’t think us to be all state dependents and TV stars), but first it is necessary that the sector within itself recognizes its diversity and opens up a non-hierarchized space to other voices.

* These few people that over and over again speak up for the sector showing its dimension and diversity are needed. Very much so.

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