Monday 30 May 2011

Ministry of Culture: can we keep the debate going for a second week?

Lux, by Laura Vinci (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

Although names have a secondary importance when big issues are being discussed, but because they do, nonetheless, have their importance and meaning, I would like to start by saying that the country has got to have a Ministry of Culture and that I do not consider convincing the arguments of Pedro Passos Coelho regarding suppressing the Ministry and placing Culture under the prime minister´s direct competence. Having said that, I thank the PSD candidate for the provocation he launched, which resulted in a very interesting debate during the whole of last week. Personally, I feel the need to comment on two issues.

The first issue has to do with the urgency to reformulate the Ministry and the sector as a whole. That is, to create contents so that words may gain a true meaning. Some aspects that I consider important and an absolute priority:

Vision, mission, strategy
In this order and not the opposite one… What is Culture in today´s world? Why is it important in the life of all of us? If everyone has the right to freely participate in it, how can access be guaranteed? Who produces what, where and how? Who consumes what, where and how? How to move beyond the era of the ‘guardians’ (who insist on defining what, where and how) to the era of the 'contemporary cosmopolitans', open to various trends and tastes? How to create conditions so that Culture may become an issue for and of all of us?

Professionalization and networking
The sector cannot continue to be managed with good intensions and amateurism. If its importance (intrinsic, as well as social and economic) is recognized, it is urgent to recruit professionals with solid theoretical knowledge and excellent experience, as well as to guarantee professional training to all those lacking it but wishing to continue working in the field. Apart from that, we cannot continue acting in isolation. It is of extreme importance that culture professionals develop and maintain professional networks – locally, nationally and internationally -, in order to guarantee the indispensable exchange of people and ideas, as well as the sharing of best practices and experiences, which result in professional growth and contribute to the sector´s development.

Healthy management, emancipation, sustainability
Without pretending to excuse the State from its responsibilities towards the citizens, producers and consumers of culture, it is imperative to have a clear notion of reality. The money the State is able to invest is not enough for all and for everything (it has always been embarrassingly little, but, at the same time, the sector has always asked for more without trying to evaluate first if all money was well spent; nobody has ever assumed responsibility for money badly or wrongly invested, either…). The State needs to establish clear objectives and priorities. But the sector cannot stop. There are various business models; we must study them and look for those that are more appropriate for our reality and needs. There is a specificity in Culture, that is true. But it is also true that culture managers do existe, understand and embrace this specificity.

The issue of the reformulation of the Ministry and the sector cannot be resumed, obviously, in these three points, but these are the ones I consider a priority at the moment. If these three points are addressed, they will end up affecting all others. This is why the approach must be based on fundamental principles (almost permanently ignored): honesty, transparency, accountability, meritocracy.

The second issue I would like to comment on has to do with the need for all of us to assume our responsibilities and to maintain a permanent debate at all levels in the sector. We cannot continue to simply react to provocations, cuts announcements, appointments, re-structures, etc. These reactions are normally of a short duration. Once the effect of the provocation is gone, we go back to sleeping or resigning. Nevertheless, all these questions are permanent. Last week, people who are known and respected in the field shared their opinions with all of us regarding a possible extinction of the Ministry of Culture. But the sector is not made only of those people. It is made of many more, maybe less known, but also intelligent, worried, well informed, intellectually honest. Where are they? Why aren’t those voices being heard (with very few exceptions)? Why don´t they feed the debate, they don´t take position, they don´t express their agreement or disagreement? We are not lacking platforms of expression, especially nowadays. It´s not just the consulting councils of ‘men of culture’ that help to make political decisions, each one of us should also contribute. Are we waiting for an invitation to speak up? It might never come and that wouldn´t make us less accountable. To express one´s opinion is one´s right, but it is also one´s duty.

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