Monday 2 July 2012

Guest post: "The imaginary, a space for thinking about democracy", by Marta Porto (Brazil)

My first ‘encounter’ with Marta Porto was a note she posted on Facebook regarding her resignation as Secretary of Citizenship and Cultural Diversity of the brazilian Ministry of Culture. It became clear for me in that note that the Ministry had just lost an excellent professional, a person with a sense of mission and responsibility, a person with clear ideas about culture´s place in society. From then onwards I have been ‘following her’ and have read a number of her articles and interviews. It´s a great pleasure to publish here an essay that will be part of this “cultural activist´s” new book on cultural policy. mv

Photo: Bebeto Alves
Is democracy a value? This is perhaps the most important question in order to start discussing culture and democracy. Is there a perception in society that equality, freedom and participation in state or community affairs are valid values? Which define rights that must be fought for? What is meant by equality, freedom amd participation in state or community affairs in an unequal and hierarchized society? If we assume that, in order to sustain democracy, not only as a governance regime, but also as a poltical regime recognized and legitimized by its citizens, it is necessary to build it as a value, as a culture capable of recognizing and enforcing citizenship rights, we may suggest that culture, or rather the policies which embody it, must give priority to the construction of a social imaginary of understanding, critical thinking and struggle in order to assert the democratic ideals. They must estimulate mentalities which are sensitive and capable to structure societies where enforcing rights is not an act of charity, but a conscious act which responds to a democratic imperative.

Enter the routine of citizens who create ways to relate in the cities based on values and beliefs which they legitimize. What does violent behaviour in the traffic, in the streets, between men, women and children is telling us? Or the lack of social control that institutes a city which is rather the sum of individualities, with all the arrogance of imposing immediate wishes and needs – like double parking, passing a red traffic light because “after all I am in a hurry”, playing music at the highest volume or yelling on the cell phone when in closed spaces full of strangers, or, in an even more serious sense, killing because we were abandoned by someone who once loved us or torturing as a mere sport, psycopathy or the wish to humiliate – ways and manners of promoting or not the so-called otherness, that quality necessary to establish the right to pestle society. When the examples are exceptions, we may talk about a lack of or need for education, when they are the majority, of a social culture, of an imaginary about how to manifest oneself, we understand and act as a social body.

Here comes in one of the main axes of the work of culture, and not, let me emphasize it, of the arts themselves, but of the cultural policy considered as an axis of democracy, of the shaping of citizenship, of the collaboration in order to found a social imaginary which legitimizes the democratic pillars, because without them there may be economic progress, urban improvements, greater consumption, but cities, a space of encounters and living together, remain a territory of disputes, belonging to those who prevail, the famous logic of the winners which unfortunately still applies in this country. It is the field of the values of citizenship, where we are certain of the existence of common beliefs – respect for human dignity, solidarity, peaceful resistance, non-discrimination - which are worth fighting for, because it´s here that society may project its future while at the same time building and structuring its present. These values are born from the idea of common sense, of ethos, something shared by everyone should we recognize the value of democracy. Well then, there is no democracy without values.

In this sense, culture obliges us to come out of the pure logic of vulnerability, involving the common citizen in the problems of the country and of the planet and helping to forge a change for society as a whole. And it is precisely at this strategic point that lies the specificity of the cultural field: a cultural policy may contribute to boost a contemporary citizenship agenda which incorporates the changes in progress in society and the demands of the young generations of Brazilians.

Marta Porto is a journalist; specialist in communications, arts and cultural policies; space, exhibition and artistic projects curator; lecturer and essayist at an international level. She leads, advises and supports policies and programmes of international organizations, governments, companies and institutions like schools and cultural spaces on issues such as improvements in management processes, governance, dissemination of ethical and humanistic values, etc. In 2004, she co-founded the first Brazilian company specialized in the “communication of causes”, named Xbrasil, where she currently heads the Strategy Nucleus. She was the Head of governmental institutions and organs, such as the Secretariat of Citizenship and Cultural Divesrity of the Ministry of Culture (2011), the Regional Coordinationof UNESCO in Rio de Janeiro (1999-2003), the Direction of Planning and Coordination of the Municipal Secretariat of Culture in Belo Horizonte (1994-1996).

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