Wednesday 21 June 2017

A national tragedy: what does "Culture" have to do with it?

On Sunday morning, the news surpassed our worst nightmare. The great fire in the area of ​​Pedrógão Grande (central Portugal) had taken the lives of 19 people. Throughout the day, this number kept rising. The country was in shock.

The Maria Matos Municipal Theater in Lisbon was the first to react. Not only did it announce the cancellation of that day’s performance, as a result of the declaration of national mourning, but it also informed its followers on Facebook about possible ways to help and kept updating this information. It remained solidarious and involved.

There were also heartfelt posts from the National Ballet Company, the National Theatre D. Maria II and the National Theatre São João. They all spoke about the tragedy, referred to the victims and suspended their programming or announced a minute of silence. Yesterday, the National Theatre D. Maria II announced that the ticket revenue from two performances next Saturday will revert in favour of the Association of Volunteer Firemen of Pedrógão Grande.

EGEAC, the municipal company for culture in Lisbon, deeply regretted the loss of dozens of lives and suspended the Festas de Lisboa. Two of the cultural venues managed by the company shared this post without further comments (two museums). Lisbon’s Municipal Libraries shared the municipality’s post reminding that it was important to help. The Museum of Leiria (together with the Municipality of Leiria and Leirena Theatre), being much closer to the afflicted area, also made reference to the "desolating and deeply sad news" and informed of the cancellation of the programming.

There were also those who announced the suspension of their programming as a result of the declaration of national mourning, without any reference to the tragedy, and, moreover, continued to publish news regarding their programming.

But, above all, there was silence. Great silence. I checked the Facebook pages of our national museums on the 18th June, and again today, and found no reference - that is, no reaction, no involvement, not a word. What is happening around them, the fact that the country is in a state of shock, as so many lives were violently lost, does not deserve a word? It has nothing to do with the these museums’ mission? The reason why they exist? Some colleagues, including museum directors, posted on their personal pages, shared their feelings and humanity. Why do they consider, though, that the institutions in which they work or direct, have nothing to transmit to the Portuguese society regarding what happened? Aren’t cultural organisations humane, aren’t they integrated in our society, don't they feel its pain? How painful this silence is...

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