Monday, 29 January 2018

Still on Maria Matos: a theatre's ethos

"Have a Great day!", by Vaiva Grainytė, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė (Photo: Simonas Svitra). Maria Matos Theatre, 2017

Ethos: (Greek éthos, -ous) noun
distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group or institution
Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary

Anne Pasternak became the director of the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 2015, succeeding Arnold L. Lehman, who had held the post for 18 years. Anne impressed me positively in her first interview for the New York Times when she stated: "I am excited to build on that ethos of welcome".

At the time of Pasternak's appointment, there were several voices criticising the choice of someone who had never worked in a museum before. However, this sentence, right at the end of the article in the New York Times, was enough for me to think: She got it! She understood "who" the museum she's going to work for is!

The mission of a cultural organisation (and of any other, for that matter) is "who" it is. It’s its characteristics, principles, values; that is, it is its identity, which distinguishes it from any other space in the same sector and to whom people (the so-called "audience") relate. This mission, this ethos, is not defined individually by each director, it does not change when the director changes, unless its governing body considers it should be so (and the change should be substantiated). The mission is the guiding line that allows to fulfill a purpose with coherence, honesty and rigor. The mission allows us to create lasting relationships, trust and complicity, and each director fulfills in his/her own way.

I was reminded of the Brooklyn Museum case on several occasions when I saw comments about the Maria Matos Theatre case that seem to confuse "mission" with "programming" (and therefore consider it natural for a theater like Maria Matos to change course because its artistic director has left). Defining the mission is the responsibility of the governing body (in the US it would be the board, in the case of Maria Matos Municipal Theater, it would be the Lisbon City Council). Different directors fulfill this same mission in different ways. This is how it should work if one wished for good management and not to waste what was done in previous years. Good management means building, not dismantling.

What is the ethos of Maria Matos, what is its mission, the preservation of which has become the demand of so many citizens?

The vast majority of cultural organisations in Portugal do not present mission statements on their websites, but rather a description of what they do. Maria Matos is no exception. To present theater, dance, concerts and projects for children and young people is what dozens of theaters do in Portugal. However, each theatre's intention is (or should be) different. Because identities are (or should be) different.

The vast majority of cultural organisations in Portugal do not declare an intention. They present a programme, but they do not allow us to understand the purpose behind it, because they do not assume it, they do not declare it. Thus, there are things that one can see in one place or another, but in this way, they do not create a relationship, they create one-night stands (there are those who prefer it this way).

"Clean City", by Anestis Azas and Prodromos Tsinikoris (Photo: Kathari Poli). Maria Matos Theatre, 2017

In the case of Maria Matos, I suppose it was not its governing body that defined (as it should) what many of us understand to be its mission (unique, specific, in the context of Lisbon's cultural offer). But it can be found in an interview by its artistic director, Mark Deputter, gave to the newspaper Público
, in 2016, at the beginning of the Utopias cycle: "Our choice of themes and the way we handle them does not have an agenda in terms of partisan politics, but is born out of a worldview. It is born out of a wish not to accept the idea that we are living in the best of worlds and to believe that the world can be a better place. " It can be found more summarised, as a mission statement should be, in the words of Liliana Coutinho, co-commissioner of that same cycle: "The art of thinking how we are going to live together."

This is the ethos of Maria Matos. This is what we shall miss if the Lisbon City Council proceeds with its plans for the dismantling of the project. Because this mission is not fulfilled by presenting the programming for children and young people in one space, theater in another, music in another, conferences-thought-debates in yet another. In this way, the mission is destroyed. The relationship built with the people too.

Probably, as I said, it was not the Lisbon City Council that put Maria Matos’ mission into words. But this is what this theater/space represents today in the city of Lisbon. This is its ethos. This is what many of us, citizens, need - the art of thinking how we are going to live together - and we do not find elsewhere. This is what we expect the Lisbon City Council to continue guaranteeing. This is what we believe is its responsibility to ensure, for us, for the city.

More on this blog:

No comments: