Thursday, 10 February 2022

Having time, sparing time


S. Miguel, Azores (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

A few days ago, I read an interview with Greek film director Sotiris Tsafoulias, in which he said: “Being an artist is not a profession. A woman who has five children, no husband, cleans stairs and still puts a bowl of water for a stray dog ​​or looks at us and says 'good morning', to me she is an artist. A person does not become an artist when they pick up a microphone, a brush or a pen. The way a person deals with ugliness, the way they metabolise it and give it back as goodness or light, the way they position themselves in the darkest moments of their life, for me, this is what makes a person an artist, regardless of profession."

I shared this excerpt in a meeting with colleagues from Rede Cultura 2027, responsible for Leiria's candidacy for European City of Culture, because we tend to make the terms “culture” and “the arts” coincide and Tsafoulias reorientates us. Marta Porto has also been insisting on this point. In her book “Imagination: reinventing culture”, she reminds us that the policies that embody culture must “stimulate sensitive mentalities capable of structuring societies where the fulfillment of rights is not an act of mercy, but a conscious act that responds to a democratic imperative.” And she adds: “When the examples are exceptions, we can speak of lack or need for education. When they are the majority, we talk about social culture, an imaginary of how we manifest, perceive and act as a social body.”

How to build a majority of people capable of saying “good morning”, less suspicious of the other, more available care for the commons, with more time to reflect and to talk, not being scared to love?

Before the meeting in Leiria, I had the privilege of carrying out seminars in four different parts of the country and reflect on barriers to cultural participation. It was within the scope of the new edition of the PARTIS & Art for Change project, promoted by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the La Caixa Foundation. We were in Beja, Espinho, Ponta Delgada and Guarda and it felt good: because we were together, among colleagues we already knew and other we just met; because there was time to talk, find inspiration and imagine possibilities; because we became more aware of the different realities experienced on the ground. I continue to think and try to put my ideas in order after the intense experience we had.

I realised once again that we know each other little, even when we work closely together. Something that was also observed in 2017, when Acesso Cultura held the journeys Beyondthe physical: barriers to cultural participation. Then these moments of seminars come, we spend a few hours together, complicity is created, there is a desire (rather a need) to keep in touch. And then… everyone goes back to their daily lives, without making the effort to give more time to those moments, to give themselves more time for a break, a meeting, a conversation, a reading, a reflection in the company of others. Thus, everyone stays in their “corner”, doing good and beautiful things, facing (very common and very known) difficulties and anxieties. There is hope and despair, and there is a feeling of isolation and, at times, even loneliness. Are we really so lonely? Will we have time to find out that… maybe not?

At the same time, there are factors that force us to abrupt landings and which we cannot ignore. As when colleagues from the so-called “interior” (an “interior” which, in this case, also includes the Algarve) tell us that in their regions only those who have a car can do or participate in projects… What to say about this? Looking for guidance, I return to Joana Villaverde’s 2020 article, “As vidas do interior importam” (Lives of the Interior Matter), where she questioned us: “What is it that really delimits and names this interiority? It certainly can’t be the distance to the sea, because it is short. What delimits and names the interior are the policies implemented for centuries, and for centuries without major changes. This country has no interior. This country has people who have been interiorised and pushed into oblivion.”

In one of the seminars, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a young colleague. Her interventions during the session conveyed curiosity and a pleasant restlessness. Then, over lunch, she told us that she left the “safe” and “prestigious” place where she had worked for the last few years. She said that she learned a lot, she grew up, but that, at a certain point, she felt that she was no longer doing anything relevant and that she had no private life. She resigned. Her desire is to get to know the country, its different corners, and to be useful. Her confidence and optimism were contagious. A new window of hope.

After the seminars, we had another “This is PARTIS & Art for Change” weekend. I was left thinking: what makes me feel so full, so light, so peaceful, so hopeful when this weekend is over? Perhaps the fact that we are in an environment where you feel love and humanity; a space where we come across people until recently unknown, but who end up becoming close in so many different ways; a moment when we have time, we spare time. That weekend is like a big tight hug given by many people.


Also on this blog:

TS Elliot, a terrible hip hop artist (written after a “This is PARTIS” weekend in 2018).

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