Tuesday 26 December 2023

We yearn for the future (still)

The façade of the National Theatre D. Maria II, Lisbon, 2020-2021

Two recent programmes on Portuguese public TV focusing on culture, as well as numerous meetings with professionals in the field throughout the year and in recent years, have intensified my concern regarding how this sector is understood and managed, what vision it projects and how it practices it.

Friday 10 November 2023

Zia and Manuela were present.

RTCP conference in Portalegre, 7.11.2023

Professional meetings are, increasingly, a precious moment for those who can give themselves or manage to ask their managers for the time to participate. With more and more cultural professionals talking openly about mental illness, exhaustion, depression, senseless rhythms, these moments of encounter - when we can be together, hug each other, look into each other's eyes, smile, talk – are more than necessary, they are urgent.

Friday 3 November 2023

Fit for democracy: as natural as water?

Photo: Maria Vlachou

This year, I had the opportunity to spend three days at FOLIO – Óbidos International Literary Festival. I attended, among other things, the launch of “Voltas e Reviravoltas - A Cidadania”, by Ana Maria Magalhães and Isabel Alçada, with illustrations by Mantraste. This is the second of 12 books in the children's collection “Missão: Democracia” (Mission: Democracy), an initiative of the Portuguese Parliament, curated by Dora Batalim SottoMayor.

At this event, Isabel Alçada said that, for young people today, democracy is as natural as turning on the tap and water coming out. I wrote this statement down in my notebook. It caused me a certain discomfort at that time and I later returned to it on several occasions. Because, from an empirical point of view, I don't see anything like that around me. Because the opposite of political repression is not necessarily a democracy of quality, a healthy democracy, a democracy as natural as water coming out of the tap.

Monday 16 October 2023

Politics and classical music

Logo of the "Yes" campaign for the "Voice Referendum"

Reading that the Oakland Symphony’s Playlist will host and celebrate Angela Davies gave me some hope this morning, in the midst of the terrible news we´ve been following in the last week. “Activist. Educator. Conscience of a generation. She will share the music that inspired her courage and her commitment”, one reads on the orchestra’s website. “Courage” and “commitment” have become essential attributes for US cultural organisations, considering the challenges democracy has been facing in that country. Just a few days ago, I had felt truly depressed when reading about the refusal of a North Carolina radio station to broadcast Met operas it considered “inappropriate”. The refusal, I read in an article, “comes at a time when the Metropolitan Opera is eager to showcase its commitment to recently written operas and works from outside the traditional canon of music written by white men. Three of the operas that WCPE plans to reject in the 2023-24 season were written by Black or Mexican composers. This past April, WCPE also refused to broadcast another Met-produced opera written by a Black composer that included LGBTQ themes.” Considering the Met’s efforts to move beyond the “canon” and become more relevant for more US citizens, the general manager of the radio station expressed deep moral concerns, such as “What if one child hears this? When I stand before Jesus Christ on Judgement Day, what am I going to say?”. On 5 October, news came that the radio station had reversed its decision due to widespread criticism.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Censorhsip doesn't always bother us, does it?

Image taken from LUCA - Teatro Luís de Camões Facebook page.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is one of the best-known university museums. Its current exhibition Black Atlantic: Power, people, resistance questions us: “Which stories get remembered, and why?”. The museum states that this exhibition explores some new stories from history, questioning Cambridge's role in the transatlantic slave trade.

In 1816, Richard Fitzwilliam donated large sums of money, literature and art to the University of Cambridge, which gave birth to the museum. The donations were made possible by the enormous wealth of his grandfather, Sir Matthew Decker, a Dutch-born English merchant who helped establish the South Sea Company in 1711, responsible for the African slave trade. Responding to a need and a demand from part of the society – but also its own, it seems to me – the museum puts the finger in the wound, questioning itself and its contribution to the perpetuation of a certain History.

Sunday 24 September 2023

What is politics about and what is culture for?

Chicago heatwave 1995
(image taken from Liva Kreislere's presentation)

In the beginning of August, I had the opportunity to participate in a summer school organised by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art and dedicated to the subject “Care of Earth. Care of People”. Just before I left, I had the opportunity to attend part of the presentation of a young architect and urbanist, Liva Kreislere, on cultural planning. Cultural planning is an approach to city development that looks at the city as a cultural phenomenon and strongly focuses on the local population, local cultural stakeholders, and municipality involvement. It is a method where artists and cultural institutions are increasingly placed in a more central position, with a demonstrated contribution to social well-being as well as to the improvement of citizens’ civic engagement. “Culture”, Liva said, “is closely linked to healthcare, economy and politics.” One of the examples she brought up was that of the deadly 1995 heatwave in Chicago. According to a study, there was a higher survival rate among the older population in neighbourhoods with a strong connection among their members. Closely knit communities took better care of older people, especially vulnerable under the circumstances.

Monday 5 June 2023

Restless museums

Chéri Samba, "Reorganisation". AfricaMuseum, Tervuren (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

Following the work of museums that question themselves and question us is particularly exciting, motivating and inspiring. In a rather conservative and slow-moving context, these museums are few, still very few, and it is refreshing to be able to identify that kind of leadership that deals with whatever is necessary and helps to bring about necessary changes, gradually contaminating the entire sector. It is in this type of museums that I see a true and honest effort to be useful to society, to be part of it, to be relevant.

Sunday 14 May 2023

So, what happens tomorrow?


Last day of the project "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender"
in Ovar (2022)

In 2022, I had the happiness of participating in a very beautiful project by ondamarela, called “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender”. It was a project that invited people of different ages in different parts of the country to address the issues of hate, prejudice, difference and freedom through new artistic creations, built with these same people. On the last day of the project, we discussed what this experience had been like for the different participants. I often think of a teenage girl in one of those conversations. When I said “The artists are leaving today, the project is over. What happens tomorrow?” she murmured, “Tomorrow will be a sad day.”

Saturday 15 April 2023

Freedom for what? Culture for what?


My talk at the General Library of the University of Coimbra, on April 13, 2023, as part of the cycle "Portugal - 50 years (1973-2023): What has changed? What remains to be done?". You can read it here.

Sunday 1 January 2023

The year of radical care

Partridge in Cape Sounion, 2014 (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

A bit more than ten years ago, I remember how deeply angry I felt at an article by Clara Ferreira Alves in the newspaper Expresso, where she criticised young Greek people for getting married when the country was going through a serious economic crisis. She considered this attitude to be irresponsible, revealing lack of notion. I was angry because, in my view, hope and celebration are ways of resisting. The determination to celebrate in the face of adversity is an act of love, love for life, love for self and others.

I thought about this on many more occasions and also last night, when fireworks went up in the sky, outside my window and in many other places around the world. I was never a big fan of fireworks, they always seemed an unnecessary extravagance to me and also distressingly noisy for certain people and animals. More recently, I found out about their polluting effects. But this year, I felt that their “exploding” sound was also an expression of our lack of empathy, as Ukrainians, while they were also celebrating the coming of the new year (an act of love, hope and defiance), were once again under attack and had to run to shelters.