Following a focus on what has brought the cultural sector to the crossroads (in the morning), this session focused on the changing nature of cultural management. The discussion developed around articulating and enabling a vision of change in relevant fields, as well as provoking, responding to, and managing relevant change within respective structures.
National Governments uphold principles of freedom and democracy in their rhetoric, but actively suppress both in practice. Government is in reality the biggest player in town, that also controls resources. Genuine change at Government level generally has far greater impact than change anywhere else. The sector needs determine how to respond to realities with regard to Governments. In an ideal world, it would be a balancing act: where can the two parties (creatives and Government) meet? When you want your opponent to retreat, make sure you provide a decent escape route. Otherwise, that is where leadership will fall through. Allow the other side to get credit and dignity. Ideally, when the leader is gone, the people will say “we did it”. Decisions are often made by Government without consulting civil society. How can a Government get away with murder without being confronted by its citizens all the way? Such conversations need to be made completely public. The sector needs to take risks and positions that Government will not necessarily take.
It is not the time to be fearful. We need to open the doors and windows, give dreams and poetry a chance: a call for action on all levels. Do not be afraid to have ambitious dreams, as long as you are realistic. The role of the arts in building reconciliation is well-documented. Continuous change is needed, meeting the needs of artists and the concerns of society. We need to aim for a better future, through the arts. It is much more than an exercise of audience development. It involves giving people a voice, empowering people. We have an obligation and responsibility to support communities to lead their projects on their own terms. We want to bring about dramatic change : doing this in a transparent way, even when we do not know all the answers. The prevailing reality in some countries is war, conflict, poverty. Other countries may be seen as more privileged.
We should seek to lead in as much a collaborative way as possible. A good way to start is by mapping all stakeholders and partners, including : artists (as the main players), local governments, civil society, artists and arts organisations, academics from all relevant fields, relevant government agencies. We then proceed to map all the challenges : institutional weaknesses – including fragmentation and overlapping of functions, lack of confidence in the cultural sector, lack of resources, need for greater democracy and accessibility in the cultural sector, need for decentralisation, need for rescue and promotion of cultural events.
What change are we looking for in our respective region? Who can effect it? An alternative school of thought? The art of an artist who had to flee to a safer region? Actors who are creating individually need to come together to present alternative collective imagination and narratives. Artists who are looking for a change need to create strong allegiance. The international fabric is changing everyday. To what extent can civil society, in such a volatile situation, make an impact? To date, there has been a lot of advocacy, and an accumulation of very good practices, lobbies, information, stronger knowledge. Yet, in some cultures, no tangible commitment or change in legislation has been achieved so far. Creatives are still not yet allowed to work and create without interference. Yet, there is confidence that we will get there. An important factor is to target the system that has become too conventional. In the arts, breaking that system is very feasible. If the system becomes too bureaucratic, we can always create something else.
The discussion revolved around the recognition that, more than ever, current changing realities demand collective leadership across society – building a larger spectrum of interest: engaging with community, identifiying needs and trends, and driving the relevant change.
Speakers and audience shared the conviction that the arts need to breathe new life into the realities of our era. We all have reasons to act. Artists in various parts of the world are doing a very crucial job surviving, researching and creating in the context of very volatile realities. Governments should not interfere in the work of cultural leaders and drivers of change, yet cultural leaders need to be open and accountable.
'I do not know of a single government that does not uphold principles of freedom and democracy in its rhetoric, but actively suppresses both in practice.' (Shahidul Alam)
'You want Government on your side, even if governments may do all sorts of things that are not right.' (Shahidul Alam)
'Most of the time, it is the artists who are leading change: dreaming change, driving change, helping the rest of us to navigate change.' (Simon Brault)
'The world needs arts leadership. Our future depends on it.' (Simon Brault)
'Experience teaches us that we can never wait for the right conditions for change. There is no secret recipe.' (Simon Brault)
'To drive change, you need to base your case on facts and passion.' (Simon Brault)
'First we need engagement. Money comes at a later stage.' (Alejandro Denes)
'When we thought we had all the answers, suddenly they changed all the questions.' (Mario Benedetti, quoted by Alejandro Denes)
'We speak a lot of the collective memory, but what about a collective imagination?' (Rana Yazaji)
“Artists will always succeed at making their voice heard, at some point. Artists are constantly succeding at being catalysts. Our role is to find those artists.” (Rana Yazaji)