Our culture is more shaped by the arts and humanities than it often is by politics. —Jim Leach
There is a conference taking place in Malta right now involving arts and culture organizations from all over the world. The World Summit On Arts And Culture includes participants from every populated continent, people dedicated wholly to preserving the future of the arts and the cultures they represent. Interestingly enough, this is one international program where the United States is sitting mostly on the sidelines. Yes, National Endowment for the Arts chairperson Jane Chu did speak this morning, but the only other American organization on the very full speaking schedule is Robert Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts late tomorrow. The conversation is very diverse with points of view from places whose cultures and arts have long been overlooked by the Western arts community.
From the summit’s website:
The focus of the 2016 World Summit on Arts and Culture, will be on Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century. The arts and culture can be considered to be at a crossroads – faced with many challenges and opportunities at the global, national and local level such as: the impact of new technologies on the production and distribution of cultural goods and services; threats to global security; new patterns of migration; changing contexts at the national level including austerity measures and continuous requests for reform; aspirations from artists and culture operators to extend their impact and outreach to other sectors, while also struggling to guarantee freedom of expression and ensure cultural diversity.
Relying On The Voice Of Others
I really can’t comment too terribly much beyond this point because I’M NOT THERE! Sigh. No one ever wants to send me to the fun stuff. I could volunteer to be shot at and be accepted right away, but offer to be involved in conversations about how photography factors in arts and especially non-Western cultures and nooooo, I’m still sitting here at home. Fortunately, though, those who are participating have been very active on social media, especially Twitter. There is also a discussion paper that covers many of the issues addressed today and tomorrow. The paper’s quite academic so you’ll most likely need to give it multiple reads. However, there are some gems from that document that are well worth quoting here.
… the cultural leader is an agent of change who contributes to cultural development in their country, Discussion Paper 21 Ayeta Anne Wangusa region or continent. The cultural leader does this through visioning and building relations with partners to address systemic challenges resulting from our colonial history and the current globalisation era. It is also about conserving our intangible heritage for posterity, as well analysing the underlying belief systems of Africa and their interaction with the Global North and Global South, to promote social cohesion and sustainable development. —Ayeta Anne Wangusa, Executive Director of Culture and Development East Africa (CDEA)
What is urgently needed today is leadership which promotes dialogue for new governance, collaboration and coproduction endeavors with civil society and cultural movements. —Lucina Jimenez, Director General of ConArte Internacional
Voices Not Expected
One of the areas we tend to dismiss when discussing arts and culture is the Middle East. We do so out of great ignorance. The regions where war is most commonplace are also homes to great troves of artistic and cultural importance that have influenced artists, writers, playwrights, and politicians for centuries. Many of these artifacts have been recently destroyed and preserving them seems almost impossible. I found these statements from the discussion paper most interesting.
I n Arab cultural scenes with no or overpowering art infrastructures, small and short circuit networks formulate; friendships sustain some of the bonding. Within these networks, collaborations force themselves on individuals; time is limited, shifting dramatically, and so are the identified resources, therefore sharing or teaming up allows being in and outside of a production process. There is no continuity for those who fall out of these processes. Personal, or collaborative, collections of notes, writings, ephemera, accesses, experiences and interests in miniscule histories are the sites of intervention. There is still a huge discrepancy in sustaining rights; to access, to copy, to say, to stay, to object, to reject, to exit.
A cultural leader is not a state, but its policy; is not an institution but its dynamic; is not a community, but its bond; is not a social (media) space, not a financial model, nor a future built by forecasts, but their logic of probabilities, that could continue to enhance our working models. —Ala Younis is an artist, trained as an architect in Amman.
Wait, There’s More
The discussion paper is quite full of perspective that should yank us from thinking exclusively about local perspectives and open our conversations more to immigrants bringing their culture and artistic perspective to us. Consider these examples:
In Asian cultures there is a long tradition of artistic creativity as communal, rather than the individual specialist called artist, and in many Asian societies there is no word for artist.
Lopsided emphasis on left brain thinking stunts creative imagination. It is unfortunate that many Asian countries inherited educational systems from the industrial revolution of eighteenth century.
Cultural leadership, especially in education and official policy, should be able to promote not only the intelligence quotient, but intuitive, creative intelligence and all other intelligences that enrich the creative imagination. —Felipe M. De Leon, Jr., Chairman and Commissioner for the Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, in the Philippines
Cultural leadership is not only the implementation of concepts and theories from the business world into the cultural sector, but – like the concepts of cultural management and cultural entrepreneurship – it has also to do with the creation of social value by artists and organisations and how to balance managerial effectiveness with artistic value for society.
Regardless of how and where these challenges emerge, indisputably leaders will be required for the cultural sector. The cultural sector now has little choice but to respond: the present challenges of new media, changing audiences, dwindling public funds, and a decline of historical awareness are merely the next steps in this continuing pathway. —Annick Schramme, President of ENCATC, the European Network on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy
What I’m Missing
While justing being in Malta this time of year would be nice, what I’m missing are the voices of incredibly talented and intelligent people as they discuss ways to make sure the arts and culture continue to develop throughout the century in the face of numerous obstacles. Participants posting from Twitter give us just a taste of those conversations.
— Perduta Gente (@PerdutaGente) October 19, 2016
Kelli McClusky: Self-censorship happens all the time. Especially when funding is cut without reason or sedition laws enacted #artsummitmalta
— Esther Anatolitis (@_esther) October 19, 2016
— ASEF Culture360 (@culture360_asef) October 19, 2016
Yvonne Donders: I believe in the universality of human rights but not the uniformity of human rights. Dignity with diversity #artsummitmalta
— Esther Anatolitis (@_esther) October 19, 2016
— Lucy Hannah (@LucyHannah19) October 19, 2016
I could, of course, go on and on and on. You wouldn’t read them if I did, though. If you’re interested in more, search #artsummitmalta for current tweets coming from the summit.
We have thousands of arts organizations scattered across the US, most of which do absolutely incredible work. We need these larger conversations, though. Art and cutlture is not merely a local experience, but a global one. The questions and challenges are universal. We need to grab hold of these conversations and push them forward.
And maybe next year I can hid aboard a tramp steamer or something and actually participate.