Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Walking through the sessions of the Symposium and the Kids' Guernica exhibition

Walking through the Program of the Symposium and the Kids' Guernica exhibition

Thursday 18 October 2007

9.30 - 10.00

Introduction into the Symposium

When the First ECCM Symposium was held here at the Zappion Megaron in 2005, culture was dealt with in terms of own needs and reflections made by those who had experiences with realization of the institution of European Capital of Culture. This time the same topic is approached but now in a more political manner.

A symposium aims to let people speak truthfully and in all honesty. If the European Union is ever to bridge the gap between its institutions and people, then the real need for democracy has to be linked to finding solutions to the problems faced by all living together on this planet Earth.

Politics means to take care of culture as required by democracy and therefore to allow free speech by promoting literacy, public debates, openness and a practical wisdom. In recent times political speeches have become tools of propaganda and therefore unable to bring across some thoughts, never mind crucial information needed before anyone who listens can come to some practical conclusion. In that sense the Symposium wishes to become a crucial reference in an ongoing debate about the role of culture in the making of the economy and of the European Union.

As the very topic ‘Productivity of Culture’ suggests, culture has an inherent value. It is reflected not only in aesthetical forms but more important in what people say and talk about. There is the famous example of the Chinese emperor disguising himself and mingling himself at night amongst the common people. Without knowing about his presence, they exchanged openly viewpoints, including criticism of the way the administration was working. He got to hear problems which had never reached his ears till then.

In this global world people must themselves acknowledge that they have to listen carefully before hearing even if at first sight unpleasant, still plain truths. Otherwise culture has no value to them. They have to give themselves orientation and become through culture productive. Although Marx said rightly so, generally speaking, people are only then willing to recognize the existence of problems if they know there is a solution, ‘productivity of culture’ presupposes something, namely an open discussion of the problems we all have to face regardless whether there are solutions for them or not. For only by recognizing problems, then we can begin to work on them together or we legitimize someone for working on solutions for these problems. To find solutions there is needed an understanding process, the right choice of the materials needed and a clear formulation of the conditions under which any solution offered is acceptable. Culture is about choice, the productivity of culture a way to ensure people’s resolve to find solutions to the outstanding questions of our times by enhancing the choices.

Therefore a part of the ‘productivity of culture’ lies in defining the problem. We all know what it means to be clear in our minds and purpose when undertaking certain actions. And in knowing not all solutions offered are acceptable in the long run, productivity of culture means to continue working until an acceptable solution to all has been found. Here lies then the difference to impatience, short term thinking and ignoring all conditions speaking out against such a solution, for ‘productivity of culture’ means as well going beyond the immediate and to structure future actions. For a true failure of culture would be not to anticipate what is to come and what tasks lie ahead. As said already by the Ancient Greek poets, the tasks ahead define the measures of man according to which the difference between solving something and yet still not anywhere close to a solution for all attests to the knowledge we can assume. Rightly so, the Ancient Greek poets would say the most difficult task is to bring about a just society, one with a high degree of social and economic cohesion for everyone as has always been the aim of the European Union.





Consequently the Symposium will focus first of all on Cultural Policy as domain of politics. Especially with regards to the EU this concerns the fact that the legal base for actions by the EU is extremely small, while the expectations in finding an answer on how to mediate between local cultural identities and global developments are extremely high.

While the Symposium recognizes that the EU policy on culture has shifted since then, it still remains important that cultural policy manifests itself as thought through choices brought about by letting cultures do what they can do best, namely enhance the productivity of people in everything they are doing, whether in educating children or in taking care of the environment.

The European Union has failed to implement a policy on cultural diversity. It has succumbed to the homogenizing global forces of commerce and consumerism. If the EU cannot celebrate diversity of culture, Michael D. fears the rise of the Jihad or Holy War, already seen in ex-Yugoslavia, as the search for cultural expression is manipulated by right-wing Populism, ethnically defined nationalism, neo-Nazism and religious fundamentalism.

Cultural policy should in the opinion of Michael D. Higgins stay focused on creating 'cultural space' which the arts and the people need for their creativity and creative expressions. There is a danger that everything is being consumed by a consumer society with the arts and culture becoming commodified products while the 'cultural space' vanishes. Hence criticism is not enough. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that the cultural space is wider than the economic space. Moreover the cultural space stretches further back in time but to heed this, it will require three things:


All three factors combine to constitute the public world. Here is where the most important thoughts are articulated. But the public world is under threat by privatization. The odd thing is that there prevails insecurity of the private while it can be observed that out of this insecurity there develops the tendency to claim ownership in private over things which would otherwise be shared in public. As a poet Michael D. Higgins would even admit there comes a moment when we have nothing to share.

However, he sees that possession replaces trust in public spaces. Still, there is nothing abstract about this problem.

He went on citing a practical example of Toronto subscribing itself to a 'creative cities strategy' with a poet writing the preamble. What makes a city to flourish? That question can be answered by noting that today's classes are the various divides and not merely the digital one. There is a great difference when it comes to participating in culture with higher incomes tending to attend more concerts while middle class income recipients going more into the cinema.

Altogether the present poses a serious challenge in following ways:


He wonders where is then still 'creativity' without such commercial undertone?

The requirement for public spaces goes with the need for integration and social inclusion. Still, the increase in number of people working in the so-called cultural or creative industries indicates that there is also an increasing risk to destroy the very space they need to be creative. New York has, for example, gone through quite a regression in recent years. It can come to a point when people cannot afford it any longer to live there and work. As a matter of fact ever more people live to work and not work to live. That reflects the kind of economy as it has become the established norm of today.

At political level, there has been very little response coming from the Parliaments both at European and at national level to the report "In from the Margin" outlining the need to uphold a creative diversity. By heading towards a knowledge economy, there is the added risk of reductionism with emphasis being placed on acquiring mere technical skills or in terms of communication and information only multi media capacities. At the same time, the society tends to reduce citizens to mere consumers going silent although they could tell many interesting stories.

Michael D. Higgins emphasizes that there is a need for re-evaluation. To do that there has to exist an ethical base for another type of discussion about culture and cultural policy. This calls for recognition of the public space.

Once the Symposium has established what cultural policy should be in place, it is possible to define more clearly and to understand better the role of culture. Here the speech by Michael D. Higgins will set again some important accents. He surprised everyone already with his speech in 2000 here in Athens by proposing a very practical agenda, including the need for cultural impact studies. It is to be expected that he will want to share with others such appreciation of culture that bestows upon people dignity by upholding integrity of memory. With regards to what happens in Iraq, namely the outbreak of violence once people loose all dignity, life can only be upheld by culture if life is filled with inspiration due to happiness and freedom.

Consequently culture faces huge challenges, given the fact so many people around the world suffer and face only the dire consequences of actions by those who see themselves as ‘radical losers’ (this is said in reference to the thesis of Enzensberger who considers Hitler to be an outstanding example of such type of loser who can pull the entire society into still deeper loses then the ones he believes to have suffered under himself). The role of culture has to be seen as a way to overcome not only loss of dignity and the pain that goes with it, but also the sense of being a failure. In that sense culture not only redefines the difference between failure as shattered hope and failures as lessons to be learned.

No doubt the symposium will want to show what political philosophy can uphold a dignified life not withstanding the challenges of the twenty first century. In this regard Greece has been a witness and gone through an unbelievable inferno of devastation of people’s lives, homes, environment and future due to the forest fires of 2007. Whenever the sun is hidden behind clouds of fumes and thereby the air appears yellow as when a deep desert storm takes place, then people know how frail their lives are once the environment they live in is no longer friendly, but hostile. It is the role of culture to ensure that whatever people do, it is based on a friendly attitude towards the world. Only then the solutions they seek due not burden others nor do they neglect the need to sustain this world so that following generations shall inherit a healthy planet and a vibrant culture keeping alive the spirit of humanity.




The start of dialogue between cultures is not a sure sign to have found a solution, but it is a prerequisite for finding solutions giving the need of mankind to stay in touch with reality. Even someone does not agree with the viewpoint of the other, it is better to know how the Islamic world views globalization rather than the Western world imposing its world view on others. Now dialogue seems to be less and less possible, while violent actions, including bombings of innocent civilians and other forms of terrorism seem to speak louder than thinking about peace. Yet it is exactly the productivity of culture which can facilitate dialogue by the deepening the understanding of the other. To this something else has to be added. As the voice of Iman Mourad can explain, how a parent conveys thoughts and emotions to children in a most difficult situation like Lebanon which has been going through many wars, inner conflicts and challenges to sheer survival, if the parent does not believe in what is conveyed then what to expect from these children to believe? What to convey to future generations, that is one of the most important questions of our times. Here culture has a most important role to play: to convey truth by ensuring good experiences are passed on in a way that future generations can know and recognize a honest word when problems are in need of being worked out and to which present society has not found as of yet ‘the’ solution.





Now if dialogue is about bridging differences while not giving up the need to recognize which problems need to be solved in what way, then cultural planning is about how to make available the cultural resources we need in order to uphold this prerequisite for all searches and findings of solutions, namely the dialogue. There is the beautiful image of a mother sitting in front of the favorite painting of her son who is studying abroad and so by being in dialogue with the painting, she feels to be closer to him there then anywhere else. Next to dialogue, cultural planning is a most practical way to handle the fulfillment of the role culture should play in making possible life in cities. There is a need to include the environment in cultural planning quite differently from how physical planning considers environmental impact studies. But fore mostly it is a matter of understanding how ‘City Culture’ is treated by planners, especially those who have become interested over the years in culture?

Example: paper given by Diane Dodd

What about the chances of artists reclaiming the city?

Key words: urban dissent, urban screens, advertisement, subtisement

Motive: through use of urban screens allow for artistic interventions in the communication process any city undergoes every day. Due to the new technologies - digital culture - a much more defined way to deliver the message prevails. Language of advertisement seems to dominate everywhere.

Time line: given the general impatience with not reaching results quickly enough, the machinery perfects the squeezing of oranges (Bart Verschaffel)

Problem: there is no infinite space available for endless, equally restless travels who either take high speed trains or else make quick downloads as if only the passing of images gives them a sense of life while the real deprivation makes itself felt in a new 'poverty of experience'.

Concept for further research: new social protest movements linked to urban dissent against advertisement with the aim to rebuild public spaces for real debates in order to appreciate the complexities of identity building processes over time e.g. a child growing up.

Cities and artists usually don't work well together, so what solution and therefore cultural planning strategy could be proposed in answer to such urban dissent?

Friday 19 October 2007




^ Top

« The cultural space by Michael D. Higgins | HERMES Final Conference (5th-8th October 2006) »