Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

12. Culture and Civilization


Human Matrix

Mapping of Cultural resources

Cultural planning



12. Culture and Civilization: by what institutions is culture transmitted (theatre, film, video, orchestra, bookshops etc.)

12.1 Cultural venues

12.2 Planning for museums and cultural centres as flagships

12.3 Larger venues dominate over smaller ones: drains upon  cultural resources

12.4 From existing cultural venues to creation of new spaces


Interesting is that here scale becomes a crucial issue. Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa is way out of scale and proportion to its surrounding area that it can be perceived as if an outer space ship has landed there. The landmark has become something like an associated feature with Bilbao but remains independent as Bilbao as a city retains itself an own independent life which escapes largely the world attention. Such cultural features can make up an entire city with regards to its outer reliance upon culture for a distinct existence just as the Acropolis with the Parthenon is associated with Athens or Tower Bridge, Big Ben of Parliament with London. Immediately all these cultural features evoke specific associations which retain over time their distinct meaning. Other symbolic meanings have been added over time but rarely have these meanings diminished e.g. as long as Big Ben keeps ringing, there is freedom in England and in the United Kingdom. It is a little more precarious when the same is said in a different way to indicate economic dependency upon tourism for as long as the people keep coming, we have nothing to worry about, economically speaking. There is altogether another level of dependency when a famous university town like Oxford or Cambridge speaks about the need for an influx of new ideas to keep its institutes of higher learning going, practically but also academically speaking. Here then is touched upon something much more crucial for cultural planning than the actual physical buildings. How important is it to keep research going and to educate young people with educational methods which challenge their minds to ask harder and further going questions? If this neither a mere theory of cultural policy nor just a priority then ranking in the scale of things can become already an expression of the state of affairs to be evaluated as to what importance is really attached to what kind of culture communicated through various ways and means not only as to what music the orchestras play or what theatrical plays are being staged but what ideas are being discussed not only in lecture halls of the universities but in the streets as well. If anything was crucial for the breaking out of the Middle Ages with the beginning of the Renaissance it was also the thirst of an artist like Albrecht Duerer to spend his evenings in the local pub to find out what are the latest discoveries and theories about the universe ever since Galileo reversed the order of things with no longer the earth as centre of the universe but rotating around the sun. Since then the order of things have never been the same and the hold of the church over the arts and culture was broken. The securalization of culture started and with it another understanding as to the difference between culture and civilization.

12.1 Cultural venues

Cultural venues indicate what importance is given to culture but also at various scales of things this will include everything from the main opera to a street theatre needing no special venue. Culture expressed through small jazz bars are just as important as having a vibrant cultural scene in which people can meet and discuss new ideas. The cultural venues can even change as the history of the Blues indicate; while during a certain period the Harlem music was the birthplace of everything else, later the musicians moved on as rent became more expensive while elsewhere they found another spot to try out their musical refrains with others just coming in from somewhere else. Blue Note reflected an upsurge of a special brand of music and the experimentation which goes with it. In turn it means cultural venues are not just ready made but they are discovered by artists and by virtue of what they can develop within such spaces give a name to the location. Always there is a great sensitivity in the air as to what is possible within such venues. Will it provide enough space for creativity, will it allow for experimentation, will it be a good mix between people just starting out and those already established but not yet corrupted by the system. Louis Armstrong had certainly that blend of being at home everywhere and never did he forgot those working back in the kitchen when he was out there performing to a mostly white audience. He would go afterwards into the kitchen and play for the folks there a special tune or so. As such venues can become also route 66 and other places now known by names which stand for a certain experience based on inspiration and great creativity. If mapping these venues becomes a task for someone wishing to document artistic and cultural development then it is certainly of interest what was adopted for a certain period of time as a cultural venue to give space for a specific cultural expression and what retained the flavor of an official cultural venue more neutral and more open to a general cultural program developed by art managers, national gallery directors, etc. since they thrive as well only if the off scene or free scene entails many talents and challenges continuously the best in the official culture with what can be done to reach and to touch people where it matters most – in their hearts and mind.

12.2 Planning for museums and cultural centers as flagships

When speaking with Neil Peterson of Liverpool 2008, since designated to be then a European Cultural Capital City, he immediately responded as being understood in their intention of using that year to create in the downtown area cultural flagship around which everything else will evolve. By placing all bets on one key cultural institution to set off a whole series of new developments due to the promised indirect and direct impacts, the city declares its commitment to culture through one key investment. It is a simple but powerful message and has all the ingredients of a large scale effort to revamp the inner city and its way of networking with the surrounding area.

12.3 Larger venues dominate over smaller ones:  drains upon cultural resources

This was already the case when Paris decided to relocate Les Halles to the exterior of Paris and implanted instead Centre Pompideou. There have been made many remarks about the impact of such flagships and certainly they differ if a city like Ottawa is taken which did not have until 1967 a cultural centre and thereby forced visiting orchestras to play on cinema stages instead with the risk that some of their musicians would fall off the edges and larger cities like Paris with many more and diverse cultural venues. Still, Centre Pompideou could never recover what was ousted with having the central market of Paris removed to the outskirts. What had been a way of life, and certainly the film Irma La Duce shows but one such feature connected with prostitution and street scenes typical at that time around the market, can never be recreated artificially once taken away. As the poet Baptiste Marray would say life has been exported from Paris. That leaves a tone of sadness not only in his voice but also what many experience as the problem of Paris with its big gaps between the rich and the poor with many layers of sub organizations underneath the official poverty line. There are thousands who dwell underground. The recent demonstration by citizens in solidarity with the homeless by pitching everywhere tents made an impression in the world press while another news item was noticed when the Mayor of Paris declared the shores of the Seine to become sandy beaches. It is like another measure to show something is being done to improve the quality of life of the citizens in the city and while it is a novel gesture at best it remains something like an artificial facelift on an urban face which has many other signs and scars made by riots in the suburbs and not completed by not being able to cope with modernity and globalization which would allow job security be matched by competitiveness as demanded by the global firms. There is vitality but also a frightening loss of life which makes everything existing beside these flagships, the latest in Paris being the ethnological museum, into a kind of muted life existing at the edges. If anything had been the overall intention to bring in culture from the margins, then those living out there on the edges must also not be forgotten for they too need access to cultural venues so as to give themselves some reorientation, even if only confidence that the dialogue between different cultures and religions is still possible and no one needs to be so frustrated that there is nothing left but rage which becomes something like a blind violence erupting ever so often out of sheer frustration over so much wasted time and effort to come to terms with urban reality at the beginning of twenty-first century.

12.4 Activate creation of new spaces with both experimental and formal character (the latter requiring infrastructures e.g. stages, lighting, sound systems, new media)

It has been quite some time now since Centre Pompidou was created in place of Les Halles. The modernistic building combining technology and functional purposes meant to combine services for the local community while housing world famous collections left its mark. It has become a most attractive centre for people of Paris and tourists alike. More so the conceptual orientation took the local area out of the myths surrounding the central market and gave it quite another outlook into the future. The latter can be circumscribed with the key concept of cultural tourism and does not end with considering culture and the arts as innovative force which can and does change society insofar as people’s habits, tastes, perceptions etc. are both affected and substantiated. Around Centre Pompidou has been created an atmosphere which reminds of the crowds gathering around cathedrals of the past and where market goers intermingle with all sorts of artistic talents at informal or street level while reflecting in close proximity those articulated artistic expressions displayed in the formal context of the museum. The cultural imprint by declaring this painting of that artist as the most favorite does say definitely there prevails something like a cultural orientation for especially younger people who seek inspirations from modern art of the twentieth century in order to find their way into the 21st.

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