Contemporary cultural centres and democracy
[This is a translation made by Guillermo Sánchez of this text. All the links go to spanish websites
The institutional context of contemporary culture has lately been in decline. Cases such as the direct appointment of the CCCB (Contemporary Cultural Centre of Barcelona), the inanition of the CAAC (Contemporary Art Centre of Andalusia),on its 25th anniversary, the mismanagement of the BIACS (Biannual Contemporary Art Festival of Seville), the censorship in MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona) or the mobbing that we witnessed in La Laboral Cultural Centre , are just some examples that demonstrate how outdated and self-centered the system has become. It is necessary to request and abdication, a change of cycle to propitiate different fields of intervention.
This text has two main points to address. In the first place, publically denounce the situation of the well-known C4 of Córdoba (Andalusian Space for Cultural Creation).
In January 2015 ZEMOS98 bid for the post of cultural advisors of the C4 Centre. The proposal was signed by our cultural association. After a short period of time, the bid was void. It is not that we do not accept that our proposal was perhaps unsuitable. However, we never received any technical argument or official notification explaining why our ideas, schemes or proposal did not even receive the minimum points (we obtained 27 over 85, being 30 the minimum number of points for it to be voided.) We only received the grading records from the management committee which included three people belonging to the Andalusian Culture: José Lebrero Stals, director of the Picasso Museum in Málaga, Pablo García Casado, director of the Andalusian Film Archieve and José Antonio Älvarez Reyes, director of the Andalusian Contemporary Art Centre.
20 million euros have been invested in the C4 of Córdoba, since 2008 and it remains closed. The most incredible issue is that The Cultural Council of the Andalusian Regional Government has only summoned some art agents (last September) in all this time, to talk about the future of this organization. Those of us who officially made a proposal, were not even invited to explain how we would carry out a project that the Andalusian Regional Government, clearly does not know how to handle. Does this make any sense?
For over a year, we have wanted to give a public explanation to those who have written to support our nomination, over a period of ten days.
The second point we would like to mention is our desire to evaluate some of our ideas that may be the key to explain the current situation of contemporary culture and to share thoughts and notions for the future in the case that we can find our place.
There is no culture without democracy
The social foundation of a contemporary cultural centre cannot be a closed minded or self-centred world of art. The world of art does not exist apart from the world of instability, financial embezzlement nor evictions. So, who benefits from enclosing artists in a cage where they are free but only inside the cage? Well, obviously, the owner of the cage. If one is “free” within art, then art makes no sense. If art is a tool to transform society in a cross-disciplinary form, then it is in our interest.
An updated democratic procedure of the government institutions is urgently needed. The code of “Good practices” created a general agreement that an art centre must appoint a director from an open international call. Another important aspect of the mentioned document is that it establishes contributions from the artistic agents. These seem reasonable measures, but more often than not, they are mentioned in vain and therefore should be revised. Some questionable ideas are whether it is possible or desirable to hold an international tender for contracts and programmes. Even for those local centres? When referring to a new centre, what comes first? The organization or the sponsoros or the contract/programme? Are we going to continue to support a protocol which does not comply with gender equality laws? Will we be able to construct and permit collective directions once and for all?
On the other hand, defending what is public as well as its spaces, the latter should not hinder the renovation of its spaces nor the referred institutions. In other words, we should be able to bet on the imagination of the administration. The law permits a lot more than what is actually carried out. There are European laws that have never been applied and the possibility of agreements between small and large institutions is yet to be explored. These are just some examples. We should attempt to appeal to a more possible approach and apply political imagination to overcome the usual “this is not possible.” The cultural departments should not mistake the control of public spending with the inoperative bureaucracy in administrative procedures. It is essential to make changes in this manner, which in turn will help offer a better public service to the community.
One of the most important concerns in the renovation of democracy has been transparency. The issue has come to the extreme of solely being related to finance. However, all those involved in artistic centres should apply policies of transparency not only is regards to administration. Transparency should include research to the collegial bodies as well as all its procedures. Why are there no filed documentation concerning the practicum so they can be questioned in other contexts? Why is it so difficult to have access to publications that have been sponsored or funded by public institutions? Why is there still a certain amount of exclusiveness when trying to obtain information? Why is there a lack of interest in creating live achieves and the promotion of culture on the net?
A more democratic culture is needed in the daily activities of these centres. This includes a continuous evaluation of the results as well as an update of its continuity which has been elected more or less democratically. The revoking processes should be carried out, as well as the spaces within a more advanced democracy. This includes participative budgets as well as consulting councils. All these measures may take longer to establish, but in the long run would be more coordinated, coherent and overall, more resistant to personal interests.
Care and mediation in the cultural ecosystem
The public programme of activities is part of a cultural ecosystem. It is a strong institutional element, which must know how to manage the different needs of this ecosystem including both collective and minority alternatives. Its surroundings will also determine the elements that comprise the ecosystem. The regional art centres are symptomatically self – centered and see no further than perhaps what is closest to their surroundings. The Andalusian Centre of Contemporary twitter account is @caac_sevilla, so what’s the deal, Sevilla or Andalusía? A part of everything? The same occurs with national centres, which concentrates its activities in the capitals of the kingdom . Nevertheless, what is even more urgent is that far and beyond the territorial boundaries, cultural centres should stop marking a sometimes despotic distance, between users/producers/creators.
We are talking about a cultural centre that is able to define itself within the ecosystem including its surroundings. Moreover, the institution will most likely control the resources and create relations of power especially with those related to gender or precarity. The responsible bodies of a cultural centre should assume and visualize what privileges they have. The protection of a centre means to understand that the job of an institution is to mediate between the community, producers and other agents and not only to control the financial aspects.
The public procedures, educational programmes and mediation, should be the epicenter of a contemporary cultural centre. It is high time that museums stopped crowding its walls, especially if it is either too small with inadequate exhibition facilities or too big and difficult to fill up. Art exhibitions occupy hours of programming. How is it possible that with the current number of unemployment, there are no responsible politicians who are concerned about the low number of participants generated by traditional exhibitions? Are we merely considering exhibitions for the so called “cultural tourism”?
On the other hand, there can no longer be such an unequal share of the budgets. There are museum directors that boast about their public activities and we are well aware that they invest less funds than they receive. The contemporary cultural spaces cannot be camouflaged museums, as these already exist. Something to consider in this effect, is that when a contemporary cultural centre declares that its activities include exhibitions as well as production at the same time, these are not carried out in equal conditions. Exhibitions generate more, but its quality generates less.
Regarding mediation, there is no room for “in-mature” procedures. On the contrary, mediation should be collective research. It should be a means where one learns from proposals which are integrated in the evaluation processes. A means to learn and share results, in which cultural projects are understood as trials and that errors are not problems, but a part of the trial and error. The only error is the consequence of concluding before carrying out the process. We are in need of more comfortable spaces to make mistakes and less need of seminars to ratify our certainties dressed as hypothesis.
Lastly, and as a common element of mediation, technology in the contemporary cultural centres should not be considered as a discipline. Although it is true that technology is part of a contemporary cultural centre, especially in the rehearsal and as a criticized object. However, technology cannot be used irrationally. It is advisable not to fall into the temptation of declaring being up-to-date in the latest technological tendencies. In Spain, for instance much was invested in led lights that cover the facades of media centres located in Zaragoza, Cordoba and Madrid. What are the results? What for? Is it only for show? Nothing much has been thought about this. The problem is that the technology employed in the façade of the media centres was designed for publicity and the ones installed are now obsolete. In other words, we should be careful not to fall for fascinating effects, misleading the purpose of technology in favour of political, social and artistic realities.
Culture is politics
A cultural centre is a political centre, regardless of its ideals or how it is organized. As a result, we now ask: How do we go from a representative democracy (where several experts choose a director,) to a more active democracy where the centre itself takes hold of its ecosystem governed by its citizens? How can the contemporary cultural centres promote experimentation and at the same time co-habitate with the popular culture? Is it possible for a public centre to be responsible once and for all to free the knowledge generated through free, live and accessible archieves? Can a contemporary cultural centre flee from the closed notion of “cultural area” to relate and hybridize with other disciplines? Can a contemporary cultural centre assist current events and at the same time promote slow research-action and participation processes?
Every so often there are headlines that quote important figures that belong to the cultural industry in which they emphasize on a non- political culture. This is normal for those who consider and expect culture to be an entertainment service and space for the elite. The precarious situation of those who work in culture, the loss of public vocation of the cultural policies, as well as the excuse of tagging as “culture” speculation and urban conflicts are only a few hidden traps behind the mentioned statement. This brings up another question: Is there anything more political than the non-politicization of culture? This is a game that we cannot lose.
It was extremely hard to say goodbye to ZEMOS98 FESTIVAL. Uncertainties lay ahead and the same instability we had a year ago when we carried out our most important project ( both professionally and personally.) As said in the beginning, being able to work from a designated space with more stability is one of our desires. But, while we find out whether suitable conditions are underway, on our roadmap there is something quite clear: we want to continue working and fight to guarantee culture as a common good for our society and a tool for public participation, because culture is politics.
Our gratitude to those people who in scarcely ten days welcomed our nomination with expectation and eagerness and signed a written commitment with the project: Antoni Muntadas, artist, Eugeni Bonet, artist and curator, Federico Guzmán, artist, Clara Boj y Diego Díaz, artists, Francisco MM Cabeza de Vaca, musician and founder of the CO4 (Contemporary Music Collective from Córdoba), Laura Lizcano, former President of the Profesional Dance Platform, Elena Medel, writer, Manuel León Moreno, artist, Berta Sureda, former director of the Public Activities area of the National Museum Reina Sofía and former responsible of the cultural area in the Barcelona Counclil, Marcos García, Medialab Prado director from Madrid, Rosa Pera, international curator ,Mar Villaespesa, independent curator and member of UNIA arteypensamiento, Óscar Abril Ascaso, cultural producer and, former director of Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación industrial, Tere Badía, Hangar director from Barcelona, Anna Ramos, Radio Web MACBA – Barcelona, Pedro G. Romero, artist, Azucena Klett, Cultural Policies advisor in the Madrid city council, Juan Insúa, CCCBlab director – Barcelona, Yolanda Romero, former Director of the José Guerrero Centre – Granada y now responsible of the Museum of the Bank of Spain, Belén Sola Pizarro, Director of the Education Department of the Contemporary Art Museum of Castilla y León (MUSAC) , José Luis de Vicente, independent curator and director of Sonar+D, Antonio Lafuente, Director of the Science History Departament in The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and director of the Commons Laboratory in Medialab-Prado, María Pallier, director of Metrópolis (Spanish Public TV, TVE), Alessandro Ludovico, editor Neural.it magazine, Vivian Paulissen, Knowledge Manager European Cultural Foundation, Fer Francés, director of the Javier López Gallery and curator at MAUS in Málaga, Ricard Robles, co-director of Sonar Festival – Barcelona, Ángel Mestres, general director of Trànsit Projectes – Barcelona / Madrid, Ángel Rueda, director of S8, peripheral film festival – A Coruña, Vanni Brusadin, director The Influencers, festival in CCCB – Barcelona, Flavio Escribano, founder of Arsgames – Madrid, José Luis Paredes Pacho, Director of the University Museum in Chopo, México, Ricardo Antón, co-director of Colaborabora – Bilbao, Gabriel Villota, teacher of Contemporary Art at the University of Bilbao, Laura Baigorri, teacher of videoart at the University of Barcelona, Abu ali – Toni Serra, Artist and Director of OVNI (Unknown Frame Obvervatory), PIE.FMC, Contemporary and Modern Flamenco Studies Platform, Araceli Corbo, Director of the Documentation Area of the Contemporary Art Museum of Castilla y León (MUSAC) and Antonio Molina, teacher of Art&Aesthetics at the Seville University and former advisor of Córdoba 2016.