#Cultural Policy #COVID-19 #Democracy
Culture and Democracy – A Few Thoughts about the Future of Arts and Culture in Times of Pandemic
A few years ago, I dealt very fundamentally with the relationship between culture and democracy. At that time I could still assume that the cultural scene in Western democracies was firmly anchored and made a significant contribution to the democratization of national societies.
In the meantime, the neo-liberal wave has swept over all of us and has brought about a lasting change in political culture. Due to the intensified competitive situation, social inequality deepened; global migration made Europe a fortress; renationalization strategies threatened the achievements of “open societies”. The main winners have been right-wing populist and right-wing extremists who took over the “cultural hegemony” and in doing so did not shy away from sacrificing the democratic coexistence. They aggressively fight for a renaissance of authoritarian forms of rule in their struggle against the liberal (culturally affiliated) establishment. Hungary, Poland, Italy, Turkey and Russia show where the journey could go.
This affected the cultural sector in several ways: on the one hand, there were the cultural policy requirements to open up more to the market; its success was increasingly measured in corporate, quantifiable values. All those who did not have sufficient success on the cultural markets were shown the long way to the margins of society, where they have been calling for help with a more and more tiring voice. Even before Corona, both developments were not designed to promote the socio-political effectiveness of the cultural sector.
With the penetration of state restrictions in the fight against the pandemic, not only a number of inalienable fundamental rights have been suspended, at least temporarily. The new assertiveness of the state has brought parts of the economy, education and, moreover, social life to a standstill. This affects the cultural sector in particular, from which the livelihoods were withdrawn from one day to the next. While some cultural initiatives are trying to maintain relationships with their audience in a digital way, large parts of the free sector in particular are more dependent than ever on government aid, simply to survive.
In contrast to the past, there are now many others who see their sheer existence threatened. Correspondingly, the sympathy for the fate of the cultural sector became largely modest. Rather, the question arises what art and culture have to offer in times of global uncertainty, which points beyond nostalgic self-descriptions as the last grips of the human.
In my view, there are two main tasks: the struggle to defend democratic achievements has never been as important as it is now. The professional background – artist or cultural worker yes or no – is largely irrelevant. In this situation, as citizens we are all challenged not to put up with the temptation to surrender a democratic culture of conflict in the hope of all security that would unite us behind unquestionable leaders.
And the second is to give up the belief that after the pandemic subsides, the cultural scene can return to the quo ante state. Yes, parts of the cultural businesses will open again, some tourists will return at some point, but the socio-political priorities will be completely different.
From there, I advocate rethinking the traditional relationship between producers and (potential) users, by that leaving the beloved bubble in which we last set up. The digital possibilities already show the variety of new forms of communication and interaction that need to be transferred to real cultural areas. Only when it comes to a new, mutually appreciative relationship between those who make art and those who use it, do I see another chance to reassign art (as a mediating agency between citizens) to the relevance it could and should have in maintaining and developing democratic communities, which are on fire at the moment.
Everything else could soon reveal itself for what it is: desperate summoning attempts at the edge of the abyss.