radius of art: The Thematic Window "Art for Social Transformation"
“Art is a right”, has been heard here and there. Is this statement connected to what we have been doing at this Conference for two days? What’s the meaning of more than 200 people from different parts of the world, discussing Art, at Berlin, the heart of the worst Western financial crisis - in case this is such a crisis? We feel we’ve gone throught this already in Latin America.
It is also said that 100 people are the tipping-point to generate changes. Is that 100 among us?
The Conference organizers invited me as an Observer to the Art for Social Transformation Forum. Was I the right person to invite? Who knows? But, after saying WOW, Berlin!, on second thoughts, I wondered about my personal responsibility regarding this invitation.
Quite often, we mention one of Einstein’s sayings about thinking differently to solve new problems. But, we actually don’t do so that often. Consequently, I asked myself how I could try to think differently this time, trying to contribute to the enlightment of the new problems we are facing everyday. Although I have my favourite saying, one by Russell, Why repeating the same mistake, when there are so many new ones to make?
Based on these two ideas, think different, make new mistakes, I decided to focus our attention on four issues:
- the call
- the answer
- the participation
- the proposals
Sometimes, this unbearable feeling of already knowing what we shall achieve if we keep on doing what we are used to, overwhelms me. What and where is the innovation in this field? Let’s think about this together.
1. The call
The initial Conference aim was to strengthen and expand existing structures and networks, initiate long-term partnerships between German and international organisations and launch shared learning processes.
Nevertheless, the aim is something most of us have already heard and tried to do in other Conferences, in different contexts, during the past years. So, why still another invitation? May it be because we all know there’s still something to be done in this direction? May it be because the complexity of all the issues doesn’t allow us to solve them in just one meeting? Or is it perhaps, because the political will of decision-makers doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe in the power of art and culture to transform and develop our communities? Or, last but not least, is it just because it is the easiest way for donors to show their commitment?
Indeed, there’s a bit of all what’s been mentioned above, and other reasons we could all find out, describe, measure and share. Anyway, every day we realize the complexity of the reasons exceeds our understanding and tolerance. But, what’s the quantum transforming power of meeting here and there, in nice cities, nice venues, while most human beings are not even respected or considered as such?
We all know that Social Transformation is a wide concept, with a wide range of definitions, according to each context. It includes a degree of consciousness that varies according to the initial level the group has. So, I shall only focus on sharing some points of view that have certainly been discussed before, but still haven’t become real, assuming my limitations on developing this topic.
Sharing, connecting, exchanging, is basic to learn and to understand others. When talking about these social transformation experiences, we know that several strings of ourselves, (body, mind, heart, soul, feelings, intuition, spirit) sound collectively in unison, supporting the transformation. Funnily enough, when we meet, we limit this bonding capacity by using just one connector, a language, which happens to be English untill we learn Mandarin. How about designing a meeting where we connect among ourselves through artistic languages like painting, theatre, dance, instead?
We know that “world-wide best practices” are always invited to tell stories that move us. But very few times these meetings have been held in the heart of these communities where consciousness has evolved. Shouldn’t it be high time to go beyong our limits to meet where the transformation is actually taking place?
Let me share with you a process where I’ve been and I am involved in Latin America.
The Latin American Network for Social Transformation (LA Net), formed by 24 organizations from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Peru was founded in 2005. Now it has grown to over 80 organizations and has expanded to Uruguay, Colombia and Central America. The LA Net basically fosters new forms of collectivity and grassroots participation in social life on a continental dimension, promoting artistic and pedagogical exchanges among members and organizing visibility events such as public meetings, conferences, seminars and festivals.
At the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the LA Net met with Bridge Platform, another Latin American Network spreading “Points of Culture”, an official governmental program conceived in 2003 by Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. Both nets, supported by the Brazilian Government, are working on a Regional Public Policy of Community Points of Culture.
The Mercosur Parliament has recently passed a law to regionalize “Points of Culture”. This will give a strong impulse to cultural projects for social development in the region, since it establishes that 0,1% of local budgets must be allocated to them.
Apart from what is already happening in Brazil, this same public policy has been adopted by the city of Medellin, in Colombia. There are also public policy projects presented to the Parliaments in Argentina, Perú and Costa Rica. In all the other LA countries, the organizations are developing dialogue platforms hand in hand with governmental authorities and research centres. The latter, generating and communicating valid and reliable data revealing the impact of these cultural practices, something constantly demanded by governments and donors. Consequently, many organization of the LA region share common political and knowledge-building objectives, triggered by the LA N and its partners.2. The Answer
We are a good number of people, coming from different places, backgrounds, beliefs. We are somehow connected to art and culture. We may all speak English. We may have been invited because someone heard about our experience, or someone holds a key position.
A real privilege. Why me, on earth? And a huge responsibility as well. Why me, on earth?
You can bet it’s absolutely gorgeous for me to come from the South of Latin America to the cultural heart of Germany. Should I think about those who stand no chance of having been invited?
There’s no way we could change this, so far, unless each one of us gets ready to fulfill the role throughout the meeting. To do so, I thought I should challenge my certainties, my beliefs, my perspectives. I thought I should empty myself in order to be able to listen to others, rather than concentrate on my own speech, my presentation, my PP. This is nicely said. But, but, but... Can I make it? How come? Indeed, as an Observer, it’s easier to practise listening to others. Is it not?
Anyway, accepting my responsibility, revisiting my conclusions over and over again, is the best contribution I believe I can offer right now by myself. However, I´m positive that if we thought about a way out together, we could certainly be more creative, more effective and more efficent.
3. The Participation
Have you noticed that we have transformed this venue in a XXI Century Bank? This room, while empty, was worth some money. But there’s not enough money to pay for the richness it has with our knowledge being offered and shared throughout these days.
Is it so? Have we transformed this venue into a lively treasure? I´m sure you agree. But, mind you! If the financial world admits this, if politicians accept it, we may be soon paying taxes! And donors would have to double or triple their investments to match the richness generated here thanks to their initial bet. And yet, our taxes are daily paid during our work with the communities. They don’t have to wait for the money collected by governments to be reinvested in them. The investment and its transforming ourcome, happens everyday.
Being a new kind of XXI Century Bank is not that easy to accept. Nowadyas, it’s easy to admit that Internet is important and valuable, mainly because of the knowledge that moves through the ciberspace. Accepting that these days, we have built a real Internet Hub where experiences, knowledge, exchanges, human beings, territories are tangible, is not so simple, but it is unvaluable!
Although we know there are hidden agendas interweaving under what’s obvious, the power of the gathering goes beyond them. I wonder if we can take home this power, this collective effort and construction. Could I manage to make them all visible at home? Could I keep up the contacts so as to ask for a helping hand, once back home, contacting you all any time you could help our own local process? I am my community, my organization, my net. And each of its members deserves to receive the richness I’m witnessing, the wealth generated through sharing. This is my committment. To give back some of the privileges I’ve been exposed to during these days.
If every single member present at this Conference could take back home the spirit, the strength, the amount of knowledge generated during these days, then, each community would become itself a new Hub, concentring the same richness and power that we have in Berlin, spreading it, in turn and time, towards each region as a rolling snowball, to others, and others and others...until we meet again ..... in the South.
4. The Proposals
It is important to remember the perspective from which these observations are made. As it was previously mentioned, I am a member of a Latin American Net on Art for Social Transformation, where we talk about community artists, not just artists.
The first thing to highlight after the Conference is the broadness of the issues and perspectives presented throughout it. This fact makes it impossible to pretend any kind of conclusion, except confirming the importance and value of the complex reality we are inserted in.
Nevertheless, in order to be able to facilitate exchanges and cooperation, it can be said that participants are always willing to clarify and to go deeper into their motivations, their methodologies, their artistic languages. This means that they need time and methodology for better sharing and that a Conference may offer both.
One participant raised a simple but deep question. It referred to identifying the moment when artists parted from society and started to live and to be seen as isolated bubbles, separated from real life and the main social events like births, marriages, deaths. Normal events that are entwined with community life and thus, conform the local culture. Sacha Kagan, one of the speakers and moderators, describes this process in his book “Art and Sustainability”. Here it is mentioned how Descartes, and its “Discours de la Méthode”, are at the very beginning of this differentation. After listening to several presentations, it can be said that in different parts of the world, this separation is being reversed. Artists from Italy, Colombia, Perú, Palestine, South Africa, talked about their engagement, not only in community life, but also in politics.
Some participants shared experiences from oppressed territories. Their artistic practices had a similar pattern. To begin with, they had to generate trust. Once people felt confident, they could gradually decolonize their minds and bodies and develop an artistic expression. Nontheless, participants coming from so- called free countries, revealed that, more often than not, they have to deal with similar mistrust and colonization among the people they work with. No matter where the artistic experiences have been carried out, the outcome is the same: people are empowered, creativity is unleashed, questions are raised, political actions are generally started. These speakers gave strong evidence about the transforming power of art.
Separating speakers, defining different topics, including perspectives from most of the world, has only ratified the uniqueness of the artistic experience and its subsequent political commitment and social transformation. It has also confirmed that our way of thinking and understanding reality is changing. The Conference proved that we can already handle complexity in a better way. Listening to every speaker in the 5 panels, facilitated a broader comprehension of reality. It contributed to painting a single picture. To listening to a symphony. To watching a coordinated ballet. To breathing the same air. To living the same life.
I thank the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Latin American Net on Art for Social Transformation for this opportunity.