domingo, 22 de mayo de 2016

Cultural Policymaking: Rigged Participation

The Ahora Madrid party came to power without any policies on culture. Their electoral programme featured the grand total of 106 vague words on the subject, if I recall correctly. I interviewed Guillermo Zapata, their Culture representative at the time, on the subject and analysed the programme, with pessimistic conclusions. We also know that the team of Celia Mayer (current AM head of Culture and Sport) seem to work on the basis of repeating a couple of mantras which, in themselves, are meaningless: Popular culture, collaborative culture…. With this background it is unsurprising that Culture has become a battlefield for this municipal government, which has already suffered various resignations in this field such as the aforementioned Zapata and Jesús Carillo.

Now, after a year characterized by a lack of any visible results but (almost certainly) a considerable ongoing expenditure, those responsible have decided to start a debate about municipal Culture policy. It could be said by means of response that it was about time, or that Madrid’s civil society already initiated this very debate over six months ago (a debate met, of course, with total indifference on the part of the local government). Unfortunately, that doesn’t get to the root of things so we need to dig a bit deeper….

And what is the format for this Great Debate? A series of ‘Laboratories’. The first one has already been planned, with invited guests such as Natalia Balseiro (researcher and artistic producer who was leading Galicia’s choreography centre and MOV-S); Tere Badía, (current director of Hangar); and Mikel Toral (municipal technical director of Culture, ex-director of cultural promotion of the Basque government and member of Basque culture committe). Besides these figures, for the resulting workshops Natalia Balseiro, Sofia Coca and Pedro Jiménez of ZEMOS98 (Sevilla) and Ricardo Antón of ColaBora Bora (Bilbao) have been contracted.

Who have they forgotten? Who has been left out of all this? The legitimate representatives of Madrid’s cultural scene. The authorities have, once again, ignored all of us, of no matter what discipline. To participate in this ’laboratory’ one has to go through an admission process. It is not clear what criteria are used as the basis for said admission: Artistic direction? Participation in comittees, associations, groups? The right friends and acquaintances? It doesn’t matter anyway, as they aren’t going to publish this criteria, nor the list of those rejected, so it will all look very legal and above board.

This fills me with dread. Apart from the Platform for the Fund for the Arts (of which Antimuseo is a member along with 40 more associations and 150 individuals), in the visual arts scene in Madrid there are various other groups who, whether we like them or not, are legitimate spokespeople in all this. To start with there is MAV, AVAM, and IAC, who, despite our differences, all have something to say in this debate. I imagine that in the other cultural fields the situation is similar: associations of alternative theatre, for example, are not present. Plus Tabacalera and other self-run social centres ought to play a part in the talks as they have formed a part of the cultural scene here for over 15 years. Also missing form this supposed ‘dialogue’ are the representatives of opposition parties, as if their positions were unimportant. Presence of international experts like a certain George Yúdice, one Fernando Vicario – what for? There is nobody involved who has been recognized for their work, status as representative,  knowledge or other attributes we might consider pertinent. There will be 60 participants chosen for each of the ‘laboratories’ with the aim of deciding the cultural policy of Madrid on the basis of their………………….(fill in the blank right there, as I’m ashamed to).

Let’s get this clear: Debate does not happen between those who are already in agreement. It arises  where there are discrepancies, opposing positions. Success in politics is knowing how to move the dialogue forwards and find common ground that enable us to get along.

Why was there no proposition of a genuine debate involving all the legitimate representatives, who are well known to the city council?   Because the aim of these ‘laboratories’ is not  to open such a discussion to all those involved in cultural activity in Madrid, professionally or otherwise; it is to justify a series of errors and misjudgements that have characterized the council’s cultural policy this past year. Worse still, these events will merely strengthen and amplify the existing cronyism that exists between those in power and organizations and groups like Intermediate, Patio Maravillas, Fundación de los Communes and the rest. For the success of such an operation, it is necessary to invent an abstract interlocutor – (‘the people’, as if the other 99% of us were members of the royal family!)- who they themselves define and select. Made to Measure. What Madrid’s local government is looking out for is not an honest confrontation between different conceptions of culture, but submissive adhesion to their authority and doctrines; in a nutshell, their own interests. 

This is regrettable and serves to highlight the lack of cohesion of the policies of Celia Mayer. I imagine that Azucena Klett and Ana Méndez de Andrés, cultural administrators and, as far as I can tell, the forces behind this initiative, are suitably proud, convinced of having pulled one over on us yet again. Convinced that they have left in the dust all those of us who don’t fit in to their scheme and at the same time, after a wasted year, legitimise all the non-policies they have implemented.

What they don’t seem to be aware of is that they will simply corroborate what we all already know- that the government is the worst enemy of Madrid’s culture - and also compromise the political project of Ahora Madrid mayoress Manuela Carmena, who cannot afford to give the green light to such base and undemocratic practices.

Azucena, Ana: Do yourselves a favour. Do Manuela Carmena’s local government a favour. Do the Madrid creative scene a favour. Do this whole place a favour and cut out all the machinations. You’re not fooling anybody.  These ‘laboratories’ don’t have the merest hint of legitimacy and won’t serve your crude ‘strategies’. Cancel them and start working with society, with the existing civil groups and who have proposals to share with the local government. The solutions we’re hoping for will arise from our conflicts!

What you are doing does not respond to the demands for change that our citizens have made and continue to make: that what is needed is not a change of party in government, but a new approach instead of the blatant favouritism and twisted policymaking we have suffered for so long.

There’s not much else to say. I feel a great emptiness and one of Dante’s quotes comes to mind, that with which I began this critical project in 2015: Lasciate ogni speranza, abandon all hope. Ideally we’d all go down to the laboratory to demand of Celia Mayer that she cancel this farcical initiative and start a true dialogue where we could all contribute to the creation of a cultural framework in this city….but I don’t think that will happen.

Update:

After leaking this text to someone in the local government, I suddenly received an invitation for the platform to attend the events as a ‘special guest’…how low can these people sink?

Thanks Ben Roberts (https://www.facebook.com/eclectiktronik.live) for the translation

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