Polyphonic Europe: Bridging a Composite Europe through Cultural Leadership

STORIES ROOM

The debate continued by asking how to transpose all these ideas into actions. The stories room offered four powerful examples. Salvator-John A. Liotta from Farm Cultural Park (IT) told us about the radical transformation of the city of Favara. Favara had a decaying urban centre which has been transformed by the opening of a cultural centre that puts inhabitants at its centre. Today it is one of the most visited place in Sicily, while some years ago Favara was not on any touristic map. This process has endowed citizens with hope and pride for their city; together with greater social cohesion. This hindered negative dynamics such as economic migration, and the feeling of the lack of opportunities and frustration fueling the rise of far-right political movements. Tom Green from Counterpoint Arts (UK), a platform working on the field of Arts, refugees and migration shared how his organisation opens spaces for their artistic expression. Clymene raised the question of how to make exchanges fair, as remuneration to artists from other countries who don’t have legal status or citizenship is not always possible. The disparities between legal frameworks soon emerged. In Italy and Greece it is possible to pay refugees once they have applied for the refugee status. Payment is ultimately linked to recognition. Two main learnings emerged from the experience shared. First, projects that involve a small groups and foster intense interactions tend to be more sustainable and have more transformative impact. Second, the knowledge and cultural background of refugees and migrants has to be an integral part of the work. For example, in Greece, refugees became translators, allowing them to act as structuring referents for their communities. Following from the above, the question of engaging illegal immigrants in cultural projects was posed.  Should they be out of the projects and their reach? An uneasy answer was to opt for their EXCLUSION, because ‘it’d be very bad for the sector if we did it’ and nevertheless ‘The sad fact is that when people don’t a status they find it really hard to maintain an artistic activity’.

From the above, the question of how do we connect communities immediately emerges. What experiences do we have to bridge, for example, ‘brexiters’ and ‘remainers’? Is it time to acknowledge that the Arts, and society as a whole, has problems with communities mixing? Participants recognised that ‘people are not stupid’ and they sense that art spaces are not for them. How to move beyond our bubbles and comfort zones? By being there at moments where communities gather, for example, reconnecting families with their schools by creating parents evenings as Clymene did in her city. Ultimately, the Arts have a responsibility stemming out of our privilege. Yet, we must also acknowledge our limitations. Art events can be a starting point, by moving people away from a polarised debate, but we need to build alliances with the wider civil society organisations if we truly want to have a transformative potential. Lastly, the core question of funding was tackled with the recognition that excellent art is connected, at different levels, to social engagement. If we are sincere, people do not want to fund artists, they want to support those who contribute to alleviate those issues that concern them. Linked to this, the need to develop indicators, or to measure and assess the contribution of these projects was thought as important in order to demonstrate that the arts do have transformative and social impact.

CAE takeaway: When working with refugees and migrants we need to be careful to develop non-exploitative relations and place the development of connected communities at the centre of the design. Payment is recognition. Culture can endow citizens and foreigners alike with hope and pride; fostering social cohesion. This hinders negative dynamics such as the frustration of not having a voice or the lack of opportunities that are at the root of the rise of far-right political movements. Connecting communities is a task that requires stepping out of traditional places of practice, as ‘People are not stupid and they sense that art spaces are not for them’.