Cultural participation is not just a periodic human right
Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to be part of scientific achievements and its benefits.
Anyone who is serious about cultural participation must always be ready to give room. Otherwise it will be a little crowded in the palaces of the arts. When people, regardless of their motives, leave their country and decide to live in Germany, Great Britain or France, they then have the passive and active right to participate in the cultural life of their new home. Now it turns out that the people who are already there and directing the scene, those who are active — or those who are entertained by music in the opera – who are passive – often have no lasting personal interest of newcomers to participate in ‘their’ cultural life. This can be perceived in the different defense strategies they use. Let’s look at these few examples;
Most widespread is the ‘artistic devaluation’, where the ‘other’ artist is described as underdeveloped, one-dimensional, flat, too aesthetic and so on. Within this paradigm the art world is using its own exclusive language, a language designed to satisfy an intellectual affirmation mania. And this is now available for newcomers as a foreign language. There isn´t any other, more efficient strategy to ban someone from the field. Even if this new language can´t be understood, it is equally violent.
Another popular scenario is the ‘artistic alibi representative’. In order to maintain the right level of diversity in a politically correct manner, the cultural sector is gladly seeking alibi representatives. An example would be a participant in a panel discussion. Most of the time this comes down to exactly one person, even if this person unfortunately doesn´t meet all the diversity criteria: female, PoC, Muslim. This spec would be perfect but as so often complained, it is unfortunately a rare find. This is not cultural participation. The terms “everyone” and “community” used in the Declaration of Human Rights are unlikely to be realized with this approach. The authors of this declaration didn´t need to add the word ‘community’ but gladly they did so anyways. Cultural participation is not achieved in isolation, but as part of the community.
Particularly ingenious is the ‘artistic separation’ as another defence strategy, using the argument that a safe space should be created for newcomers – which is essentially creating mono-national or mono-cultural spaces. If these spaces are created by newcomers, you can imagine that most likely these are based on the desire for the familiar. However, the cultural associations founded in this context usually last for only two generations and generally lack of any financial support. But what do the well-established organisations or private individuals of the arrival state actually want to achieve by creating for example a diaspora ensemble? Simplified processes, less translation costs, the protection from the majority? Or is it due to the fact that a certain mainstream is able to use their local language for profit? Then we would rather speak of a cultural ‘get out of the way’ than of cultural participation, as this wouldn´t happen in a true community. The scarce commodity of attention is seldom distributed to minorities and certainly not in an artistic context. In other words, very interesting formats might disappear into a cloud of meaninglessness and disregard.
I´m closing this article with the all-around hit of ‘cultural exclusion’ by educated elites’.
This is about the most insidious approach in the canon of defence mechanisms. The statement ‘we are the elite’, used for both — an active and passive — cultural defence system, has been working very efficiently for a long time. Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) uses the term ‘elite’ in connection with class and cultural struggle in which cultural participation should be embedded. This struggle can only be seen in this context and if you truly try to eliminate it you need to start with education.
Let’s assume: the elite has a high interest in remaining the elite. If they would enable a more sustainable way of participation their status would be at risk. As elites are most and foremost exclusive. Nevertheless, the elite knows how to cover themselves in a politically correct and discrimination-sensitive terminology. Only on the very surface, of course. The elite is effectively differentiating itself through the use language which doesn´t stop there, they exclude people as well through fashion and trends. But above all, this exclusion reveals itself through a preferred financial support system that only awards grants to a selected group of individuals who understand the game and know how to play it. And the number one rule of this game is to never threaten the king with a check, which could quickly end in a financial dismissal.
It would be naive to believe that education enables the elite to reflect on their actions or that it gives them the understanding that the creation of effective and sustainable forms of cultural participation would be beneficial. No, on the contrary, education must be understood as an instrument of power and an instrument for the elite to differentiate themselves. One little sniff and then please leave the group of intellectuals again, back to where you came from. Perhaps the children of newcomers are allowed to play along, but only if they have attained the right level of education, after whichthey then can be honoured as an exception that confirms the rule,someone who gets declared a genius and managed to escape the working class. But be careful, this weapon of education is only distributed in small amounts and the old rule remains, either you belong or you don’t. Because education is, so to speak, a missile defence system of the elites and as long as it is used on a daily basis for its defence, real cultural participation is an illusion.
Therefore, Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights needs more attention. It needs a higher engagement of the civil society to fill it with life. If we want to create a better solidary, social and just system on this planet, we have to seriously encourage cultural participation and make space.