In the last few days the idea of cultural poverty has resonated among those of us who are active in the sector. At the presentation of the annual report of the Consell Nacional de la Cultura i les Arts (National Arts and Culture Council) it was said to have risen 10% in Catalonia. The concept, as stated in this report, refers to “the persons who consider that they have less access to cultural consumption than those who are demographically and socially similar to them”. This perception has little do with the fact of having close at home a cultural venue but rather with the regular use which is made of it which, as it would seem, does not exceed 16%.
An interesting study by the Basque observatory carried out in 2016 explains that research on poverty and culture has been carried out by very different academic sectors. The first has been researched by, primarily, economists and political scientists whereas the second by historians, anthropologists and researchers in the human sciences. There has been, though, an economist who has been key in finding common elements between these two worlds: Amartya Sen has put forward a theory on capabilities which assesses the real possibilities that individuals have to exercise their freedoms. Simply put, it is not the same to have the possibility to go to a library as to have the capacity to go to there and, as we know, in the case of libraries the barrier is not economic.
This theory, which has notably influenced the policies for international relations and development cooperation, puts the accent not on poverty understood as a lack of income but rather on social exclusion as a phenomenon which goes beyond the material aspects and has a lot to do with culture understood as a space for participation and as a fundamental right.
The wording of the right to culture refers to, essentially, this participatory aspect of many cultural expressions, from the perspective of the habits of cultural consumption but also of the contribution to and production of culture that any person can make through professional or amateur arts and cultural practices, voluntary work in cultural associations, intellectual contributions to enrich heritage and cultural diversity, etc.
From this perspective, it is difficult to accept the idea of poverty because, without doubt, memory and creativity are almost innate competencies and capacities. Nevertheless, they have to be fostered socially and politically to transform them in assets and wealth. Let me give, from the many existing, two examples which indicate other trends: last week 75 boys and girls, 8th graders at the Salvador Espriu high school in Salt, performed for the first time at the festival Temporada Alta the “El cos es cola” (“Bodies in school”) show which they had themselves produced. Also, through the “Un museu a l’aula” (“A museum in the classroom”) of the Carulla Foundation, 8th graders at the Joan Amigó i el Morell high school are deciding, this year, which heritage and what memory they want to transmit and preserve and how to do it using the language proper of exhibitions.
Eduard Delgado, founder of Interarts, launched the Charter of Cultural Rights for the Citizens of Barcelona which was drafted in 2002 jointly with the Culture Institute of the City of Barcelona. In 2004 also in Barcelona, Interarts coordinated an International Conference on cultural rights. It would be wise to take on anew these initiatives and give some serious thought to understanding whether it is socially sustainable to give up on all the cultural wealth which does not feel called upon to participate through conventional cultural institutions and proposals.
Gemma Carbó, chair of the Board of the Interarts Foundation