Arts Attacks: How can we defend culture?

Wednesday 16 November, 18.30 - 20.00 , Zé dos Bois Gallery, Rua da Barroca, 59 1200-047 Lisboa (Bairro Alto), Portugal Battle of Ideas Europe

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How should we defend the arts from cuts and make the case for investment in culture? In the face of financial crisis within the European Union, central government funding for the arts has dropped rapidly and 23 European countries now invest less in the arts. Portugal has been hit particularly badly. In the decade to 2011, after the government slashed 75% from the budget for culture, it then abolished the Ministry of Culture itself. Even Pavlos Geroulanos, then culture minister of poverty stricken Greece could take the high ground, decrying the elimination of a ministry of symbolic and political importance as ‘madness’. And while the Ministry has since been resurrected, the dire situation remains, leaving local artists few options given Portugal lacks a strong tradition of private cultural philanthropy.

In the context of Brexit and on-going financial turmoil, a new set of arguments for the arts has started to emerge. Jean Monnet, the political economist, diplomat and influential early supporter of European unity, is reputed to have said, ‘If I had to do it again, I would begin with culture’. The European Economic and Social Committee recently emphasised the role of culture as an ‘enormous untapped potential for becoming a unifying and mobilising instrument in Europe’. Citing increases in extremism, and the lack of any common identity, they argue now is the moment to firmly place cultural policy at the heart of the European political agenda. The organisers of the Brussels conference ‘A Hope for Europe! Culture, Cities and New Narratives’ issued a rallying call for cultural producers to help construct the European idea, arguing the arts can help overcome the impact of mass migration and ‘build a new European dream’.

Some, such as artist Rui Mourão, have criticised the way the arts have been co-opted into the market economic model, reducing art to a form of investment. But is co-opting art to a fight against radicalisation or to the political cause of saving the EU any less problematic? Justifications for artistic endeavour seem to have less and less to do with art, often based on assertions that people need the arts for the sake of their health and wellbeing, social mobility, economic prosperity, and good citizenship. How credible is this? Are critics correct to argue that arts organisations risk compromising their art by hitching it to political objectives or obsessing over audiences? After all, the simplest way to get people through the door might be to offer the familiar and unchallenging work they already know they like, rather than working to build an appreciative audience for new and difficult work. So is it time for a New Renaissance for a New Europe? Or should we reject the idea that culture be tasked with building hope and a new narrative for Europe? Is it instead time to make the case for the arts in their own terms?

Admission is free. To reserve a space contact: | +351 21 343 0205 |