Cultural Playing Field

Points of Contact seminar by Robin Simpson
October 21, 2010, 11:33 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On Monday I was at the Southbank Centre in London for the Points of Contact seminar, the culmination of the cultural exchange programme between the UK and Brazil that started with our visit to Brazil in March. Over the past couple of weeks representatives of 18 Brazilian arts organisations, together with a group of Brazilian policymakers, have been visiting the UK to compare practice and discuss what the UK could learn from the Brazilian Pontos de Cultura programme. Opening Monday’s seminar Juana Nunes from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture explained that Pontos de Cultura is “a natural, organic network of living production” which sought “to recognise cultural groups and what they were already doing in their communities”. She said it was “more about the flux of what people do rather than cultural structures or institutions”, “to recognise and reinforce the cultural energies in communities that were invisible to society”.

The main part of the seminar comprised presentations from several of the twinned pairs of British and Brazilian artists about what they had learned from each other. The seminar finished with the launch of a declaration created by the UK arts organisations involved in the project which included the following calls to action:

  • We propose a clear mission for government and civil society to promote and protect cultural rights for all UK citizens
  • We want a strategic move from arts policy to cultural policy
  • We need a vision and language for the arts that includes a strong recognition of cultural rights, combined with actions which develop the creative and expressive lives of citizens and communities
  • We argue for a vision of culture that connects our expressive lives with all aspects of the enrichment, health, security and development of civil society
  • We recognise that cultural participation builds the autonomy and protagonism of individuals and communities – we need policies that stimulate new models of dynamic citizenship

In the final plenary session Mick Elliott, Director of Culture at DCMS, said it was important for us to “listen to the voices of communities and find ways of empowering them”. Former Secretary of State for Cultural Citizenship in the Brazilian Government, Celio Turino, (who devised the Pontos de Cultura programme) explained that the construction of a Point of Culture is a mathematical game, based on the equation: autonomy plus protagonism to the power of network equals a Point of Culture. I suggested that we have all the components of this equation in the UK but we don’t tend to put them together, all too often working in separate boxes. The voluntary arts sector clearly demonstrates its autonomy and is extensively networked within the confines of particular artforms but is not so effective at connecting with the wider communities in which voluntary arts groups exist and has not yet found a way of channelling its protagonism to develop communities and civil society. There is much we can learn from the Brazilian model and the end of the Points of Contact project (organised by People’s Palace Projects and supported by the British Council, DCMS, Arts Council England and the Brazilian Ministry of Culture) feels like just the start of a much longer debate.

Robin Simpson.

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