For the past thirteen years, Quebec has had an annual ‘Journées de la culture’ (3 day) event designed to raise ‘public participation and engagement’ in culture-making. It appears to have been enormously successful, if measured by the numbers of people who engage on the day.
Finally, after a feasibility study confirmed the obvious (commissioned in 2006!), the Canadian Arts Summit (an association of big end arts organisations) has decided to support a similar event across the nation.
September 2010 will see coast-to-coast Culture Days. Having discovered that ‘a vibrant arts and cultural sector contributes directly to a healthy and stable society’, the (relatively) big end of town has decided to take action.
You may detect a mite of cynicism in my response, for which please forgive me. It appears to be a strategy designed to introduce ordinary folk to the ‘behind the scenes’ mechanics of art making, not so much to inspire them to get into it themselves but rather to deepen their appreciation of the contribution Artists make to life as we know it.
In other words, an innovative approach to audience development.
Which is perfectly fine.
My fear is that these three days out of 365 may come to be viewed as the be all and end all of community arts.
The population at large is not just the market for arts commodities, even though it may be entirely reasonable for the producers of these commodities to see them so.
From a public policy perspective, the concept ‘active participation’ (a phrase constantly repeated in the ‘Culture Days’ rhetoric) should mean far more than a single moment of interactive experience.
It should embody the understanding that cultural action needs to be a mass movement – that a ‘healthy and stable society’ is one in which collaborative creativity is an ongoing and ordinary part of daily life, from cradle to grave, in which everyone engages as a matter of course.
Yes, we honour the Artists and their efforts, but we also (must) do it ourselves. That is the real challenge for public policy-makers.