Questioning identity is fundamental to understanding cultural policy in the 21st century. From Montreal to Sydney, via Paris, we are faced with the question of what culture can do in an increasingly globalized world. The instantaneous and open sharing of ideas takes precedence over closed borders and long-term thinking. However, the question of belonging has never been as important as it is today. Currently, a popular notion is that of co-existence. When faced with the cult of material progress that defines today’s world, defining a cultural policy around what makes sense, and what brings us together, means charting unknown territory.
Globalisation; by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski
Identity and Democratization
The question of identity must be considered through the lens of cultural democratization. The two are intimately tied together. The slow elaboration of a sense of belonging cannot be accomplished fully unless culture is equally shared. These ideas aren’t novel – they constitute two of the three pillars of Quebec’s 1992 Cultural Policy. But the world has certainly changed since 1992.
If policy must extract itself from today’s context in order to better predict what is to come, it must still deal with reality. This means understanding that Quebec’s demographics have evolved into a pluralist society (11% of the population are considered visible minorities), and recognizing that these constituents are not fully participating in cultural life (particularly in traditional artistic disciplines).
How can we build a strong “cultural dialogue”, as mentioned in the 1992 policy, if artistic and cultural mediation does not allow us to bring together diverse populations?
Cultural participation of minorities; photo Ryan McGuire
In “Enquête sur les pratiques culturelles au Québec”, Rosaire Garon proposes a few hypotheses to explain this failure: Are cultural programming in the mother tongues of these communities lacking? Do the content and form of expression go against the value systems of these groups? Perhaps both. However, these questions are intrinsic to a larger reflection on Quebec’s intercultural model. Indeed, developing a cultural policy that offers cultural programming in different languages does not resolve the issue of the lack of real cultural exchange and dialogue. This would only accentuate the passive cultural coexistence of different communities. In other words, to think that theatre is a western artform is not only wrong – forgetting luminaries such as Kateb Yacine, Sony Labou Tansi, Yukio Mishima, and others – but it also means forgetting that culture is universal, and the themes that are brought up transcend borders and reflect the hopes and dreams of all mankind.
Moreover, dealing with reality implies recognizing that the marginalized cultures of First Nations peoples are a fundamental pillar of Quebec’s culture. How can we include First Nations cultural practices? How can we reconcile the preservation of identity with interculturalism?
A lens to look at what is done in Australia
Conforming to a sponsor model borrowed from England, Australia long considered culture to be the purview of the State. In essence, culture remained safely away from the three governmental pillars – the federal, territorial and departmental levels of state. Slowly, Australia turned to a hybrid model, as the recognition of Aboriginal culture as a foundational element of Australian culture gradually grew. This was further expanded as Australian demographics also changed. As Jack Collins remarks in “The changing face of Australian migration”, there are more migrants from India and China today than from the United Kingdom. These two trends naturally brought the Australian authorities to consider questions of national identity through a cultural lens.
Karen Horton Australia Postage Stamp- Aboriginal Art c. 1948
In the foreword to “Creative Australia”, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard declares: “Creative Australia (…) affirms the centrality of the arts to our national identity, social cohesion, and economic success”. From this declaration flows the rest of Australia’s policy which solemnly establishes the “recognition, respect and celebration” of Aboriginal cultures as a priority and central element of Australian identity. The second priority established is to support the diversity of the Australian people: : “all citizens (…) have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression”. Not only does Australia define itself through Aboriginal culture, but also through the diversity of the cultures that it welcomes through immigration.
This is the ideal of cultural democracy – the affirmation of equality and equity of all cultures. Even if this ideal is but partially achieved in reality, the will to succeed is certainly there. Concretely, this policy will support Aboriginal arts and culture through increased financing of programs to develop visual arts and to protect Aboriginal languages, as well as through artistic education beginning in elementary school. In essence, this is cultural programming oriented not only through offers, but to demand.
A transversal vision: Education/Culture
Artistic and cultural education is the most appropriate response to the question of identity and democratization. How can we fight against the loss of meaning if not by engaging individuals in arts and culture and by investing collectively in society? Through arts and culture education, a system of common values and understanding are forged. This means creating a transversal vision of Education/Culture. For this to happen, everyone must participate. In Australia’s Curriculum, the mandatory education of Aboriginal Arts is present through the end of High School. Just as all innovation is the product of pre-existing innovation, renewal cannot happen without being inspired by the ideas of our neighbours.
Surely, Quebec, and Canada as a whole, can learn from the Australian model.
Thanks to Natalie Kaiser for her inspiring contribution on this article.