Are we ready to RESHAPE ourselves?

Einstein allegedly said that 95% of every problem’s solution lies in forming the right question. The weeks prior to the Reshape meeting in Prague, this thought was constantly running in the background of my mind. What is the right question for our work?

If we want to reshape culture, if we want to make even the smallest of changes, we first need to ask what is that we want to change? We spend hours and hours analyzing what is wrong, what doesn’t work, what we think the problem is from every possible perspective. The artist’s perspective, the institution’s perspective, the audience’s perspective, all the different perspectives in the cycle of our sector, culture. More and more, we facilitate the dissemination of other peoples’ perspectives, usually in groups.We, as cultural actors, act as representatives of our communities and artist-led initiatives and they, institutions, act as representatives of other larger initiatives, agendas and groups. Everyone is representing someone, usually more than one and everyone wishes to change something to cover someone else’s need that they see.

And yet the problem still remains. We, the cultural actors, cannot reach the wide audiences, cannot find the right keys to open our societies, to get them to listen, to get them to be awakened or helped as we think is best. We have proof that we can help, yet no-one seems to listen to us. People seem to care more about light-hearted entertainment and fun than for mind-opening, socially-engaging exhibitions and immersive artistic experiences we know so well how to design.

Why is it so difficult to get through to the people in our societies?

In some cases, it could be that arts and culture is seen as redundant. When you are struggling to feed yourself or to keep your children alive, you certainly not give a flying penny about culture. Even if your face and the faces of your children are used by/in cultural products. When you are constantly bombarded by bad or fake news and horror, all you may need is a moment of peace. Some white noise to cover all these ongoing voices that constantly haunt your existence. Scrolling up and down Instagram, reading beauty magazines, watching cheap reality-TV products, anything to take your mind away from the real and omnipresent struggles of your everyday life.

We, the cultural actors, are expecting people and societies to change. And indeed, they do. But not towards the direction we would probably like them to. Societies are closing up, are becoming more scared, more isolated, more afraid of one another. Our expectations for the World Wide Web that would create deep connections with one another and become the tool to fight discrimination and fear were proven unfounded. We have so many tools and means and yet, we don’t seem to be getting much closer to our goals, or one another, for that matter.

And there is the value of the right question.Are we ready to try something different?

Could it be that in our efforts to be taken seriously, we’ve somehow contributed to the exact system we once dreamed of changing? We’ve been fighting for a long time for our rights in employment and fair payment, for the acknowledgement of our work as professionals instead of
glorified hobbyists, we’ve been fighting to be seen and supported, to prove that we have power in our societies, power to change the world. We’ve learned to adapt our language, to adapt our needs and to measure our work’s impact adapting to the indicators we are given in exchange for some financial support and visibility. We’ve become experts in being adaptable and we’ve become really quick at it. Quick and adaptable means able to survive, to receive support from institutions and funders and acknowledgement and praise from the peers. And yet, despite the value of it all within our own sectoral environment, it seems that we’ve lost touch with whom we had set out to connect with in the first place; ourselves and other people.

And people, just like us, have the same unmet needs; human connection, emotional refuge, acceptance and space for self-expression. A space where our sensitivity and vulnerability is accepted for what it is; the source of our creativity, our hope and our emotional stability in a world that becomes more and more frightening by the day. Could it be that our adaptability towards the upper floor in our system (institutions/funders/etc) has taken over our sensitivity and openness towards the inner one; our personal need?

Are we ready to let go of our assumptions, our habits and believed strengths? Are we ready to open up, listen and tap into our human vulnerability? And most importantly, are we ready to become deeply personal?

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