Comfort and discomfort zones and spheres of influence: how cultural figures see their own field? (Photo)

Kaciaryna Ramanchyk, EuroBelarus Information Service

Why isn’t culture reaching Belarusan public? How to overcome voluntary principle of existence, as well as one’s own fears and bias in contacts with business and authorities?

A lot of questions and a lot of answers were voiced at the creative seminar-workshop for cultural figures “Culture as a means of social transformation”, organized by the International Consortium “EuroBelarus” during the last weekend.

The International Consortium “EuroBelarus” is gradually entering the pool of players in the field of policy research in cultural sphere in Belarus. The creative seminar-workshop “Culture as a means of social transformation: innovations and unused opportunities” , organized on August 14-16 for civic and cultural actors of the country became a new step. 18 participants from different regions of Belarus, among whom were representatives of both state and non-state initiatives in the cultural sphere, as well as media, met for the considerable common work. A three-day program included discussion of peculiarities of analysis of their professional sphere, acquainting successful practices of cultural management from Belarusian colleagues, and attempts of common project development in the final part.

All impossible is possible?

On the 1st day of the seminar Tatiana Vadalazhskaya presented the results of the monitoring of Belarus’ complying with the UNESCO Convention “On protection and promotion of diversity in forms of cultural self-expression”  . The authors of the research — the team of the Center for European Transformation — suggested 5 dimensions for evaluating the country’s cultural policy:

  1. Development terms and displays of cultural diversity;
  2. Influence of cultural sector on the society’s development;
  3. Internal resources and development potential of cultural sphere;
  4. Development of intercultural interaction and contacts;
  5. Interaction of different actors of cultural policy.

In their time, experts of monitoring described the level of policy in the cultural sphere as low (from 8.9 to 12.5 grades of 30 possible). The participants of the seminar-workshop got the opportunity to give their assessment of the situation and thus compare their results with the results of work of the experts. They got a little bit more optimistic picture, but all in all the situation still remains low by all 5 dimensions. The challenges, or obstacles, that require systemic work of every cultural and creative worker, touched upon all dimensions:

  • Political and ideological restrictions imposed by the state;
  • Isolation of cultural sector in general, marginalization of numerous non-state cultural, civic, and creative directions;
  • Establishment of sustainable modern Belarusan identity: preservation and broadening of Belarusan language;
  • Enhancement of manager competences of cultural workers; adequate teaching of cultural disciplines in school and kindergarten;
  • Internal and foreign cultural communications: cooperation of different NGOs, business, culture, and authorities; search for platforms of interaction and more open intercultural dialog.

Which of the obstacles depend on the political will of authorities or local administrations, and which of them are the responsibility of the cultural workers? Which of them are the result of habitual, routine, stereotypical way of thinking and even shifted responsibility, and which can be basis for interesting projects?

Six stories about sober and festive routine

The answers to these questions appeared as soon as during the first evening; second day was fully dedicated to them, though formally divided into topics of work with “legacy” and “innovations” in culture. Six invited guests told six stories about how great begins with little.

Ihar Rahanski, a restorer, the head of the project bureau of Belarusan committee ICOMOS, took away the hope to find the solution that would be optimal and acceptable for all the interested parties, when it comes to revitalization of historical and cultural legacy.

Hleb Labadzenka, a journalist, public figure and the head of courses “Mova Nanova” (Belarusian “Langauge anew”. — EuroBelarus IS) confirmed the importance of the human factor in local cultural situations in Belarus. He also shared his stance on the popularity of the Belarusan-language courses: “It’s not important what has become the reason of public’s interest to native language — it’s important to use this tendency.”

Nadzeya Ilkevich, culture management, the head of the “Superheroes School” demonstrated how the roles of the “city activist” and “city designer” correspond and combine. The example of the “Superheroes School” proves that civic activity and responsibility for the place where you live is not only a right, but also a set of competences and skills that require learning. Another exemplary peculiarity of Nadzeya’s school is expressive positioning and formation of brand based on the chosen values — active responsibility and care about the city where you live.

Uladzimir Bulauski and Raman Voranau, youth cultural community VITEBSK4.ME, embodied openness, sociability, flexibility, creativity, consistency, and scientific soundness that is only typical for leaders of such communities. During 7 years VITEBSK4.ME became a visible cultural force for online and offline area of Vitebsk. the “secrets” of success were genially easy: 1) to “raise” active cultural audience through journalist schools, cultural managers, and managers for protection of historical and cultural heritage; 2) talk about results, not only plans (post-production step); 3) find mutual interests with local administration and constantly demonstrate it; 4) us open, street formats of events, as well the process of cultural management itself.

Yanina Karalevich-Kartel, the editor of the city journal, explained the editorial policy of the website: “City culture is a lifestyle, a style of dressing of those, who live close to you, places and routes that we love.” If the motivation for the existence of an information resource is to make a life of a citizen easier, more interesting, and to inspire for self-realization, it is easy to predict that the media itself becomes a catalyzer of positive civic and cultural changes.

Yauhen Klishevich and Ivan Vedenin, creators and leaders of crowdsourcing-platform demonstrated the possibilities for grouping project teams and search for realization of socially important projects. When discussing technical issues and working principles, an interesting topic revealed itself: “magic” of publicity. It turns out, that it is not only a perfect tryout of project idea by public criticism or neglecting, but also the leaders’ own readiness to lead the idea till the end. Usually such test for responsibility becomes a guarantee of this responsibility: you cannot stop halfway when the public is “watching” you.

Tatiana Poshevalava, program manager of International Consortium “EuroBelarus”, made several important accents at the challenges in Belarusan practice of social and cultural project development:

  • Project or not? For many socially important, but simple actions, project would be unnecessary. On the other hand, it’s better to put some processes in the project form for the accuracy of calculations and control;
  • Work before a project: analysis and promotion: to find partners, ideas should be described and their content and actuality should be “sold”;
  • “Correct theory is the best practice”: save your energy at mistakes — it is the sound theoretical work that provides for success and efficiency of efforts in your actions;
  • Learn, what kind of person and professional is making the program or project that needs resource help: what is his or her reputation? Do his or her ambitions live up to the ambitions put into the project?

The main result of the third day and the seminar itself were the ideas developed by the teams of participants. Though each of the four developed ideas had the answer to the above-formulated challenges in Belarus’ social and cultural sphere, only one was recognized as a project.

From the “notes” of the organizers

It’s a shame to get “D” or “C” for the cultural situation in the country; but this shame is so usual, so it almost natural to get ashamed; in the end you don’t even feel it. Thus, a discomfort zone turns into a comfort zone: it is very useful to believe that you cannot influence anything, and that culture is something that the state should care about.

But it all changes when you can compare: when you see the example of those who also believe in their values and make their work by little steps. When you see people who don’t ask “when it all will end”, but ask “what can I do with it?” People, who think with categories “zone of influence” since they know: human factor is the decisive factor.

EuroBelarus Information Service