Calling on Culture as an antidote to the pandemic

And here we go again into another crisis, another tsunami that hits Portuguese society and, in particular, the culture scene. A pandemic that will redefine, on a planetary level, and in a way that is not yet fully perceptible, the way we live, consume, interact and, as well, how we access cultural goods. A time of vertiginous change where Covid 19 acts as an accelerator of history, particularly the exponential atomization of society. It will be difficult to get off the couch, to remove citizens from the digital contents and mental funnelling that social networks mean, a world that is only a representation of the world, in a constant escape forward.

The live arts, faced this shock like a truck crashing at full speed against a wall, have not yet recovered from the first impact that exposed all their vulnerability and precarious work. And yet, after the health emergency, no sector of society will be more needed than this one, promoting encounter, social cohesion, critical thinking and a real mental openness. If we want to reconstruct a different future on the ruins of the pandemic, and a more just, equitable and democratic society, but also more prosperous because more qualified, Culture will be called upon. And in particular theaters, the last rituals of the XXI century, not as temples of uncritical consumption or stadiums in an inexorable movement for mental emptying, but as pillars of building new futures, where knowledge will go hand in hand with creativity and, most importantly, ethics and values. Yes, today, the place of art is not separated from the reflection on the values and paradigms of change where, for example, climate change and the dismantling of selfishness permeate this same change.

We will probably do much of what we used to do but before, but with another reflection and a constructive impact. Much can change for the better or for the worse, and that depends mainly on us, our activism, and the debate that we manage to install in society. Talking about things is already a way of acting, and is the first step. The role of arts and culture will be essential. Populism lurks, and just as in the pandemic of 1918 in the rubble of the First World War that impoverished the planet, we have to be aware of the dystopias of history that await the first opportunity to reveal themselves . The best antidote is a more cultured and more educated population with more democratic habits.

Let us have the courage to question. This implies a structural change in our ways of life, the way we see ourselves in society, our economy and consumption patterns, our relationship with nature, the way we eat, how we educate our young people and how we exercise democracy. It is urgent to move from a pyramidal system with few at the top and enormous poverty at the bottom, into a circular, humanized and equitable system.

What is required from us is the refoundation and a reinvention of our relational culture with the other and with the planet. To move from a logic of combat and competition to a society based on generosity and cooperation.

Culture and Art in particular, with their enormous capacity to create new narratives and discontinuities, triggering unlikely reflections and speculations from the intellect, must embrace this design of change and can play an important transforming role. Alongside Science, Art is a powerful tool for decoding the future, capable of translating the spirit of the times, speaking of the unspeakable, enhancing the collective and contributing with new narratives for humanity.

That is why a country like ours, of such small dimensions, where Culture has never been part of the political discourse, will have no future in the 21st century, unless it makes this change. Not acknowledging this is a drama with decades in our democracy that has persisted in staying.

In a moment of crisis it is essential to summon hope and to believe in the future again, to demand visionary and vibrant cultural policies that set ambitious goals and mobilize for change.

Without critical and creative thinking where, alongside Education, Culture is an irreplaceable pillar, we will never have a future.