Barçın Yinanç - Hürriyet Daily News / Istanbul, July 6 () - Turkey needs a fundamental overhaul in its outdated cultural policies, which are typically neglected by major parties, according to Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) General Director Görgün Taner.
“It is a European tradition to allocate resources to art. But at the same time another tradition is for the state to remain at arm’s length … An important point to underline is this: Culture should not become hostage to tourism. At the moment we in Turkey see arts and culture as a piece of bread to attract more tourists,” Taner told the Hürriyet Daily News.
“Art and culture is the transformative power that we need, especially in our current situation where everyone complains about the inability to communicate. Dialog can be constructed easily through art and culture,” he added.
Prior to elections, you sent to political parties a list of cultural policy priorities. What was your aim?
Unless someone, or a civil society group, brings up this issue, it will never appear on the agenda. Has a political party leader ever talked about art and culture in an electoral campaign?
No, but with all the problems Turkey has, making art and culture a priority may sound naive.
I was just in Athens. Even there, the mayor allocated a building free of charge to the Athens Biennial so that it could take place. He said: “Culture will transform us. We aren’t doing this for city marketing, we are doing this so we can overcome this chaotic situation through art and culture.”
Art and culture is the transformative power that we need, especially in our current situation where everyone complains about the inability to communicate. Dialog can be constructed easily through art and culture. We aren’t saying that we should push all these problems aside and talk only about art and culture. We are simply saying that we should delve into these issues together with cultural people.
What kind of cultural priorities should be included in a coalition protocol or government program?
Cultural rights and freedom of expression. What we understand from that is the equal access and participation of all citizens to art and culture, the cultural rights of minorities, and the development of an environment where artists can produce work. Cultural rights need to be taken under guarantee at the highest legal level by the state.
In addition, we want cultural people to sit at the table when issues pertaining to the country and its cities are discussed. When you plan a city or a neighborhood, if you have 30 people at that table, a person of culture should also be at that table. They should always have a say, because when planning is done without such a person we have regrets looking back.
In fact, by signing the relevant international treaties Turkey has committed itself to keeping culture at the forefront of its sustainable development plans. But this has only remained on paper.
Now, we need the political will to say that a cultural person should always be present at the planning table. That’s why we need to keep on doing active advocacy and why we at the IKSV have set up a cultural policies department. The department’s director Özlem Ece has prepared several reports that we have sent to political parties.
What you’re asking for is a change of politicians’ mentality.
Yes, we need a change in the mindset.
Let’s talk about priorities in a more concrete way.
Access to art and culture should be taken under constitutional guarantee. We have formulated an article to be added to the constitution and sent it to the previous parliament. Another expectation is a revision of the state framework. The legal and financial framework of state support to cultural institutions and artists should be revised in accordance with present-day requirements.
An important point to underline is this: Culture should not become hostage to tourism. At the moment we in Turkey see arts and culture as a piece of bread to attract more tourists.
But as soon as you have state support, don’t you think this will invite any government’s ideological intervention into the making of art and culture?
It is a European tradition to allocate resources to art. But at the same time another tradition is for the state to remain at arm’s length: “I will give you money, I will inspect you from a financial perspective and also see if you respect universal values. Other than that I won’t interfere.”
What should be the other priorities in cultural policies?
Local governance. The development of cultural policies at the local level. This is where the world is heading.
The state’s role should be limited to providing the infrastructure and subsidies. The budget of the Culture Ministry should be at least one percent of the total state budget and its support mechanisms should be restructured based on transparency, international criteria, and in a way that will delegate authority to local administrations.
Turkey has resources. There is no question of lacking resources. The difference comes from priorities in the allocation of these resources. The transformative power of art and culture would work faster if the central authority transferred some of its resources to the local administrations.
Decentralization is also important regarding cultural diversity. It is all the more necessary for a country where there are so many different ethnic elements and cultural structures. We have to make use of this richness, which we have not done up to now.
You also draw attention to the lack of contact between the state and non-governmental organizations.
Nobody should be scared of anyone. Everywhere in the world the state is shrinking while NGOs are expanding. The state needs to remove its hand from many areas. We need confidence and dialogue for that.
Many believe single-party governments are more efficient in terms of implementation of policies. When we look at cultural policies, do you think we have experienced advantages of single-party rule for a decade?
We are not talking about the past 10 or 50 years. We don’t differentiate between single-party or coalition governments. We are trying to explain that having confidence and dialogue facilitates the solution of problems.
But if you were to evaluate the last decade in terms of cultural policies?
We can say there has not been too much thinking about cultural policies. I think this area was neglected. The steps that could be taken usually become hostage to other priorities. Each time we say, “let’s wait, economic or foreign issues are a priority.” That was also the case in the past.
But there must be a characteristic that distinguishes the past 10 years from other periods. Some say conservatism has left its mark on this period.
I would not express it like that. I’d like to talk by putting aside conservatism, because this is not a concept that we have discussed enough.
The gist of why there is not much progress in cultural policies is that it is never seen as a priority and never gets the chance to be discussed. Each time someone [from the state] makes a hasty decision, without taking into account the views of other experts, people start criticizing that decision and we end up only discussing who is for and who is against. The main issue gets lost in the discussion.