Independent Culture for Democracy Conference
Cairo, 15-17 December 2012
In interaction with the rush of change and ongoing transformations here and now in the Arab world, amidst a climate in which established truths and prescribed answers are being questioned in all domains of life, and in order to confront the major issues and pressing challenges that face the independent cultural sector, the Independent Culture for Democracy Conference was held in Cairo, bringing together more than 100 cultural programmers, artists, performers, media professionals, intellectuals and other cultural stakeholders.
The purpose of the conference was to redefine what independence means to this sector, to identify its aspirations and its available resources and potential, and to revise its strategies and its current and prospective roles with respect to the social and political changes that are now unfolding.
The conference derives particular significance from the realities of the present moment and the essential questions the conference attempts to address and ventures to find answers for. Foremost among these questions is that of freedom of expression which is of central bearing to the policies of both the official and independent cultural sectors as it concerns all areas of social activity (the arts, education, culture, economics, social relations, etc.) and involves all components of society in all their diversity in age, gender, ethnicity and creed.
Firstly: The independent cultural sector’s participation in leading political and social change:
The conference participants recommend that the independent cultural sector should:
- Work unflaggingly, through its active organisations and through the individual efforts of its innovators and intellectuals, to fulfil its responsibility to meet the needs of Arab societies at this exceptional moment of change. In so doing, it must cast aside all hesitation and doubts with regard to the efficacy of and need for its role.
- Undertake a review of its programmes and human and material resources with an eye channeling them toward supporting all initiatives that link artistic and cultural practice with the hastening pace of political and social movement while, simultaneously, adhering to the aesthetic and creative requirements of artistic and cultural work.
- Exercise pressure on the official cultural establishment so as to persuade it to work with the independent cultural sector in the framework of a partnership among peers, to empower this sector with the tools necessary to enable it to perform its responsibilities, and to abolish all bureaucratic obstacles throughout the Arab region so that this sector can respond to the demands of this critical moment.
- Work with the governmental sector and legislative assemblies to arrive at serious proposals for amending existing legal and legislative structures, especially as pertains to the laws regulating NGOs and artistic syndicates, so as to achieve the broadest and most open legal and regulatory structure capable of performing its function effectively.
- Coordinate and interact with all social and rights advocacy activities and movements espoused by civil society organisations, and participate in and through them so as to better be able to perform the role of the independent cultural sector and promote its programmes for social change.
- Strive to reinforce and protect the gains the independent cultural sector has achieved following the revolutions (among which is greater freedom to organise activities in open-air public spaces, such as the El Fann Midan festival in Egypt) and to forestall attempts to marginalise or circumvent this sector.
Secondly, cultural policies:
The conference participants agreed that the current phase of political and social change in the Arab region demands a radical revision of the cultural policies pursued by the official establishments in Arab countries. These policies continue to perpetuate those of former regimes which aimed to harness culture to the service of the political authority, to monopolize all processes for the production and distribution of culture, to concentrate them in the major urban centres for the service of a limited segment of society, and to deprive most independent organisations and artists who do not work in governmental institutions the opportunities for financial, artistic and media support. Accordingly, the participants recommend the following:
- In those countries that are undergoing radical political change, a transitional mechanism for the governmental cultural sector should be devised, with the participation of independent cultural organisations, so as to ensure that cultural services are not interrupted, that they continue to be delivered to the largest number of people, and that they meet the needs of the phases of social and political change. Simultaneously, another mechanism should be devised for the purpose of designing cultural policy in the long run.
- In all Arab countries, the independent cultural sector should promote proposals for new cultural policies based on the democratisation and decentralisation of culture, the equitable distribution of cultural services, and support for the freedom of creativity. The policies should also emphasise the importance of cultural diversity and the need for plurality in the forms and sources of cultural expression. It should be stressed that new cultural policies must derive their legitimacy from being the product of a broadly based and open dialogue among all non-governmental and governmental stakeholders concerned with culture.
- Cultural Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) should disseminate and promote the “National Cultural Policies Group” model and work to enhance the role of youth in it. The model has already been put into effect in some Arab countries, and the groups that have been founded accordingly must be supported so as to enable them to lead national dialogues on cultural policies.
- The Arab Cultural Policies Group should undertake studies and research into the most common forms for structuring the cultural sector around the world, inclusive of national councils for the arts and quasi-governmental institutions. The Arab Cultural Policies Group should solicit the necessary experts needed to perform this study within three months. The results of this study should be made available to all concerned with the design of cultural policies in the Arab region.
Funding is one of the continuing challenges involved in strengthening the role and performance of the independent cultural sector in Arab countries and safeguarding its autonomy. In tandem with the phase of political and social transformation that this region is undergoing, the independent cultural sector has been regaining its ability to lobby for a democratic distribution of public moneys. Accordingly, the conference participants recommend the following practical steps:
- A campaign to press the demand for the designation of a “minimal threshold” of no less than 1 per cent of the national budget in each country to be allocated to culture. The demand should include the stipulation that a publicly declared percentage of this allocation must be earmarked for the support of independent cultural initiatives and that this percentage should be determined through dialogue and consensus with the independent cultural sector in each country.
- The creation of domestic funding pools, generated by the contributions of local capital, for the support of independent initiatives by organisations and individuals. This step should be combined with the creation of strategic partnerships with private sector organisations and a campaign to promote the principle of “the social responsibility of the private sector” so as to recruit this sector into the support for culture.
- Exploring new funding sources such as waqf (religious endowment) payments, banking interest payments, tax revenues and national lottery revenues to support the independent cultural sector. It is understood that a favourable cultural climate needs to be generated in order to support such an approach.
- Efforts to diversify the domestic and foreign sources of support for initiatives or projects undertaken by the independent cultural sector and, simultaneously, to ensure that a part of the funding is derived from contributions in kind and in volunteer services.
- The rehabilitation of the principle of commercial sponsorship as an additional source of funding on the grounds that this is a necessary and complementary mechanism to the principle of partnership with the private sector.
Fourthly, administration, governance and skills
The conference participants recommend:
- Calling upon Arab independent cultural organisations to focus on the principles of freedom of creativity and the dignity of the artist and cultural operator.
- Supporting independent cultural organisations in their efforts to develop their entities and render them as responsive as possible to the current moment of social and political change through effective management; the implementation of the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability; and the renovation of their organisational, intellectual and cognitive territory.
- Promoting the notions of contractual relations and partnership as mechanisms for shaping the relationship with the political establishment, the private sector and other civil society organisations.
- Formulating a policy for training and capacity building in the Arab independent cultural sector so as to develop and enhance the professionalism of its human resources.
Fifthly, networking and cooperation:
The conference participants recommend:
- Creating a mechanism for cooperation, networking, the exchange of expertise, the provision of artistic and material support among cultural organisations, artists and cultural workers in the independent cultural sector at the local and regional levels, whether via cyberspace, periodic newsletters or other such channels.
- Reaching an agreement on a mechanism through which independent cultural organisations, creative artists and others can express solidarity with and actively support victims of repression, censorship, confiscation, violations of the freedom of expression and other such abuses that threaten the arts and creativity in the region, with a particular focus on small and emergent independent organisations and individual cultural operators among the youth generation. Such mechanisms could include the formation of cultural rights advocacy forces and coalitions to defend and mobilise pressure on behalf of victims of rights abuses, and to denounce all violations of the rights of artists, cultural innovators and independent cultural organisations, with an emphasis on using alternative media for this purpose.
- Exploring the horizons for cooperation and dialogue with the official establishments in all the sectors that affect and could play a part in cultural work.
- Building on models and examples of cooperation with civil society organisations operating in other sectors such as education, development, human rights, and the media, with the aim of incorporating a cultural component into the programmes and services of these organisations.
- Exerting further efforts to acquire knowledge of the ideas of religious forces and movements with the aim of creating partnerships and building coalitions within the various ideological sectors.
That the conference forms, at the end of its proceedings, a steering committee tasked with following through on the implementation of these recommendations and drawing up an executive agenda in accordance with the priorities of cultural action at the current phase. The committee will be formed on the basis of the following criteria:
- It will consist of 16 members.
- Each country shall be represented by at least one and at most three members.
- It will consist of an equal number of men and women.
- The membership must reflect a diversity in the fields of cultural work and artistic specialisation.
A third of the members shall be at least 40 years old.