|Michael speaking at the Forum in Milan|
The first day of the forum was very upbeat. Much of it was around the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which was kicked off at the event, and this clearly gave a lot of people much cause for celebration. It is, of course, wonderful that Europe is going to be putting so much energy into cultural heritage in 2018 - though I would love to know what this is going to mean in practice, and how far "heritage" embraces the complex morality of our continent's past. If it does, then perhaps there's space to take in the migrant crisis, the role of Islam, the inheritance of colonialism. There's a danger it could all turn into a festival of "aren't we marvellous?" Towards the end of the first day, Ferdinand Richard from the Roberto Cimetta Fund sounded an appropriate warning note when he said that culture was in danger of being hi-jacked by nationalism. This is the Europe we are actually living in, and Britain's current tragedy reflects that. It seemed important to address this on day 2.
So - the plenary of which I was a part is available to watch here - it actually begins at 8hrs 18mins in, and lasts a healthy two hours, so if you can't stand the thought of that, here's a basic summary. The Moderator, Hannah Conway, very kindly gave me the first word - so I was able to set a bit of a tone for the debate. I was asked about the role of culture in promoting social cohesion - and my response was that the two things are essentially the same. We shouldn't be taking an instrumental view of culture, calling it a "tool" or something to be "exploited" or "used". Culture, I ventured to suggest, is the public generation of meaning - and so it's the base from which a healthy society can grow. You don't know why you are doing anything else if you don't have meaning - so of course in order to have any form of social cohesion, you have to have culture. What's more, for that cohesion to be sustainable, the culture has to be dynamic and fluid - this is where it begins to overlap with democracy.
The question of inclusivity had to be addressed - I think a lot of people were very pleased that I called out the Forum for the all-white panels. The question of culture within policy matters - I used the example of our refugee work in Plymouth, but also called for something bigger, for a real engagement of art and culture in the political process, on the lines of Periclean Athens. Of course that was described as hopelessly Utopian - but the truth is that "realism" hasn't done too well recently. The current situation - Trump, Brexit, Putin - is a list of things many people said "could never happen". And then they did. I think that might be true of the Utopian alliance between culture and policy as well.