The Power of the Arts
The relationship between arts/culture and politics
The relationship of politics and the arts is changing rapidly. Look at the role of artists in protests like Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring, or more recently in the Brexit debate: Artists more and more often decide to actively interfere into the realm of politics — for example as contributors to the aesthetics of political protest movements and campaigns, as commentators or as political organizers. Meanwhile, this is not to be taken for granted because the arts also claim autonomy and usually form an antithesis to politics. They are free and they should be! That is why many people tend to have a low opinion of those artists who are described as socially engaged or whose work is explicitly political. But democracy has failed too often in the recent past. Many artists do not want to watch any longer. While the reason for them moving beyond reflection and representation is rather worrying, the effect of this development seems positive to me: Many artistic strategies in politics go hand in hand with a lot of energy and public resonance being set free. This also inspires young people to get involved and it shows how political everything, i.e. daily life is: politics is not just what happens in political institutions — it takes on many forms.
A critical impulse from the arts
What made me look at politics with a different view is the work of the Center for political beauty in Berlin. They have created amazing images and sparked interesting debates by really daring something. They demonstrate the power of the arts. Of course, they were also criticized heavily. But this is exactly the sort of debate democracy has come to lack unfortunately.
Examples of a dialogue between cultural actors and political representatives
While the Center for political beauty have used many interesting strategies, I see the work of the cultural policy group of Polis180 — who organizes a whole afternoon program for the A Soul for Europe Conference — as much more constructive. We have a policy background, not an artistic one, but still we act at this same intersection of art and politics and attempt to use formats that are inspiring to the participants. We try to shape cultural policies by organizing and encouraging the political participation of young cultural workers.
Another example I was involved in is the European Balcony Project, a proclamation of the European Republic from over 200 theatre balconies in Europe, which we organized last year with the European Democracy Lab. A manifesto by Ulrike Guérot, Robert Menasse and Milo Rau was read out aloud by many theatre actors and citizens on November 10 at 4 pm — in 33 languages. Those who witnessed the proclamations were invited to think beyond the usual discourse of nation states. The aim was to bring the idea of utopia back to the streets, public spaces and private balconies and to make sure the possibility of radical change is not forgotten. In this project, the role of cultural actors was to connect citizens all over Europe and to amplify the pro-European voices that are too often overheard compared to the populist ones. Anybody could participate in this performance, so it also had an empowering element. What stays after this proclamation is a new network of theatre makers and citizens who all in one way or another work on the idea of the European Republic as a possible future architecture of the European polity.
Overall, I think the relationship of politics and the arts is currently very productive. This should be acknowledged by policy-makers. There is an urgent need for a shared European cultural policy that encourages transnational cooperation. Artists should be supported in this new role they are already taking on against all odds: They resist the disintegration of Europe!
Marie Rosenkranz is a research associate and project manager at the European Democracy Lab in Berlin. Previously she managed the campaign “Democracy needs you” at Polis180, a grassroots think tank for foreign and European policy. She studied communication, cultural management and European studies in Friedrichshafen, Maastricht and Granada. She researches and works on the topics of artistic activism, media culture and participation and has already given numerous lectures at theatre and literature festivals.