(article modified from the intervention in the CultureWatchEurope – Cultural Access and Participation: From Indicators to Policies for Democracy, 2012 in Helsinki)
Maybe I should start this brief article by stating the obvious: to ask ourselves about the paths between indicators and policies is also to ask about the paths between data and knowledge.
Source: Rotterdam festivals
Facts and statistics must of course be gathered about access and participation in culture, but, and maybe more importantly, this data must be read in order do produce meaning. As my colleague Melika Medici pointed out, data is neutral, and it only gains sense when somebody interprets it. Best indicators are useless unless they can be articulated into an understanding of cultural phenomena that deals with the experience of culture in the everyday life. It is maybe in this regard that the perspectives of Leisure Studies can best contribute to a reflection on the possible transitions between cultural indicators and policies and between information and knowledge. It is so because leisure itself is a complex phenomenon encompassing – and in dialogue with- its objective and subjective attributes: neither can be wholly described or explained by its external, practice related measurements, nor can its subjective dimensions be isolated from theobjective coordinates where they are situated.
Leisure is both a social phenomenon and an area of human experience with intrinsic value, a human right to be acknowledged and a sphere o f human existence to be protected, promoted and studied. To ask why we access or don ́t access, participate or don ́t participate in cultural leisure is to investigate the personal and societal dialogues between the objective and subjective attributes of cultural leisure. Either when these dialogues leadto satisfactory, enriching and meaningful forms of (civic, individual, collective…) implication or when the dialogue is interrupted by obstacles, disinterest or lack of engagement (boredom, lack of interest, disengagement). There are reasons for participating and not participating, as there are for satisfactory and unsatisfactory experiences.
In my opinion, a reflection on the opportunities and menaces of a indicator lead policy making on the cultural sector needs to address these reasons, combining microscopic and macroscopic approaches and quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Statistics need interpretations and indicators need narratives in order to be able to explain, predict and transform reality. We need joint methodologies, able to combine approaches , in order to produce a dynamic and adaptable dialogue between data and meaning. As hard data can orient and illuminate the exploration of motivations, desires and frustrations of citizens (and policy makers), the ethnographic and ideographic research into the particular readings of everyday cultural leisure can help grounding and reorienting statistical information and measurements into personal and collective meaning systems where intrinsic value is produced and perceived. One approach makes visible what the other ignores, which gives us the perfect opportunity to combine and triangulate them. In that sense, I believe we need processes of (re)evaluation and (re)elaboration of data more urgently than we need standardized and comparable national indexes – although I must admit a European Cultural Participation Index would indeed be a good starting point for this endeavor.
A conversation –process between the objective and subjective dimensions of cultural participation, where the process itself is part of an ongoing conversation between cultural proposals and opportunities and the everyday leisure experiences. As leisure is said to have three temporal dimensions: before, during and after, so does cultural leisure have three “times”: access (before), participation (during) and experience (after). And all three of them have important repercussions for cultural researchers, creators, workers and policy makers.
Source: Astra Gernika.
Engaging with the issue of making information practical and usable for cultural policy calls for a concern with these three “times”, and with the objective and subjective attributes that configure them. An ongoing dialogue , which of course has a lot of what has been called “democratic”, between diverse approaches and agents – including researchers and policy makers but also publics,audiences, citizens, tourists, users…- that may be able to describe, understand, explain, predict and transform the emerging patterns of culture and leisure and their value.
We have the best opportunity yet, to continue it.