Cultural Democracy

Older women singing while performing a choreography with their hands. © Laura Guerrero

If culture is to help us to create a community, the consumer of art must also be a participant and not a mere spectator. Participation enables us to broaden our point of view and democratising the relationship between culture and the people. What should this participation look like? Should it be an end in itself? How can innovative creative processes be achieved?

Community practices are one of the cornerstones of the new cultural democracy. The incubation of cultural projects today is no longer valued based only on its economic return or media impact, but on its transformative capacity. Culture must contribute to consciousness, to the civic fabric, to the community. The aim is for people to escape the straitjacket of being a mere consumer and to break free from an imposed vertical model in which culture was taught from above. The facilities must be generators of activity and not mere containers.

The Living Culture project, promoted by the Barcelona Institute of Culture (ICUB), and Decàleg Mutare, organised by Fundació Carulla, are two private and public displays of this intention to facilitate cultural practices aimed at more horizontal participation. We should bear in mind that the public has changed and is no longer made up of the usual users. Now it appears in new areas, such as health, tourism or businesses, where culture also has a transformative ability.

Can participation be an end in itself or should it be a means to achieve goals? If everyone participates, where is the public? What space do we reserve for the artist in this new cultural ecosystem? What value does excellence have? Should we be able to demand that a subsidised artist take account of the public?

Portrait of Pepe Zapata

PEPE ZAPATA. Director of Club Tr3SC.

The debate about public participation in cultural and artistic life is exciting, and is perfectly applicable to any area of interrelation and interaction in any democratic society. Jacques Rancière explained this successfully with the concept of the “emancipated spectator” and has generated a whole trend of philosophy and activism.

Does participation have to be an end in itself? In some cases, yes, and it can give perfectly valid results as just one more way to engage with artistic practice, different but compatible with other, more traditional ways of understanding the communication process that is established between artist and public, as defined so well by Peter Brook with the concept of “empty space.”

We see approaches for interaction between artists and viewers during creative processes that often end up being more interesting and enriching than the final results. Public participation and proposing interaction in different stages of the creative process are becoming common practices today.

The role of the public is increasingly crucial, whether passive or not. This is what is wonderful: that all approaches are compatible and that the public decides at all times. When evaluating cultural projects, it would be necessary to incorporate new qualitative indicators to assess a show’s success.

And, all in all, without the other variable in the equation, that of the creators, losing its traditional function of projecting a personal view of the world.

Portrait of Carme Fenoll

CARME FENOLL. Librarian. Chief of staff of the vice chancellor of the UPC.

The best universities work in teams and solve real challenges that society poses. Their students, and here we open the range of our universities, organise hackathons, work in the cloud and in shared work spaces and some of them contribute to Wikipedia. Eight years ago, Wikipedia changed much of the perception of my work as a librarian: it was necessary to work in open-access environments, wiki communities and open horizontal channels for programming libraries.

I don’t see any way back: in the culture and in the leading professional arena, actors who understand that talent is not vertical and administrations that better capitalise on knowledge and reward approaches that view the public as an actor will have an advantage. The best creators and directors will be very aware that the public is growing with opinions about everything and everyone at first glance and will see how having more culture can help them to distance themselves. I see fewer spaces for the watchtowers and more space for the agora.

Portrait of Laia Ramos

LAIA RAMOS. La Fundició.

We at La Fundició work in support of the cooperative movement and a more democratic culture. We promote spaces for the collective creation of knowledge, new cultural practices and new forms of relating. There are social groups that have suffered a process of symbolic destitution and lost the ability to represent themselves, placing them in a subaltern position. De facto, it is as if they did not exist. Just as if they suffered from internal colonialism, these communities generate certain forms of resistance that are symptoms of good health.

We have to overcome the extractivist model, the obsession with public figures. Social policies should not be limited to supporting the culture sector, but should also seek to maintain a space where long-term work can be pursued that do not conform to such hasty product logics. We must bring together communities that can promote creative processes that make sense for people and that help them to have richer daily lives.

Portrait of Eduard Arderiu

EDUARD ARDERIU. Coordinator of the Living Culture programme.

Cultural participation must be one of the aims of public policy, which should not just connect sectors or seek performance (in terms of tourism or urban development) external to its exploitation, but should also know how to recognise spaces where culture is already being produced and to give them tools, resources and visibility to develop as living processes of social transformation. This is what drives the Living Culture programme of the Barcelona Institute of Culture to defend the self-representation of any subject or group in defining what culture is.

From here, traditional roles (artists, cultural managers, programmers and others) evolve to respond to new production, circulation and cultural participation needs. Many artists already act as facilitators of community creative processes, a function as valuable and enriching as the artistic creation itself. In this sense, there are no good or bad roles, but like in all public spheres, either we will incorporate a political perspective in artistic intervention or it will be incorporated for us.

However, who defines cultural excellence and whose interests does it benefit when it differs from another culture? One the one hand, rising participation in cultural production helps us to break the unique logic of the market. On the other hand, it enables us to expand our horizons, but also voices and points of view, and therefore allows us to diversify cultural dialogue and bestow it with critical meaning, while also equalising opportunities of access to certain resources.

Portrait of Ismael Peña López

ISMAEL PEÑA LÓPEZ. General director of Citizen Participation and Electoral Processes in the Government of Catalonia.

The temptation to move through the fourth wall to turn the passive spectator into a participant in the work is nothing new. Nor are art and culture new for social transformation.

The revolution that supposes that everything that we do automatically becomes a global communicative act has given new meaning to this art that communicates to transform. The addition of elements of everyday life, such as Duchamp’s found objects and the most popular work of Andy Warhol; of the transient, as in the performances of Abramovic; and of personal intimacy, the case of Ai Wei Wei, have exponentially multiplied the scope of creation and its configuration.

Thus, artivism and performance are precursors to hacktivism and the cooperactivist movement: spaces for cultural redefinition where reflection, aesthetics and impact often occur in more of a connected than a programmed way, where the creator weaves a network made possible by actors in contact through small cultural expressions: data, memes and lines of code.

When everything is communication, when everyone can communicate, only a few nodes have to become aware for community practice to become a cultural action that creates trends, facilitates critical masses and develops patterns.

We live in a transmedia world with many stories, formats and channels. Like in quantum reality, it will be art, culture, entertainment, political action or civic transformation depending on when we open Schrödinger’s box. Whether we find a creator, a rebel or an impostor inside will depend on when we open it. And if we open it.

Portrait of Efraín Foglia


From where we operate, there are contemporary cultural practices that we cannot imagine in any other way than as a horizontal system. Since its inception, the Internet was about sharing, but it is becoming privatised and it is surprising that even today there are so many people who do not know what a Creative Commons license is. Something has gone wrong. We do not ask for the most pyramidal or business-focused culture to disappear, but we should examine its responsibility and impact on society.

Likewise, projects linked to communities or sectors that receive public money should respond symmetrically to this public benefit. We at are convinced that if someone receives a grant for a project that involves technological development, it is fair if they then release the code so it can benefit everyone. This is how the economy becomes healthier and more robust. Also, we would not understand how the public administration could ask us to develop a project that is subsequently closed.

The capitalist extractive model must not be pitted against the community model and private culture must not be demonised. If there are private projects that profit a few, we ought not to penalise them, but we must review their relationship with the public administration and assess their impact on the people. When support from the public sector is given to a macro-festival, for example, it must be compatible with the right to the city.

Portrait of Marta Esteve

MARTA ESTEVE. Director of Fundació Carulla.

Participation in cultural projects is an opportunity and breaks the artist-spectator pairing, a total effort that reveals the capacity of cultural projects to transform society.

We have to open ourselves to new perspectives that do not contrast excellence with participation, high culture with popular culture and individual culture with community creation. What is important is not the project itself, but how it maintains dialogue, how it affects and transforms people and groups. In this way, participation does not exclude or underestimate the excellence of the proposal, which has to do with aesthetic and intellectual quality, and is not affected by participation and impact.

It is important to promote an educational system that is geared towards artistic and cultural education and that gives us the tools to create, participate in and enjoy culture and the arts.

With Mutare, at the Fundació Carulla, we have chosen to learn together with the sector how to cultivate the ambition of social transformation from culture. That is why we ask important questions: How does this change of perspective involve public policies and the financing system? How can we generate incentives to promote it?

Portrait of Carme Mayugo

CARME MAYUGO. Educational communicator. Coordinator of Teleduca.

There are creators who, years ago, positioned us within a space of mediation so that our action could facilitate the expression of social groups. Fifteen years ago, we focused a lot more on the process and we did not care that much about the result. Now we see that the result is as important as the process if we want people to feel recognised and empowered, and they have to feel that their effort was worth it. For us, excellence consists of the concordance between process and result.

Cultural democracy is based on bringing forth a series of stories and expressions that would not come to light if everyone adopted the attitude of the individualist creator. Our cultural production takes a long time when it is inscribed in a neighbourhood, a district, as part of people's daily lives, since the collective sphere is where ideas come from that later lead to approaches that transform its reality.

We live colonised by the images produced by the media and the cultural industries. We want to subvert the mainstream by creating stories and conceiving images in a more self-generated way. Subversion consists of providing parallel micro-discourses that counterbalance the mediatisation of mass culture.

Portrait of Maite Esteve

MAITE ESTEVE. Director of Fundació Catalunya Cultura.

Art opens our eyes and questions us about how we want to live. It forges us and trusts the innate critical spirit that artists have. Culture is what makes a society what it is. Like society, culture is alive and undergoes constant transformation. With regard to both cultural events and the cultural consumption, we need to adapt to using technological tools with which we can express, create, reach out to people and have an impact like was never possible before.

Even so, talent, creativity and innovation cannot overlook the need for the cultural project to be viable, which is very important for being valued and getting support. At Fundació Catalunya Cultura we want to promote projects that take a broader view. Projects with shared responsibility and impact that seek harmony with their surroundings, as well as new spaces to connect with the public. Many companies are also aware of the need to be responsible for their environment and the culture of the country. Fundació Catalunya Cultura acts as a bridge between the cultural and business sectors, providing meeting points and new partnerships.

Portrait of Roberto Gómez de la Iglesia

ROBERTO GÓMEZ DE LA IGLESIA. Consultant. Conexiones Improbables platform.

The idea of participation is not new. The cultural practices of the 1980s and the idea of cultural energisation gave rise, among other things, to the civic centres of Barcelona. That is where idea of community culture and of putting people in the centre came from. More importance was given to the process, and in the 1990s, with the proliferation of new cultural facilities, the process became more professional. The facilitators ended up taking charge and the managers became programmers. And that is where the disconnect with the public began.

Participation is not an end in itself, but a means that empowers and democratises people’s relationship to culture. We need mediation methodologies that naturally promote the processes involved. And this coincides with the appearance of new groups of people, which are participatory. From there, the role of the manager and that of the artist changes, which is not only expected to generate an artefact, but involves the people in processes to generate these artefacts, which no longer respond merely to their inner world, but to the concerns of society.

We have false perception (perhaps a hindrance from the 1980s) that cultural work does not require excellence, or that what is nearby cannot be excellent. Eduard Miralles said the opposite: “Excellence in proximity and proximity in excellence.” The challenge is to do an excellent job from nearby and to be nearby from excellence.

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