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European social inclusion through culture - Karsten Xuereb

The matter of applying cultural expression to the development of social dialogue has concerned Europe for many years. The Ancient Greeks and Romans, who lay the foundations of that significant part of our civilisation inspired by the Classics, were very conscious of the relations that existed between, on the one hand, the artistic reflection of and on human behaviour and, on the other, the influence expression through the media of theatre, writing or architecture could, and should have, on structures of dialogue in society.

While not entertaining the concept of inclusion anywhere close to the way we do today, in contemporary communities across Europe, classical societies put the human element at the heart of their cities, and thought of ways of weaving meaningful, and durable, threads of communication across the different groups of people making up differing communities.

France has been one of the main national territories in Europe that has put matters of inclusion through dialogue to the forefront of the political agenda in the last hundred years. As we commemorate the centenary of the end of the first global military conflagration that killed and maimed millions of our brethren, we also recall the many efforts by people with differing roles in society to contribute to greater social cohesion through cultural expression.

The debate, accompanied by active cultural policy actions, in post-World War II France addressing the democratisation of the arts, led by stalwarts like André Malraux, gave way to practices supporting the development of a cultural democracy, therefore through a grassroots-led, bottom-up approach, professed by the likes of Oliver Donnat in the final third of the 20th century.

Classical societies put the human element at the heart of their cities, and thought of ways of weaving meaningful, and durable, threads of communication

Nevertheless, at the latest turn of the century, as observed by Augustin Girard, the development of cultural expression through the creative industries, within the framework of neoliberal economics that has established itself worldwide, has also meant an ironic isolation, or siloisation, of certain members of society, falling out from earlier efforts at inclusion.

Some of the most vulnerable groups have been minorities that have been discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity, education or country of origin, while religious affiliation and gender still feature in the structural imbalance we witness today.

Voices of Culture, the structured dialogue initiative undertaken by the Goethe Institut in Brussels, on behalf of the European Commission, is one of the latest exercises undertaken by many representatives of civil society engaged in the cultural sector in Europe to address this societal fracturing through cultural means and the arts.

 Between February and October 2018, over 30 members of various networks, organisations and artistic affiliations and collectives reached out to their international as well as local platforms in order to take stock of those initiatives that have enabled collaboration across different cultural practices as well as outside of the arts themselves.

Therefore, activists and spokespersons from the European Disability Forum, the European Anti-Poverty Network, AGE Platform Europe representing the elderly, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Mental Health Europe and the European Network Against Racism exchanged views, best practices and proposals with cultural operators from various European networks in order to develop a roadmap for further effective engagement towards social inclusion through cultural and artistic actions.

The result consists of a series of recommendations, supported by multiple references to case studies and examples of activities from all over Europe, are published here: http://www.voicesofculture.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/FINAL-Brainstorming-report-SD7-Social-inclusion.pdf.

It is hoped this report may act as inspiration to further positive work in the field of research and action into social inclusion.

Karsten Xuereb was part of the writing, editing and presentation team and acted on behalf of the Maltese cultural association Inizjamed.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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