Culture all year around

Author: Anna Recasens

Photo: Katarina Blažić

Several cars, buses, ferries, and flights were necessary to reach the Isle of Vis , a unique location in the Adriatic, an island of transparent waters, dramatic skies, the exuberant nature of citrus, which has housed the past winter weeks, workshops and artistic residences of the PAIC project.

A place of important natural and cultural heritage, Vis is, in winter, a quiet place of essentially local activity, where its inhabitants move among the few meeting places, commercial or cultural, that remain open. PAIC, which has been rewarded by a positive reception in the community, joined the effort to enhance the local culture beyond the holiday period, strengthening the sense of place and expanding possibilities, especially among the youngest members of the community.

Communities in which e

conomic activity is seasonal and supported by tourism, can benefit greatly from programmes and projects which promote local heritage and culture, and which develop from cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary programmes throughout the year, counteracting vulnerabilities, winter isolation, or summer superficiality; projects acting upon the local context, for local benefit, or which may be expanded into periods of maximum tourist occupation, highlighting the fact that the community continues to exist beyond the summer months.

In this sense, PAIC’s efforts are motivated by the idea of activating proposals in continuity, which have a lasting impact beyond the project itself, leaving behind a legacy of tools so that different communities may propose their own cultural projects through which to visualise their reality.
Communities which are isolated during long periods in a year, occasional enclaves, require proposals which are resolved locally and which develop beyond the commercial period that is the tourist season. It is about avoiding the culture of the spectacle, entertainment for tourism, and instead acknowledging the value of the community which persists throughout, and continues beyond, the limits of the holiday season.

Municipalities such as Vis which argue between the particular programming of seasonal attractions for the visitor, and a continuous attractive, proactive programming for local inhabitants which will also resonate with visitors, are examples of what can be achieved with a joint effort and trust between the municipality, active cultural agents and inhabitants, with the aim of preparing events programmes which are, at the same time, respectful of local values, and attractive at any time of the year, high or low season.

Even so, a large number of seasonal visitors are barely, or not at all, interested in the reality of a place, looking mainly for the known, the affordable, and comfortable, reducing the local to a puzzle of picturesque and folkloric types, moving between a ruinous or fantastic heritage that fits well as a photo background. Giving another twist, there is the phenomenon of the counter-local, which, in an eagerness to please everyone, deliberately obscures identity, or even personal style, by opting to represent global manifestations of identity, generally of kitsch mass culture.

PAIC’s active participatory art proposals, in attempting to raise the visibility of communities which, in one way or another, are isolated or distant from processes of contemporary cultural action, highlight the idea of a connected and creative Europe, revealing the diversity of cultures which cohabit in its lands, re-evaluating intangible heritage as fundamental to enhance future achievements. In this context, and considering the visitors who interact with these “isolated” communities, the main issue is not that they are isolated, but that they are considered to be isolated, and so, free to be moulded according to the will of the visitors, tourists searching for unique destinations, resulting in a massive manipulation of local character to suit the needs of the holiday brochure, as tourist leave money behind in exchange for cultural and patrimonial erosion, and a community fatally bound to months of service economy, its people disconnected from any true relationship to their locality.

So, returning to the shared transports, the airports, the stations with their transit lounges, the duty-frees and the display of globalised branding which criss-cross the whole of Europe, some of what Augè define as non-places, temporary spaces of passage (Augé 1995), how to approach the many people who temporarily inhabit this no man’s land? Can this “invisible” ephemeral community, in transit and in waiting, be taken out of their limbo to become an active agent of cultural transmission? What if these places could be used as a real connectors for cultural diversity? Could these continuous and sterile spaces become cultural spaces?

This would be a challenge for the arts, specially for participatory arts and in specific context, to change a mass of people in transit into an audience, and beyond that, into participants in artistic projects across different places, learning about the places they visit, as well as learning about cross-cultural issues.