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What is the future of arts infrastructures and audiences across North Africa and the Middle East?

Redha Moali
9 September 2014

What role do the arts play in producing an idea of a future, or, indeed, producing future realities?


Art is a way to get out of a pre-defined system. It's an open door to the possible event and the possibility of change. Art aims to provoke a detachment, to open the cracks towards an elsewhere which feeds imagination. And imagination is what renews the Real, animates and energizes it, preventing reality from becoming standardized. In other words: fantasy is the sap of the real, it is not the carefree ignorance of realities but its bold energy. Therefore, we could see art as a tool to improve and encourage the movement between one thing and its ability to become something else: a necessary movement that saves us from the asphyxiation of immobility and habits.


What do speculations of the future tell us about the concerns of the present and the legacies of the past?


Speculations on the future remind us that we are living in a world of uncertainty, meaning that we are bound to re-think and re-invent ourselves permanently. The past remains important in order to have a better understanding of the present but one should be careful not to drive one's car looking too much in the rear view!


How do institutions map potential futures?


In a globalized and quite complex world we need 'tools' to help shape our societies. This is what art institutions could be: giant toolboxes! I see the art institutions as a way to fight against different forms of exclusion and fight seclusion and sectarianism in our countries.


What role does education have in developing audiences and what role, crucially, do institutions expect audiences to fulfil?   


If we consider education as 'a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research', we can logically assume that education should encourage and stimulate curiosity and, consequently, the interest for art institutions that offer educational experiences and opportunities. Institutions should hope for a kind of ownership and partnership with their audiences.


How can we imagine new infrastructures and institutions in the context of architectural, institutional, and practical realities?


I would favour the functional aspect of the infrastructure over its looks and adapt it to the way of living of the public concerned. By creating bridges between the public, its culture, its knowledge, and the infrastructure and establishing a familiarity between the individuals and the place.


What will future audiences look like and how will culture continue not only to negotiate social activity, political engagement and critical practices, but their future sustainability as ideals?


What will future audiences look like? I don't know precisely but I believe that they will engage in a more virtual relationship with culture – regarding the advance of new technologies.


How will culture continue…? By constantly adapting to the new means of communication. Institutions are communicators; they give access to information and the way people look for info today is not as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. The important thing is to always be where the people are searching. To paraphrase Foucault I'd say: let's use culture as a tool to have a better diagnosis of our time.


How will the changing nature of audiences challenge, if at all, the long-term sustainability of arts institutions? 


I would advise institutions to follow Gilles Deleuze's reflexion on 'surfing', as one of the operative metaphors for late-modern experience. Institutions should adapt their methods to the contemporary tools provided by new technologies.


What is the role of the institution today in terms of developing infrastructures that respond to the needs of the times?


Institutions must be flexible, and understand the present moment, which means able to 'be ahead of the curve'. Entertaining and education are two key elements that audiences expect from institutions nowadays. In the Arab context, I believe that institutions should moreover encourage an active participation of the audiences and their mobility within (and between) countries in order to provoke 'healthy emulations'.


How have technological advances changed the way institutions interact with audiences?


I think that new tools are now available and allow institutions to have better interactivity and better feedback with and from their audiences. Technology should be used to improve communication and the dialogue between audiences, artworks, artists and institutions.


Is disengagement with institutions the best way to imagine new forms of systemic practice and self-organized, socially engaged art practices?


If the question is to know whether new forms can emerge from old institutions – or even new ones in the old way – or if new forms can only emerge in opposition to these institutions, I would reply that it remains a matter of people and flexibility. In our economy-driven world, companies that choose not to listen to their customers and adapt are bound to disappear.


How do forms of self-organizations re-articulate the function, or, indeed, rationale of institutions?


I believe that self-organization can lead to the rise of new political entities, encourage new demands and thus compel to a new distribution of the roles, that Jacques Rancière calls a 'distribution of the sensible'.


What is actually needed in terms of infrastructure for culture and its more discursive elements – the way in which it impacts on public space or civil society, for example?


We probably need a more global approach. In European countries for instance, even if there are still needs, art institutions are integrated within a whole system of entities (libraries, universities, town halls and so on) that each has its part to play. The interconnectivity between these different players guarantees more coherent, coordinated and effective actions.

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