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British Council Call for Action to Support Arts in North Africa

February 22, 2013

At the end of last year the British Council has put out a paper The Voices of the People: Culture, Conflict and Change in North Africa.   It describes itself as follows

This publication presents the key insights from a detailed research project carried out for the British Council by the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) at the University of York during 2011 and 2012. The research, led by Professor Sultan Barakat, comprised 112 interviews with individuals or groups of artists, cultural activists and civil society representatives in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, plus responses gathered in subsequent discussion groups with interested stakeholders and partners.

Our investigation in North Africa was guided by two overriding questions:

  • What social and artistic freedoms and possibilities are opening up for artists and cultural institutions in these four countries?
  • Conversely, what new possibilities of civic, social and political expression on the street and in the public sphere are they helping to create.

The document concludes

Ultra-conservatives are growing in influence and there will be both pressure and the temptation to fall back into self-censorship, but the UK arts community can help shore up fragile changes and build a sustainable cultural ecosystem.

The UK arts and cultural sector has a clear opportunity to play a supportive role. Its work can help to span the gap between the established and the emergent, the institutional and innovative, to support the negotiation of emerging ideas and to offer ongoing opportunities for people to play their full  part as active citizens.

This is a bit of an odd document.  It comes out of the Arts side of the Council rather than reflecting an overall organizational strategy.  It presents itself as a research report but there is very little evidence of the research itself in the report.  There’s no description of who has been interviewed. We don’t get a sense of who is supposed to be talking and where they fit into the broader context.  There’s no attempt to compare across countries and what is really strange: there isn’t a single quote in a report called ‘voices of the people’ .   I’m not sure that it’s very effective in presenting either the research or the call to the UK arts sector to get involved.

Stephen Stenning the regional arts director in the Middle East and North Africa provides a bit of an update here.

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