An Epitaph to “the Power of Culture”

In internet-land even the seemingly successful websites and platforms have a relatively short a shelf life. Whether defeated by technological advance, or subsumed by competing interests, it seems every day we are bombarded with a plethora of new sites conquering old ground with even the slightest of  improvements. Remember AOL or MapQuest, or ICQ? Me neither… On occasion, however, I find it hard not to be saddened by the loss of a site that played an important role in my daily browsing and yet has no clear and immediate replacement.  Recently, I was saddened to learn that The Power of Culture, a news site probing links between culture and development, will no longer be adding new posts.

The Power of Culture recently issued a release stating that “As of July 2010 The Power of Culture will no longer be updated until further notice. The platform unfortunately can’t be maintained without funding by organizations who attach importance to such an initiative. One of the leading funders no longer contributes to the website because of a change of corporate objectives…”

Beyond lamenting the loss of an interesting and engaging news source well aligned with my own thematic interests, I am disheartened to watch another valuable cultural project tank due to its dependency on external donors.  Having worked alongside many artists, cultural practitioners, and not-for-profit leaders in my own community and abroad, I can say with some certainty that there are few things more frightening, or, at the very least, stress-inducing, than “a change of corporate objectives”.

This notion, now a harsh reality for the Power of Culture, hearkens back to an interview series they conducted in collaboration with Zam Africa Magazine in September 2009 with philosopher and political scientist Achille Mbembe that probes issues of  cultural policy, donor conditionality, and the dependency of cultural organizations.  In it Mbembe states that the “Relationships between Western cultural funding agencies and local artists and recipients have never been so bad. Instead of creating art, many artists in [Africa] are forced to spend most of their time, energy and intelligence filling useless bureaucratic forms, begging, desperately trying to respond to ever-changing fads and policies when they are not checking the mood of ever-touchy ‘cultural attachés’ of Western consulates or agencies from whom they hope to get some support. This is a huge waste.” … “We can keep dressing up the unlimited power of the donors and their money and the material poverty of the recipients in the fancy language of ‘partnership’, ’empowerment’ or even ‘friendship’. All these words won’t mask the brutality of the encounter between those who have money but no good ideas and those who have some good ideas but no money.”

While the above statement warrants greater discussion regarding issues of  dependency, donor conditionality, “NGO-ization”, and the burgeoning social enterprise sector, none of these issues seem fitting for a post entitled “An Epitaph…”  Instead, it seems more appropriate to highlight a few of the many engaging features in the Power of Culture to ‘share the wealth’ so to speak, in case new sponsors (or a dedicated group of volunteers) aren’t found to keep the site active.

Please take a moment to check out this site, and if you are so inclined, sign up for their newsletter below and email them to show your support!

Here are a few of my favourite articles:

Art and the constraints of Development – Special – September 2009

Theatre & Development – Special – December 2007

Graffiti offers structure for Brazilian youth – August 2009

Engagement dominates in Dak’art – May 2010

Homeless World Cup – Special – 2006

Ten Years of Democracy in South Africa: The role of Culture – Special – 2004

You can also browse their site by Key Themes:

If you like to be informed about developments, please sign up for the Power of Culture newsletter or sent them an e-mail at info@powerofculture.nl

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Categories: Arts and Culture

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  1. 5 Great Sites that Explore Art, Activism, and Politics « Notes from the Field - November 14, 2010

    […] hundreds of interesting articles and educational materials.   I reviewed this site recently (An Epitaph to the “Power of Culture”) and offered a list of links to particularly interesting […]

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