AKP’s new culture strategy not revolutionary

AKP’s new culture strategy not revolutionary

The package on cultural policies will be finally made public April 21 by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
It was finalized after four months of intensive work. The number of meetings headed personally by Culture and Tourism Ministry Mahir Ünal has reached forty.

I understand that the ministry is currently in the hands of a minister who knows the address of the ministry’s building. It is good news for the country even if this is like a cultural shock to the bureaucracy of the ministry.

According to the leaked information, there will be good news concerning the retirement rights of the artists. One will deal with freelance artists, while the other will deal with artists that are subject to law as they on the government’s pay roll. Some among the latter who are approaching the age of retirement will be encouraged to retire early with attractive indemnities.

But a serious reform on the culture and art institutions was expected in the new package.

The reform was needed both to save culture and art from the tutelage of the state and government harassment, and also relieve artists from civil service and meet the levels of modernization targeted by the republic’s cultural revolution.

Years passed with debates on whether a civil servant paid by the government can be an artist, whether free art can be performed by artists on the government pay roll, whether censorship and intervention in art and culture could end without cutting the organic link with the state.

No government took a radical step as it suited them to say, “On the one hand, artists will get paid by the government but on the other hand, they will be able to get mad at the employer; we can’t let that happen.”

They did not want to give up their power to control and intervene by guaranteeing monthly salaries.

If there are two areas where the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has failed, one is definitely art and culture policies. We debated for years but registered no progress at all. 

The new package on culture policies was expected for years but now the biggest good news of the package is new terms for retirement. 

I have heard that it will contain several novelties on all spheres, from cinema to theater, from libraries to museums. It is the first time not only for the AKP’s period but in Turkey’s history that such an encompassing culture and art package is being prepared. I hope they will come up with a real cultural revolution to crown this honor.

We do not live in Turkey of the 1930s. The periods of statist model, Soviet-like institutions are over. We have a middle class and a market of demand and supply that can sustain art and culture. 

Rather than restructuring state theaters, ballet and opera through some reforms on cadres, it is time to transform them in a revolutionary way. It might not be a bad idea to encourage retirement for the nearly 2,000 artists close to retirement age; but it is not enough. With a more courageous reform, the state should give up being an employer.

We should leave the art and the artist in the hands of the free market and render the art and the artist free while protecting them with strong incentives, support and sponsorships.

Otherwise, forget making a big leap forward on culture and art.