An “unexpected” IDEA of a cultural centre

by Linda Di Pietro
Direttrice Artistica, BASE Milano

In our profession, we invest a lot of time visualizing change.
This applies to our approach to the curatorial practice, in our relationship with artists, in discussing transformation and the future, or in our quest of diversifying our audience and programs. The way toward systemic and institutional change, however, remains a slow and complex one ahead.
This explains why the lack of fully accessible and diverse cultural spaces is regarded as a failure of the very sector whose task is to imagine what the world could be like.

Dealing with change and accessibility in an intersectional manner, implies taking on a high level of risk. As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says, “Nothing will go right, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

It’s an ongoing process, and failure is always lurking just around the corner, along with the haunting feelings of inadequacy and frustration. It’s a tough battle regardless of any help received, and it is practically impossible to ‘go it alone’. This is because too often, accessibility is an issue related to conformity – dealt with ‘checkbox mentality’ which reflects an obsolete system of norms established by legislators from the past – rather than following what is truly meaningful to people today.

This is not likely to ever change until we acknowledge that issue of accessibility cannot be
solved just by making possible for everyone to enter through the door: it is crucial to assume a critical approach toward a society that perpetrates exclusion and discrimination, and it is far from even approaching that door at times.

That’s why we chose to embark on a collective experience regarding BASE’s accessibility — conceived as a progressive cultural practice to dismantle and rebuild the world. In reviewing our behaviour as a cultural institution, we begin by inviting unexpected subjects to our table—that large portion of society which was unaccounted for in the construction phase of the places traditionally designated for culture, as it represented marginalised communities.

How broad and fluid can the shape of our ideal future world be – can we strive for cultural spaces and a society to be open to disruption? Can an institution be structured in a fragile, unpredictable, and open mode, resilient to social and political urgencies? We have tried to answer these questions ourselves, by drafting a set of guidelines that follow certain fundamental principles.

→ Designing from the perspective of the “unexpected” individual meaning developing projects in full consideration of people who were never taken into account before in such processes – turning them into the starting point of our project planning scheme, rather than addressing their necessities as a later adaptation of services, spaces, and content.

→ Choosing to transform ourselves before transforming the world by advocating for a radical rethinking and de-canonization of our own organization through an internal training cycle that involves the entire staff of BASE, as well as partner organizations.

→ Respecting the “Nothing about us without us” principle to avoid defining political actions without the direct involvement of the people concerned in the decision-making processes.

→ Practising a policy of listening and dialogue through a caring, confrontational, and consistent approach that entails keeping our communication channels open at all times, making BASE increasingly receptive to change initiatives coming from the variety of communities of reference.

We therefore ask ourselves, as Silvia Bottiroli and Low Kee Hong prompt us: “If we take co-creation and co-authorship seriously, as constitutive components of our way of living and working, where do we set the horizon of our actions? In other words, what if it wasn’t about us, not about our project, but rather about the conditions we generate for something, and more, to happen?”

This is exactly what “An I.D.E.A. of a cultural centre” wishes to be: not a monolithic response, but a call to action, not so much to imagine how the world could be, but rather to demand an adequate space to make world together.

On Wednesday, 29 November 2023, we presented a Manifesto for the plural cultural institution: an open document, ready to be enriched with the contributions and experiences of the cultural organisations that will accept it as a working tool and guide for the definition of their strategic lines, and the fruit of shared work with strategic partners, who have helped us along this path of reflection since January 2023, accomplices of this I.D.E.A.

Read the Manifesto

So... is this getting serious?

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