Monday, March 24, 2014

Urgent: Turkish state-funded arts institutions could face total shut-down

Our friend Serhan Bali, editor in chief of Turkey's classical music magazine Andante, has sent me this very troubling letter from Istanbul and asks us to help spread the word about these developments. Please read. jd

Turkish performing arts institutions are being abolished by the government 

Serhan Bali
The AKP government in Turkey is preparing to bring a new law to the parliament in a short time that will abolish all of the state-funded performing arts institutions in the country. 

Why are they doing this? We are told that the main goal of this draft bill is to establish an ‘arts council’ in Turkey. This body - for which the government officials seem to get inspiration from the UK's Arts Council England - will execute the policy of delivering the cultural funds to the people and organisations who will offer to produce any kind of artistic event in the country, be it opera-ballet-dance-theatre production, symphony concert, art exhibition, children’s play etc. 

However, the arts community of Turkey is strictly opposed to this draft bill, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this new law also includes a clause that will shut down all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country! So all of the state symphony orchestras, state opera-ballet-dance companies, state theatre companies, state choirs which the majority of them have been operating in the country over 50 years will be closed from the time this law will be accepted in the parliament by the AKP MPs who comprise the majority. 

From the time this draft bill will be accepted, millions of Turkish people throughout the country will absolutely have no access in their region to any kind of artistic activity. 

For years, people in Turkey have had the benefit of attending low priced, qualified arts programs in the season. These long-established state funded organisations, besides operating in their home cities, also have been making regular tours to their surrounding areas, and these can also be the remotest parts of the country, where people with very low income struggle to live. 

This arts policy, stemming from the cultural revolutions of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, has been accepted as the primary social responsibility of all of the Turkish governments so far. It seems that this government doesn’t want to feel this responsibility after staying in power for the last 12 years. 

By the way, some people in the arts field, myself included, don’t have any negative opinion towards the concept of an arts council. We believe that this kind of cultural body could well be used in order to deliver the public funds with fair methods and in a more democratic way among the Turkish people. But the problem is that the governments in Turkey, including the current one, unfortunately don’t have enough vision to handle the arts scene in all its entirety with an updated and modern view. 

But what the current AKP government has in mind by bringing their arts council model (which is called TUSAK-Arts Organisation of Turkey) to the public attention has nothing to do with the present day acceptances. First of all, this TUSAK definitely will not act as an autonomous entity, but will work as none other than a government agency because of the fact that all of the 11 members of the board of TUSAK will be elected by the cabinet of ministers. In AKP’s Turkey, this means that these members will only prefer to fund the pro-government cultural demands and projects. We believe that TUSAK will have the sole mission of delivering the public cultural funds only to the people who have been ideologically close to this government. 

On the other hand, some well known AKP ideologues have been known setting the standards of a so-called ‘conservative art’ concept for the last two years. I and many other people in Turkey believe that TUSAK is the brain child of this new concept. With this tool, they feel that they have the mission to abolish the whole arts establishment in the country and reorganise the arts scene according to their concept of ‘conservative art’. This concept refuses the notion of independence of the arts and the artists and also the autonomy of the state funded arts institutions in the country. 

The government officials headed by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been expressing their disgust and dissatisfaction towards the artists who are working in state funded arts organisations for quite a long time. These artists are accused of taking active part in the opposition camp and raising their voices to the acts of the government especially in the arts field. 

‘We will privatise all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country so that from now on artists will play or sing or dance as they wish with the help of private donors. Our government won’t operate any theatres, operas, symphony orchestras from this time on.’ This was the crucial statement of Mr Erdogan in April 2012 after he boiled over the theatre actors’ raising their voices against the government’s acts of slashing the independence of the management of public theatres at that time. 

Now we can understand that this speech became the signal rocket of this draft bill. What he meant that time by ‘privatisation’ is being served now in our plates in the guise of TUSAK. By this manoeuvre the AKP government is planning to throw all of the arts institutions overboard and wants to establish a new arts hierarchy in the country which will be fully controlled by the government and by PM himself. This has nothing to do neither with democracy, nor with freedom. 

One other aim with the TUSAK law seems to establish a commercialized system in all of the artistic fields of Turkey. People who are ideologically close to the government but with no scope and vision of arts are expected from now on to benefit from the funds that will be delivered by TUSAK. On the other hand, the artists are still trying to explain the government officials that symphony orchestras, theatre-opera-ballet-dance-choral companies cannot survive in a developing country like Turkey without the full support of the government - but so far we haven’t been successful in persuading the officials. This is not surprising, because we are aware of the real intention in Ankara.

The arts community in Turkey nowadays makes a word play and justifiably calls ‘TUSAK’ as ‘TUZAK’ which means ‘trap’ in Turkish - because arts people in Turkey believe that this draft bill is nothing but a trap of the government in order to get rid of the artists and their institutions. But we know that this act will certainly bring no good to the people in Turkey, will commercialise and cheapen the arts and will pave the way to the desertification of the country in terms of qualified artistic events.

Serhan Bali
Editor in chief, ‘Andante’ classical music magazine