UNESCO has defined culture as "a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”
Culture is a social heritage. It plays a significant role in societal development. The way to share culture and art, to deliver them to individuals and to carry it over into the future is through communication.
In today’s world, the production, interpretation, reimagining and storage of the entire world's knowledge take place through digital media. What’s more, the fact that these channels are accessible at all times allows for the creation of a collective memory.
In the 20th century, encyclopaedias were full of immutable absolute truths. On today’s online platforms, there is a collective information network among people from all over the world, who do not have any relation with each other in any formal way. In my opinion, one of the most fundamental differences between the individual of the 20th century and the individual of the 21st century is the formation of “participating consciousness”.
However, a participating consciousness is not always a given around the world. Take my country, Turkey. According to IPSOS research published in Türkiye’yi Anlama Kılavuzu [The Guide to Understanding Turkey], 49 per cent of Turks never go to the cinema; 39 per cent never read books; 66 per cent have never attended a concert, theatre, opera, or a similar event; 81 per cent do not play any musical instrument; 57 per cent do not watch films or TV series on video, VCD, DVD or the Internet; 47 per cent never read magazines or journals; 86 per cent have never attended a leisure course. The most widely preferred activity, by 85 per cent, is watching TV. (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, “Public Engagement in the Arts”, February 2017).
If we cannot yet speak of the participating consciousness in our country, we should ensure that the institutions we work in as communication professionals are following the changes taking place in the world, and that their participatory policies are not misguided. This should also not be done alone but through projects from civil society, researchers and academicians, designers and artists, and most importantly, with everyone who is curious and wants to be involved.
We have to establish, develop and spread dialogue. In the field of culture and art, dialogue starts with "content". We should be able to explain the content as much as possible and deliver them to different audiences.
Today, problems such as climate change, terror, economic crisis and migration are on the increase. In such an environment, without relying on scale or hierarchy, rethinking the responsibilities of international networks, countries, institutions, organisations and individuals sows the seed of more hopeful, resilient and enthusiastic communities. Embraced by the notion of "contributing to society," we must understand that there is much that could be done at every level.
Communication with culture itself is precisely what distinguishes it from fast consumption, energy, banking or other commercial sectors. We do not sell or market "products". We create and share "content". For that reason, we adopt functional and effective communication strategies that establish dialogue by describing the content instead of advertising models that are suitable for monologue style or new-age double-sided marketing strategies.
Cultural institutions must re-think past reflexes, analyze their changes and make their own account and focus on the experiences that will be involved and participate in evangelizing participatory practices, which are real now. Institutions, which are resistant to change, insisting on dictating their messages, will not become successful in the new world.
While establishing this dialogue, how do we attract the attention and participation of an individual exposed to a daily deluge of knowledge and information?
The most important condition to encourage participation in culture is direct and regular communication.
We digest the content and plan every detail of all communication channels such as channel–specific design, press and social media communications, highlighted clues, or the length of the message we wish to deliver. We move on with a holistic but spot-on approach.
In addition to using traditional campaigns, we develop strategies to improve different forms of appeal, such as native content or digital advertising models that evolve rapidly every day. We try these strategies, we change them if necessary. We are constantly looking for alternative ways of telling our story and reaching participants and users. Thus, we always want to keep the dialogue alive, to keep it breathing and to be able to re-interpret.
Different sectors can govern this globalised world, but let's not forget that, along with the economic, social and environmental dimensions, culture is the fourth leg of sustainable development in the world.
The main aim of culture communications is to convey the knowledge, message, emotion and even spirit generated behind closed doors. It contributes to the democratisation and decentralisation of knowledge.
Cultural institutions cannot change the world, but they can contribute to the growth of the individuals who can change the world.
Derya Acar Erguc is Director of Communication and Administration at SALT, an Istanbul-based cultural institution that cultivates innovative programs for research and experimental thinking.