Democratic ideals are under pressure in Europe, Jan Jaap Knol writes. That is why investing in good cultural education is an absolute necessity. It teaches children to view things from someone else’s perspective. That is the best armour against intolerance.
We live in a time of great and rapid change: seismic shifts in technology, the economy, the climate and society as a whole. Never before in human history have developments on a local and a global scale been so deeply intertwined. Given this context, how can cultural education and active participation in art and culture contribute to an open way of living together in Europe? This is anything but a non-committal issue. Today’s Europe is a place where democratic ideals and freedom are also coming under pressure.
You do not have to travel far in the world to experience the opposite of freedom and democracy. Syria has been suffering from the worst forms of brutality and oppression for seven years. Millions of civilians have been forced to flee the violence. Tyranny, hatred and fundamentalism have disrupted society. The monumental arch of Palmyra, blown up by IS in 2015, has come to symbolize the twisted hatred towards everything that deviates from one’s own blinkered perspective on the world.
Archaeologists from Oxford made a replica of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph using the most advanced digital resources. This reconstruction shows that ultimately destruction will never win. The arch already traveled past London and New York and offers visitors, including many young people, the opportunity to reflect on this remarkable piece of world heritage. The world does not get the original arch back. But hopefully the traveling replica will contribute to a greater awareness of the vulnerability of our heritage and the importance of peaceful coexistence. Proof of the consolation art can bring in the most trying circumstances was provided by Syrian pianist Ayham al-Ahmed and the performances with his choir in the Yarmouk refugee camp.
Investing in good cultural education is an absolute necessity in a free and prosperous Europe. It offers children the opportunity to let their imaginations soar. It helps them get to grips with the world and to choose their own path. But that’s not all: good cultural education teaches us how to deal with ambiguity and stimulates our ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. To facilitate cultural education that is truly valuable, we need cooperation between schools, artists and cultural institutions. This cooperation also comes with commitment. A daily exercise in empathy is perhaps the best way to arm oneself against intolerance. And that is exactly what Europe needs.
Photo: Alessandra Kocman, Flickr.com: Palmyra's Arch of Triumph
In Leeuwarden, European Capital of Culture 2018, the international conference 'Sharing Arts and Heritage’ took place in October. Researchers, policy makers and cultural professionals investigated how cultural education and cultural participation relate to challenges of access, social cohesion, heritage and cooperation. How can we best channel our research and policies to promote an open, inclusive, resilient European society? Read the report.