Let's talk about cultural health

Author: Javier J. Hernández Acosta

Today, April 7, 2019, the World Health Day is celebrated. In the midst of the challenges we face to improve our physical health, which include nutrition, the environment and lifestyles in general, we want to bring a new component to that holistic wellness we aspire: cultural health. We do not intend to see it as a detached component from physical, social or emotional health, since it is an element that has proven to be closely related.

Article 27, 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations (UN) clearly states that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancements and its benefits”. But like any human right, it is vital that we constantly make sure that people have the resources and access for that full enjoyment.

Although there are many forms of participation in arts and culture, we could establish two main categories that include individual and collective activities. Although sometimes the same activity can achieve both purposes, individual activities could include watching television, reading, listening to music, etc. On the other hand, collective activities include going to the theater, to the cinema, to concerts, festivals, museums, galleries, etc.

In Puerto Rico, the first survey on consumption and cultural participation was carried out in 2015, which established the percentage of people who had attended certain activities in the last 12 months. The results include that 53% went to the cinema, 48% to festivals, 23% to visual arts exhibitions, 21% to plays and 7% to classical music events. When we observe the reasons why they have not attended, we find that about 25% do not attend because of lack of information or habit, without mentioning those that do not attend due to lack of money, time or interest. These data represent a great opportunity to achieve a collective strategy for audience development.

Increasing participation has an impact at several levels. First, it contributes to the well-being of individuals by its dimensions of leisure, reflection, questioning, aesthetic appreciation, openness and happiness, among others. But it also guarantees that artists and culture workers have a better environment to continue creating. Finally, there is no doubt that greater demand requires more activity which enriches cities and countries.

But like any component of health, it is necessary to start with the awareness of our profile and challenges. This would be almost an equivalent of prevention. How is my consumption and cultural participation? It is natural that the lack of time, commitments, economic challenges and other complexities sometimes changes our routine and the use of leisure time. If we know how our cultural health is, we can undergo a short- or medium-term treatment. For this, we recommend three approaches: frequency, diversity and innovation. There are activities that we are passionate about, maybe music, theater or cinema and we would like to be able to attend more frequently. But we also want to expand our cultural capital by attending new activities that we have not attended before. And finally, even within the activities we carry out, there are always new and risky proposals that deserve our exploration. We call this innovation. In summary: to which activity do I want to attend more frequently? Which activities I haven’t attended? What new artistic proposal can I appreciate in the different artistic sectors?

An additional thought: If maintaining this cultural health is important for us, imagine what it represents for children. If we create that consciousness since early ages, and research confirm this, we will have a younger generation much more open, conscious and willing to participate in cultural life, supporting its sustainability.

Inversión Cultural has created a small test to start making that diagnosis. We invite you to complete it, share these ideas and start taking affirmative actions to improve your cultural health. We will take care of continuing to develop projects for culture in Puerto Rico.