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Interview with Ana Paula Amendoeira — Regional Director for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo

Francisco Correia interviewed Ana Paula Amendoeira, Regional Director for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo, about the work that has been carried out by this entity in order to affirm the cultural dimension of the country’s largest region.

Francisco Correia – Alentejo is an extensive region, covering different geographies. What are the main objectives of the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo and how do you develop them in such a vast and perhaps heterogeneous area?

Ana Paula Amendoeira – Yes, the Alentejo is the country’s largest region, representing a third of the national territory. But it is the least densely populated region, with only 500.000 inhabitants. In a country with approximately 10 million inhabitants, such asymmetry is so great that our action becomes even more particular. We work in a territory with a stronger cultural identity and geographical homogeneity, nobody questions the limits of the Alentejo region. But we have a serious demographic problem, which is reflected in cultural activity, heritage, etc. Our cultural fabric is also very fragile. It is fragile throughout the country, but the situation in the Alentejo is aggravated for these reasons. The Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo has duties assigned by law in the areas of Heritage and Safeguarding and Land Use and Planning. We are responsible for the licensing of classified and heritage protection areas, and the supporting of museums and non-professional cultural activities. These are our competencies by law. But we have many others, as we work in a territory where we are very close to people, cultural agents, municipalities, parishes, and associations. Our action goes far beyond our legal competencies. We do much more because the territory has needs and we are close to them. In these years as director of the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo, I have coordinated the team to provide the greatest possible support. That is our focus: to positively face and tackle the local needs, to help and collaborate. Often these issues overlap with our other legal competencies because the cultural needs of the territory are so many. We try to perform our task as best we can, with many difficulties and few means.

FC – Faced with these weaknesses, what role does the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo try to play in the access to culture, encompassing museums, heritage and the preservation of regional culture?

APA – Our action is manifold. We are officially responsible for monuments and museums, but we help many other cultural facilities, even though they are not under our jurisdiction – they are municipal facilities, associations, foundations, charities, in short. We provide technical and financial support, many projects whose objective is to allow people to have democratic and universal access to the various forms of culture and cultural equipment. I cannot list all the support we provide. For example, we help organise workshops on music, theatre or performing arts, as several projects fortunately have an interest in being in the Alentejo. And they are very welcome, as they contribute to enhance and develop the region’s critical mass. The best we can do is to mix different visions, as the result is always better. Currently, there are projects under development, like Futurama by John Romão; there are new ones like Córtex Frontal in Arraiolos; or Mala Voadora in Santiago do Cacém. We also have our artistic structures, which have existed for many years and do extraordinary work, especially in theatre. But there are many other amateur structures that we try to support. For example, the philharmonic band is extremely important for the region and is facing major difficulties. It’s a grassroots movement, deeply local, linked to the municipalities. It is a tradition in the universal teaching of music. The music bands and the philharmonic bands are responsible for teaching music to all those who want to learn for free in villages and municipalities where often there is nothing else. Local philharmonic bands are projects of great importance for social cohesion.

FC – In recent years, some fine arts collections have been established in the Alentejo. There is now an important Portuguese contemporary collection in Elvas, with many artists and other cultural agents to the region. Or the Centro de Arte Quetzal. I think it’s a healthy movement: it’s people who come from outside and who also value the development of the Alentejo.

APA – Yes, they are projects that have established themselves in the region. But we must stress that the Alentejo is not a stagnant region, waiting to be discovered by people or urban projects coming from elsewhere. To me, that does not seem to be an interesting perspective for any region. We cannot create a dichotomy between culture and popular structures – stagnant, poor and miserable, without scale or critical mass – waiting to be discovered by structures, groups or artists from outside, romantically discovering a region frozen in time. We are in the 21st century. Although I know these visions exist, I do not reproduce or replicate them. I don’t think it’s ethical, even. I profoundly value the culture inherited and produced in the region. I’m from Alentejo, but I could be from elsewhere. The interest in the region by people, structures and groups from outside can only be important if it is aligned with what already exists. It should not be an invasive or intellectually superior approach. Our challenges are not compatible with this paternalism or infantilisation of so-called «popular culture». The Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs in Alentejo, being a social entity, wants to contribute to the end of these views. We want to treat everyone the same, so that our region improves and it’s better to live here. I don’t believe that we should work by sectors. The important thing is that it is good to live in the Alentejo. And, for people to consider the Alentejo a region with conditions and quality of life, we must think that quality of life is not only related to levels of wealth and a commercial outlook on life. We must contribute towards changing that vision. That’s what can save us, and art doesn’t always succeed in that. Contemporary art, when viewed only mercantilely, has had results incompatible with advanced and holistic life models. «Contemporary» should not be an adjective that automatically qualifies cultural movements positively. But sometimes we are «seduced» by this trend. Sometimes it seems to be a kind of magic word, which automatically defines an advanced art of territories and societies. I don’t agree. I think art is contemporary when it is made in our time, simply. I don’t think it’s a question of style. We must consider all artists working in our time. That is contemporaneity. Answering the question: yes, we have many projects in the so-called contemporary art, which I believe are as important as other artistic projects in the Alentejo. The Elvas Contemporary Art Museum (MACE) is the only contemporary art museum in the country’s south. It is now home to António Cachola Collection. Its existence has helped underline the importance of artistic projects in the Alentejo region. We have another important structure for the promotion, dissemination and access to art and artistic projects: Eugénio de Almeida Foundation in Évora. We have established strong partnerships with both. We were part of a decentralization project in our region when MACE turned ten years old. It was an itinerant programme of the António Cachola Collection, with exhibitions in Almodôvar or Sines, to introduce the collection to other places in the region, further away from the Alto Alentejo. I also want to mention Marin.Gaspar Collection, by Jorge Gaspar and Ana Marin, located in Alvito. And also the association they formed, with an important programme of debates, artistic residencies, exhibitions. The collection is also one of the most important of Portuguese artists of the 80s. We have other projects, like Musibéria in Serpa, a project in the field of music recording studies, with excellent technical conditions. We are organising our own cross-border programme with Andalusia and Algarve, a network of so-called «cultural and creative industries». I don’t really agree with the term. I still try to resist it, but our thinking is completely colonised by the economy. That is quite negative, because there is a lexicon proper to culture and we are ceasing to use it.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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