Every year in my hometown we have a big cultural event at the end of September. An evening where the entire town comes alive with music and dancing, art exhibits, street entertainment, car shows and what not. And accompanying all this, of course, is loads of good food and beer by the gallon. It’s called “A Night of Culture”. Culture as in anything and everything, which is considered cultural and cultivating of the mind.
This is a night when anyone with a 4$ admission badge can get access to any concert, exhibit or performance … or better yet to any number of the places that are normally kept under lock and key away from the eyes of the public. Like the old WWII bunker in one of the squares in the centre of town. Or the bell tower of the church just next to it. Or the mosque, which too opens its doors and welcomes visitors inside to look around and learn more of the ways and traditions of its usual congregation.
In short it is an annual opportunity to get to know the town and its people better. To share experiences and become better acquainted …. and perhaps even more comfortable with one another. And judging by the scores of people in the streets that night, it is – as ever – a resounding success.
This year however – perhaps as a prank, perhaps not – some witty soul had gone around the town centre the night before with a piece of chalk and written little messages on the sidewalks. Little comments like “What is culture?” and “Stop censoring culture”. I discovered them while walking to work and at first considered it the annoying but somewhat predictable rebellious expression of a bored teen. And maybe it was. But whether intended or not, I started pondering the questions.
I walked by a simplistic chalk drawing of a house, looking like it could have been done by a 1st grader. Above it the neat writing read: “Is this culture?”, and I felt provoked. Provoked because it made me stop to think about what I really felt about the term “culture”. And provoked because somehow that question and its presence forced me to redefine what I was willing to consider acceptable in regards to MY “culture”.
It made me think of my own childhood and the summers we spent drawing – with the same kind of chalk – makeshift tennis courts and go-cart tracks and home-made boards for board games we’d invented all over the street and sidewalks where we lived. And how neighbours and parents used to complain about it “making everything look a mess”. It did. But these were our games, our collective imagination come to life. They kept us entertained for hours and days… months even at times. Far better than toy ever did. To us it was important. It was part of us… and it said something about us. We felt accomplished for having created it. And I remember sitting on the curb sulking with my friends because the grown-ups didn’t get it.
Suddenly, the chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of the library and by the fountain didn’t seem like random graffiti anymore. Was graffiti acceptable? Was it art? Was it an underestimated means of expression? Or was that even the point? The questions were valid, and the method of bringing them across nothing short of brilliant in my eyes.
I don’t know how many others noticed these little quips to our collective conscience, or what they thought of them if they did. But moving around town I still see them here and there. They haven’t faded yet and probably won’t until it rains.
And I for one am glad.
For one night the entire town seems to let down its guard and embrace all that it encompasses as assets. What in everyday life might set us apart suddenly becomes an opportunity to try something new and exotic. Or ask that nagging question of “why do you do that?”
I guess, the fact that it takes an event like this to achieve that should raise questions and food for thought on its own. But it’s okay with me in this case if it doesn’t. Ideally we’d all love to claim to live in an all-inclusive all-embracing world where differences unite and strengthen instead of causing divides and derision… but we don’t. That’s why we have ideals, isn’t it? To have something to strive for. Something to point to and remind ourselves and each other of what we want to achieve.
Dear Ghost Writer – whoever you are…
In answer to your question… Culture is a bridge between people who wish to come together. It is the one thing we do not need to have in common to appreciate in one another. And you’re right, that shouldn’t be censored.
Thanks for the reminder