First collaboration sets foundations for cultural capital

Aarhus is known not only as the City of Smiles or the second largest city in Denmark but as an European Capital of Culture in 2017.

This week Aarhus University and Aarhus 2017 Committee are presenting their first “intellectual child” – Rethink Participatory Cultural Citizenship conference. During a lunch break on a busy afternoon one of the organizers and Post Doc of the department of Aestethics and Culture, Jan Løhmann Stephensen, shared some insights with journalist Margaret Kirakosian about the ongoing event.

What is the main goal of the Rethink Participatory Cultural Citizenship conference?
The main goal of every conference is to exchange knowledge and this one is not an exception. But it is unique as Aarhus University is a part of the European Capital of Culture 2017 program for the first time. There are also institutional reasons for this conference as certain issues about cooperation should be discussed, for instance, how to evaluate Cultural Capital projects. One of the things we hope to achieve is to clean the vocabulary. We won’t provide final solutions but rather will establish a conversation about important topics.

What is the Cultural Participatory Citizenship concept about?
This concept was on the rise in the academia in the last 15 years, especially in the field of new media. People collaborated and participated before but now they do it in a very different way. European Capital of Culture project is about involvement of citizens and youth. For us it seems to be a perfect opportunity to meet institutional needs and academic goals.

What are the main topics of the conference?
Quite a lot of speakers talk about new media and activism. The attention is also drawn to art field and institutions, as we used to have really passive spectators, who nowadays participate more. There are also discussions about democracy and democratization of media. Participation is such a wide area that you touch upon a lot of subjects on the way.

What kind of people do you want to attract to the conference?
Academics, activists, those who are engaged in the local community, who do volunteering or social work, for example Danish folk high schools. This is an unusual academic conference in a sense that it involves different groups of people. There are not only academics talking about difficult theories or philosophy, but also a lot of practitioners.

How will the Rethink Participatory Cultural Citizenship conference help Aarhus to prove its status of the European Capital of Culture in 2017?
One thing it has already done – established more contacts between the university and people in the creative industries in Aarhus. Hopefully it will get more people to participate, pitch new ideas and in this way improve cultural projects in the city.

Do you have a lot of international speakers?
We have participants from Australia, USA, Africa, Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Russia. This conference is really international, more then half of the papers  are submitted by the academics outside of Denmark. We also invited a lot of local activists, which is part of increasing cooperation as part of the European Capital of Culture framework. A lot of volunteers and practitioners are interested to hear what academics are doing as we don’t have many opportunities to meet. They are interested in talking to us, we are interested in learning from them. I think there will be a lot of knowledge exchange.

Denmark is famous for its sustainability. Is this topic going to be dicussed during the conference?
There was a panel discussion about everyday sustainability led by Mary Markman, PhD.-student of Aarhus School of Architecture. We didn’t get a lot of natural sciences representatives in the conference though.

Do you want to attract students to the conference activities?
There was a pre-conference event for undergraduate students I arranged on Wednesday, where students from my class, digital design and from the University of Southern Denmark participated. Afterwards René Sørensen and Abdul Dube  organized a worshop about Zine Factory. Students as members of this projects will help gathering data about what is going at the workshops and lectures during the conference.

The Rethink Participatory Cultural Citizenship conference is the first step for academics and local practitioners to find a common view on Aarhus as an European Capital of Culture. Today wraps up the conference which aims to set a common ground for further discussion and events as Aarhus University and Aarhus 2017 Committee begin their lead up to 2017. Jutland Station will be continuing coverage of Aarhus as a cultural capital – keep an eye out for interviews, project reviews, events, and a critical eye on culture in Jutland.  

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