Artists as agents of change. Civil society engagement and foreign cultural policy in the Tunisian transformation process

by Meike Lettau  //  LONGFORM

University of Hildesheim

Dr. Meike Lettau is academic associate at the Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim and coordinator of the Graduate School “Performing Sustainability. Cultures and Development in West Africa,” which is implemented in cooperation with the University of Maiduguri (Nigeria) and the University of Cape Coast (Ghana). In 2019, she completed her PhD on the topic “Artists as Agents of Change? Foreign Cultural Policy and Civil Society Engagement in Transformation Processes” at the University of Hildesheim. She was Research Fellow in the German-Tunisian research project “Tunisia in Transition” at the University of Passau and has worked for various cultural institutions in Germany and abroad (Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan Pune, KHOJ International Artists’ Association, ARThinkSouthAsia, Cultural Innovators Network [CIN], Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations [ifa], Internationale Gesellschaft der bildenden Künste [IGBK]).

Artistic activism is one strategy for change towards democracy in transformation processes. In Tunisia, political uprisings began in 2010, leading to countrywide protests and the fall of the dictatorship. Artists and cultural activists have been socio-political actors defining new formats of artistic expression and new roles – as a strategic, constructive, and reflective civil society. This shift is analysed by taking the example of three contemporary art festivals in public space (Dream City, De Colline en Colline, and Interference).

Furthermore, German foreign cultural policy and the Goethe-Institut also supported democratic movements, thus a reorientation of policies was implemented due to new tasks, challenges, and opportunities. This study shows that the oft-demanded approach of cooperation in international cultural cooperation must be reconsidered in transformation processes. For this reason, a paradigm shift in foreign cultural policy advocates the development of cooperation towards ownership of local cultural actors.

A society undergoing a complex process of political and social transformation during a transition to democracy is shaped by a wide range of actors and movements. Artistic activism is one strategy for change towards democracy. In Tunisia, political uprisings began in 2010, triggered by the self-immolation of a vegetable seller, in which the people demanded freedom, dignity, and justice (Perthes 2011:161), thus leading to countrywide protests and the fall of the dictatorship.[1] Artists have been socio-political actors in the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, critically reflecting and evaluating the political and social situation through artistic creation, testing boundaries and pointing out social grievances. Art production was shifted to the public space, which was rarely accessible under the dictatorship, and new formal languages were implemented in numerous actions. In this way, a contribution was made to the democratic development of Tunisia. Schneider (2014:26) ascribes to artists an accompanying function during the Arab uprisings and Anranter et al. (2016:116) state: “[T]he arts have once more become a driver for revolutionary interventions in the Arab world and beyond, questioning ruling regimes and value settings.” Masri (2017:51) also describes: “[A]rt forms were powerful tools that gave substantive, symbolic, and organisational force to the revolution.” Thus, this study argues that artists and cultural activists, as part of a strategic, constructive, and reflexive civil society, can contribute via artistic processes in the Tunisian transformation process.

The Arab uprisings as a historical caesura also opened up new tasks, challenges, and opportunities in the field of international cultural cooperation and German foreign cultural policy to support the democratic movements. The Goethe-Institut claims that “cultural actors are not only seismographs, but also protagonists of social change” (Becker et al. 2011:2, translation by the author). The uprisings and the changed local context required a reorientation of German foreign cultural policy. Numerous projects have been initiated since 2011 and framework agreements have been developed at the political level to actively support the socio-political transformation process and democratisation in Arab countries. In its framework concept of the so-called transformation partnership, the Goethe-Institut, as a cultural policy actor and the largest German intermediary organisation in the cultural sector, defines its aim as “identifying and committing culturally specific ways of promoting democracy” (Becker et al. 2011:2, translation by the author). The reduction of structural deficits and the rapid creation of offers in the transformation process should be promoted. Current discourses on foreign cultural policy show that the changed global context – such as the transformation processes that began in Arab countries in 2010/11 but also current post-colonial debates – is prompting political decision-makers and cultural actors to rethink international support within the framework of foreign cultural policy in concepts, framework conditions, structures and goals. Wagner (2018:245f., translation by the author) postulates in this respect: “My argument is that the credo of German foreign cultural policy, indeed its mantra, can no longer do justice to Germany’s current situation in global and European politics and that too little effort is being made to redefine the relationship between autonomous cultural work and Germany’s interests.” Therefore, the study investigates the role of the Goethe-Institut and the need for a paradigm shift of foreign cultural policy to explicitly support democratic movements. This means also questioning the existing agenda of self-representation and promoting an image of Germany abroad, thus recognizing the interests of artists and cultural activists in partner countries.

Accordingly, the first part this study aims to examine the socio-political role of artists as agents of change and the second part examines the role of German foreign cultural policy in the Tunisian transformation process. On the one hand, the research investigates to what extent artists define themselves as agents of change in the transformation process, the socio-political agenda and methods of art festivals, and the existing correlations between artistic action and socio-political transformation process. On the other hand, the contribution of German foreign cultural policy to the transformation process in the context of democratisation, the strategies and approaches of the Goethe-Institut in context of the transformation partnership, and the need for a paradigm shift of foreign cultural policy towards progressively supporting democratisation processes will be analysed.

Cultural activists as socio-political actors
The term transformation is used in many academic disciplines with different definitions, yet its use is often viewed critically. The term was mainly developed during research on transformation processes in Eastern Europe and South America in the 1980s and is defined as a transition to democratic systems (Merkel 2010:66). In political science, a broad definition is currently mostly used; the term transformation “has no specific meaning, but is … used as an umbrella term for all forms, time structures and aspects of system change and system transition …. It includes regime change, regime shift, system change, system shift or transition” (Merkel 2010:66).

In order to describe artistic actions and cultural actors in transformation processes, different terms and definitions are used, which usually go beyond the classical concept of the artist. With regard to the Arab region, terms such as cultural activists (British Council 2012:5; Dragićević Šešić et al. 2005:11; Knoblich 2015:56), cultural operators as activists (Xuereb 2013:220), citizen activism (Jensen et al. 2014:46), social activism (Deane 2013:16; Spath et al. 2014:105), or artivism (Baladi 2013:126) are used. These terms have in common that they define mostly informal ways of action and commitment to certain goals and intentions, which often include socio-political dimensions. The actors are convinced of an existing potential for change and a certain scope of action (Becker 2013). In the following definition, cultural activism aims to contribute to socio-political change through artistic approaches. This includes not only resistance under the dictatorship, but also a socio-political agenda and active participation, as defined in the Rabble (2019) dictionary:

Cultural activism is a mash up of artistic expression and activism grounded in the need for social justice and political change. These performances and direct actions focus on creating social change by working outside of structured organizing. It plays directly off of shared cultural beliefs, questioning and spoofing ideas that are taken as ‘natural.’ It reflects the unique culture, creative sensibilities and experiences of the activists involved. Rather than placing an issue at the centre of a campaign, cultural organizing focuses on art and culture. Activists can then use the shared tools of their community like language, tradition and stories to fight oppression.

Cultural activists attribute to themselves an active role in the transformation process and locate themselves as new socio-political actors. The concept of cultural activists thus represents an extension of the classical definition of the artist. Furthermore, it encompasses a broad group of actors who are socio-politically active, who use creative means and formats for this purpose, but who do not necessarily define themselves as artists or are not formally trained as artists. The term, however, remains predominantly an attribution from outside, through which an attempt is made to describe the new cultural phenomena in the transformation processes. The actors themselves usually continue to describe themselves as artists, but emphasize their socio-political agenda. In the transformation process, cultural activism is mainly found to be non-institutional in the areas of the individual (e.g., individual artists) and collective engagement (e.g., artist group, cultural association).

Qualitative methodology and selection of case studies
The research design is based on a qualitative field research method according to Grounded Theory with guiding question-based expert interviews and participant observation as survey instruments. Grounded Theory aims to generate a theory based on qualitative field research data (Glaser et al. 2008:39f.). A total of twenty expert interviews with twenty-six people were conducted between 2013 and 2018 in five field research phases (2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018). The interviews have been coded, categorised, and analysed according to Grounded Theory with the “method of constant comparison” (Glaser et al. 2008:107, translation by the author) in order to generate a theory and at the same time ensure comprehensibility of the analysis. Therefore, a theoretical coding was implemented (Flick 2010:387ff.), oriented towards the thematic areas of the interview guidelines and supplemented with further codes for new aspects concerning the research questions that arose during the research process. It is therefore both deductive and inductive. Additionally, the researcher actively entered the field through participant observation, also referred to as “going native” with the aim of “gaining an inner perspective” (Flick 2010:287, 291, translation by the author).

Art festivals were selected as they showcase important new phenomena of artistic processes in public space that occur during the transformation process. Therefore, they provide a substantial case study to investigate the contribution of artists and cultural activists in the socio-political and democratic transformation process. Based on a mapping of artistic projects in Tunisia, three case studies of interdisciplinary, independent art festivals in public space in Tunisia have been selected: Dream City (2007–2017), De Colline en Colline (2013), and Interference (2016–2018). All three festivals pursue a socio-political agenda in the transformation process and take place in public space over a period of two to five days, featuring Tunisian and international artists. The selection is based on the following common criteria: mediation and presentation of art in public space, socio-political objectives, emergence in one of the transformation phases (liberalisation, transition, consolidation), and experiences of cooperation with the Goethe-Institut. Due to their specific time of origin, they represent independent art festivals in the three phases of a transformation process and thus enable a detailed, phase-specific analysis. Dream City was first realised in 2007 before the uprisings during the liberalisation phase and has taken place continuously since then. De Colline en Colline was implemented once in 2013 during the transition phase and Interference is a phenomenon of the post-revolutionary[2] consolidation phase that has taken place since 2016.

Liberalisation phase Transition `phase Consolidation phase
Until 2011 2011–2014 Since 2014
Dream City (2007, 2010) Dream City (2012, 2013)

De Colline en Colline (2013)

Dream City (2015, 2017)

Interference (2016, 2018)

Figure 1: Transformation phases and years of implementation of the festivals (Own elaboration)

To analyse German foreign cultural policy, a case study analysis of the Goethe-Institut as the main actor of German foreign cultural policy is used as research design. German foreign cultural policy follows the agenda to explicitly support democratic movements in Tunisia. Foreign agencies can substantially support local artists and cultural activists, contributing to democratisation, and thus play an important role. Therefore, it is expedient to analyse this international perspective in addition to the local art festivals.

Art festivals in public space: Dream City, De Colline en Colline, Interference
Art festivals in public space take a new role in the transformation process. In the following, the three investigated art festivals are introduced briefly in short profiles.

Dream City has been organized by the Tunisian association L’Art Rue since 2007. The biennial in public space in the medina of Tunis is considered to be the largest contemporary art festival in North Africa. The Tunisian initiators and choreographers Selma Ouissi and Sofiane Ouissi describe the festival as an “act of reflection and creation on a contemporary aesthetic and the role of the artist in society” (Dream City 2017, translation by the author). In 2007, the first Dream City festival took place despite the difficult conditions during the dictatorship, such as censorship (Machghoul 2012:132), with the aim of creating alternatives for society and realizing a connection between art and the people. The work was organized in the underground and the idea of the festival was spread by word of mouth. This made it possible to reach the public despite repression (Beauvallet 2017). In 2017, twenty-seven Tunisian and foreign artists and artist groups from the fields of dance, visual arts, video, theatre, music, literature, and performance took part in the festival October 4-8. On individual routes, so-called parcours, visitors were guided by arrows and maps through the medina to places with artistic interventions. Abandoned houses, former hostels, rooftop terraces, historical monuments, and the streets and alleys of the medina became venues for the festival. The themes ranged from social and political problems, such as the confrontation of marginalised groups to the future of the medina and reflections on cultural heritage (L’art rue 2017).

The art festival De Colline en Colline was initiated by the Tunisian artist Faten Rouissi and implemented by the Tunisian association 24h pour l’Art Contemporain (48 HPAC), which was founded in January 2012, in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut (Rouissi 2018). The festival featured twenty-three artists from different countries and was implemented in March 2013 over three weekends, twenty-four hours a day, on three selected inhabited hills in different regions of the country: in Sidi Bou Saïd, an artists’ village near Tunis, and in Takrouna and Chénini, Berber villages in southern Tunisia. This decentralized approach demonstrated the festival’s focus on organizing cultural events in remote regions of Tunisia. The focus of the festival was on the promotion and presentation of contemporary art of different disciplines, such as visual arts, theatre, dance, and music, as well as the artistic interpretation of life in the heights. Furthermore, the festival aimed to generate access to art for the population and the public, to promote interaction processes between artists and residents of the hills as well as national and international exchange between artists (Association 24h pour l’Art Contemporain 2012; Association 24h pour l’Art Contemporain et al. 2013a; 2013b).

The festival Interference is the first light art festival in Africa and aims to provide access to contemporary art for the population and to claim the public space of the medina (Gharbi 2018; Pelz 2018). The artistic direction of the festival lies with a Tunisian-German team, the German curator Bettina Pelz and the Tunisian architect Aymen Gharbi. The unique aspect of this festival is that it is implemented exclusively at night from 6 p.m. to midnight in the medina of Tunis, a time when there are usually no cultural activities (Gharbi 2018). Using a community-based approach, the festival sees itself at the interface between artists, volunteers, residents of the medina, and institutions (Interference 2018). Further goals are access to international networks and the establishment of an African network in the field of light art (Pelz 2018). In the second edition in 2018, forty Tunisian and foreign artists and artist groups participated September 5-9. The festival is characterised by a high degree of openness to the process. The festival’s approach is based on the promotion of young cultural operators and volunteer work: in 2016, a total of two hundred volunteers were involved in its realisation.

Types of civil society in processes of transformation
In the Arab region, civil society is often considered a key actor in shaping places of freedom of expression and democratic spaces – in the sense of bottom-up processes – and, according to Tocqueville’s concept, represents “schools of democracy” (Keane et al. 2015:447, translation by the author). “[T]he transition in Tunisia shows that civil society institutions and organisations can play a crucial role in a country’s democratisation, and that such a process, even under difficult circumstances, can lead to free elections and the peaceful transfer of power” (Anderson 2017:XVI). Martin (2015:22) also defines Tunisian civil society as an “effective agent of change” and states that civil society organisations “play a role in making subtle and observable, rather than recordable, changes to a society. The numerous awareness-raising, ‘sensibilisation’ groups have helped Tunisians make the transition from subjects to citizens and understand the meaning of citizenship“ (Martin 2015:24). Ekiert (2015:202, translation by the author) defines civil society-led transitions[3] as a strategy that is characterized by non-violent approaches “and in which a broad opposition movement forces the ruling elite to open up and reform the political system …. The explicit goal of such transitions is the establishment of a plural, open and democratic political system.”

Keane et al. (2015:450ff.) define in their concept of civil society in the transformation of political regimes three forms of civil society engagement within three phases of the transformation process: (1) strategic civil society during liberalisation, (2) constructive civil society during transition, and (3) reflective civil society during consolidation.

The liberalisation phase is characterized by the decline of the dictatorial regime. In the case of Tunisia, this occurred due to internal systemic causes and a legitimacy crisis of the dictatorial regime, resulting in a mobilization of broad sectors of society and mass protests (Merkel et al. 2015:733f.). Within the phase of liberalisation, during the repression of the dictatorship, the capacity of civil society to act plays a role in the opposition due to the absence or lack of existence of opposition parties (Keane et al. 2015:450). Brückner (2015:95, translation by the author) argues that “[s]ocial movements and people power, such as those observed during the Arab Spring” are indeed temporary phenomena, but “at the beginning of democratic transitions they play a role in the calculations of authoritarian regime elites and democratic counter-elites.” Civil society can exert strategic influence on the transformation process if it is able to act, react, and assert itself. The broader the civil society actors are positioned in the society as a whole, the stronger their influence. Keane et al. (2015:451, translation by the author) describe strategic civil society during the liberalisation phase “as most conducive to democratization.”

The second phase, the transition, begins with the fall of the old regime in 2011 and ends in Tunisia in 2014 with the legitimisation of a new constitution (Merkel et al. 2015:735). In the new “power-political vacuum … a broad corridor of action opens up for civil society actors” (Keane et al. 2015:451, translation by the author), since “old norms and institutions are no longer or only partially valid, while new rules have yet to be established” (Merkel et al. 2015:735, translation by the author). This phase is characterized by a constructive civil society. Due to the loss of legitimacy of the old institutions and a redistribution of power, civil society is ascribed the ability to act in the field of building democratic structures and institutions. Civil society has “an important role to play in the constitutional construction of the new democracy. The transition is the point of culmination of the constructive civil society. In this phase it can influence state policy more strongly than ever before and afterwards” (Keane et al. 2015:451, translation by the author) and has greater influence than in the consolidation phase (Merkel et al. 2015:735). In the transition phase, it is beneficial if there is already previous experience in civil society or a generally positive attitude towards democratic practices and systems and the power of former elites is limited (Merkel et al. 1997:36ff.). It is also characterized by great uncertainty, as it is decided whether democratic consolidation takes place (Merkel et al. 2015:735f.).

The consolidation phase is characterized by an accomplished regime change, in the case of Tunisia by the establishment of a democracy with the adoption of a new constitution. With the adoption of the constitution, the right to culture is described in the self-definition of the state of Tunisia and enshrined in law. In addition, Article 31 guarantees freedom of opinion and prohibits censorship, Article 41 protects intellectual property and Article 32 the right of access to information (Sprachendienst des Deutschen Bundestages 2014:9, 11). In this phase, the relationship between the state and civil society is characterized by a new democratic understanding of the state (Keane et al. 2015:452). Civil society operates in the new democracy legitimized by the constitution, in which “the most important political rules of the game are standardized and the central political institutions are established” (Merkel et al. 2015:736, translation by the author). However, “a reflexive civil society sees itself not as an alternative to, but rather as a complement to the democratic state” (Keane et al. 2015:452, translation by the author). It takes on social tasks outside the sphere of responsibility of the state and asserts a critical independence. In this phase, the scope of action of civil society actors is reduced, since the state is increasingly being given legitimacy (Keane et al. 2015). In conclusion, it should be mentioned that civil society has significant influence but is not the sole agent of the consolidation (Schmitter 1997:240).

Based on the analysis of three art festivals in Tunisia in the period from 2007 to 2018, cultural activists as civil society actors assume different socio-political roles in the three phases of the transformation process (liberalisation, transition, consolidation). In the liberalisation phase (until 2011) with the collapse of the dictatorial regime, strategic civil society with a very high capacity to act takes on a role in the opposition. Cultural activists use art as an act of resistance and for the mobilization and implementation of freedom of expression. In this way, their goals harmonize with those of political uprisings. The actions of cultural activists in this phase are subversive. In the transition phase (2011 to 2014), which begins with the uprisings and ends with the adoption of a new constitution, a new scope for action is opened up. Constructive civil society increases the capacity of cultural activists to act by removing the restrictions of dictatorship and creating new freedoms. Art is a means for democratic debate and social change in the democratisation process. The goals of cultural activists pluralize in this phase. This can be seen, for example, in the founding of many new associations. In the consolidation phase (since 2014) the type of reflexive civil society dominates. In this phase, the capacity of civil society actors to act is reduced again, as state actors gradually assume responsibilities. Cultural activists take on a shaping function away from the responsibilities of the state and a role in building a democratic culture.[4]

The role of art festivals and cultural activists as agents of change
The study shows that art festivals and cultural activists as agents of change play a central role in the Tunisian transformation process. Culture and democratisation processes are inherently linked, with cultural activists seeing democratisation as a mission in its own right and using artistic formats to create forums for exchange and dialogue. Accordingly, they can use artistic approaches to contribute to socio-political, democratic change. Cultural activists are new, alternative actors in the transformation process, who in this very process achieve a capacity to act and acquire a new socio-political relevance. One insight here is that the endogenous development of activism by local cultural actors is a central aspect for the unfolding of the so-called soft power of the arts. Starting from individual artistic action, cultural activists develop new, informal modes of action based on collective processes that are located outside of state action. Cultural activists define their actions themselves as active socio-political participation in the transformation process. Thus they can be both actors and carriers of the transformation process, but they do not act as direct political actors. In the transformation process, the classical concept of the artist is thus expanded to a broad definition of the cultural activist.

Politicization and the emergence of the art festival
The empirical results of the study show that art festivals as formats assume an innovative function in the transformation process by pursuing a socio-political agenda based on artistic ideas. A key dimension is the emergence of the art festival as part of the politicization of the actors in the transformation process. Two different forms can be identified here, which differ according to the transformation phase: in the liberalisation phase, art festivals are created as an action against censorship and restricted freedom of expression. They take an active role and usually act subversively. In the transition and consolidation phases, the emergence is predominantly a reaction to structural deficits in the cultural sector to promote cultural production. Festivals usually take on a reactive role after the end of a dictatorship.[5]

The first form of politicization in the context of art festivals becomes clear by investigating the example of Dream City, which developed in 2007 during the liberalisation phase. The concrete trigger for Dream City was a call on Radio Tunis Chaîne Internationale (RTCI), in which Selma Ouissi called on all artists to take part in a peaceful march for the status of artists in Tunisia. This call was censored live (Dunoyer 2018). This restriction of freedom of expression led to the concrete development of the festival, as Dunoyer (2018, translation by the author) describes:

And then they told themselves that this is not possible, that public space is completely confiscated and that we don’t even have the right to take a walk in the street. That’s when the idea was born and we decided to develop a festival that takes place for the citizens and in the streets. In the beginning Dream City was exactly that, a choreographed, guided route for the citizens, where people meet, where there are paths where people transfer their energy from one work of art to another, passing by each other, talking to each other and doing everything that the dictatorship forbids. In fact, that was it.

This example shows that censorship in the liberalisation phase of a transformation process can indirectly contribute as a catalyst to the emergence of art festivals. Furthermore, due to the restricted freedom of expression, underground work is relevant in this phase, since “the public space is completely confiscated” (Dunoyer 2018, translation of the author). The first meetings to organise the festival took place in secret. Dunoyer (2018) describes the work as a great risk and challenge for the participating artists of the first edition in 2007. A partial willingness to take risks on the part of the artists was a prerequisite in the creation phase.

In contrast to this, in the phases of transition and consolidation, a second form of politicization exists in which art festivals emerge as a response to structural deficits in the cultural sector in order to facilitate cultural production, like the festivals De Colline en Colline and Interference. Rouissi (2013) describes a lack of galleries and museums as a relevant factor in this emergence: “This event was a response to a real lack of infrastructures for contemporary art and for this sort of projects. A kind of laboratory for artists and the public space in Tunisia.” Pelz (2018) also cites the lack of curators in Tunisia and the lack of cooperation between artists and curators as a starting point for Interference.

International exchange as catalyst for the development of new formats
Furthermore, international exchange is very relevant as a catalyst and vehicle for the development of cultural formats in the transformation process. Impulse factors through international exchange, circular processes with different formats, and network building are central elements in the development process of art festivals. Especially the exchange of personnel is a decisive factor. Dream City was developed by the Tunisian artists Ouissi and Ouissi, De Colline en Colline was conceived by the Tunisian artist Rouissi, and Interference was based on a joint idea development by the German curator Pelz and the Tunisian architect Gharbi. Although the ideas for the three festivals were consequently developed by actors from Tunisia (despite partial co-development by external actors), international exchange was a decisive factor in the development process.

New methods of democratic participation
New methods of democratic participation are central phenomena of the three art festivals. This includes the appropriation of public space and approaches of decentralization; process-oriented, context-based, and interdisciplinary production; community building in art production and cultural mediation; and format development and structural development of art festivals.

Appropriation of public space and approaches of decentralization
One of the festivals’ methods is the appropriation of public space as a new space, since it could not be used as a space of expression and presentation before 2011. Art productions therefore took place predominantly in closed spaces (Dunoyer 2018; Rouissi 2018). “Before the revolution the important point was to occupy the public space” (Dunoyer 2013). After the uprisings, public space became the central site of art production and distribution: “When the street produces common sense, the public space becomes political; when a work of art meets a crucial moment of the collective awareness, it becomes its messenger, and the image becomes a symbol. It is important to note that the street is at this moment playing a leveraging role in the changes occurring in the societies of the Arab world” (Dussollier 2012:27).

The selection of new, public spaces for implementing art festivals is an important element in the transformation process. The festival organizers consciously decided against institutional places and closed spaces, which under the dictatorship were mostly visited by elite circles, in order to guarantee access and use of places of everyday life: “For us it is really important because this is the only way to have art in situ, to get the art more close to the citizen” (Dunoyer 2013). Another relevant aspect of the transformation process is decentralization strategies aimed at creating access to cultural activities in remote parts of the country and outside the capital.

Process-oriented, context-based, and interdisciplinary production
A long-term, processual, and context-based production process is also a central element in the transformation process. Dream City describes the process as more important than the result (Dunoyer 2013). Same states Bruckbauer (2013:17) from De Colline en Colline: “In my experience the result of collaboration is not foreseeable and often is even very far removed from what was initially expected. The ‚final product‘ thus progressively lost importance whereas the ‘path of design,’ the ‘process of creation’ gained importance so that the ‘items’ presented during the 24-hour event are rather to be interpreted as the ‘remains’ of the proceeding work process.”

Another aspect is the interdisciplinary opening of the production process by involving and exchanging ideas with experts from other fields. Overcoming the isolation of the artist, both within the art sector between artists of different disciplines and externally between artists and the public, is described as a new method, especially in the process of the festival’s creation (Dunoyer 2018). The interdisciplinary opening thus takes place both at the level of experts and artists, who work together in the festivals across different disciplines and thus generate new networks.

Community Building in art production and cultural mediation
Community building can be identified in all festivals on two levels: in the production process, predominantly through artistically participatory work with the inhabitants of the festival venues and in the mediation process with the festival visitors. Community building in the festival team is an important aspect. This will be analysed below on an internal and an external level: (1) the festival team and (2) the population. The latter level can in turn be divided into residents of the festival locations and festival visitors.

(1) Tunisian youth in particular is characterised by a strong volunteer culture in the post-revolutionary phase, for example, more than one hundred volunteers supported Dream City in 2017. Apart from the core team, Interference involved over two hundred volunteers in 2018, who showed interest in working with artists and were selected in advance through interviews. Team building processes were implemented as a core method. For six months, the festival team met for a monthly workshop and received further training in the areas of cultural production, administration, and mediation (Gharbi 2018). Rouissi (2018) describes for the Festival De Colline en Colline another aspect of the internal mechanisms within the festival team. She observed a lack of cooperation among the artists and among the organizers, as they had little experience of working together within their groups. This posed a challenge in the transformation process, since teamwork, organisation forms, and civil society involvement were still in the process of emergence.

(2) Furthermore, community building among the population is a relevant aspect of the festivals. Participatory processes with residents of the festival venues are highly relevant in the transformation process. These include the process of cooperation, the involvement of residents in artistic and organisational processes, and mediation and communication processes. “Because we have a big work together with the citizens. Before going to the places where we will work in the public space we go to the neighborhood. We speak, we present Dream City, we take coffee in the neighborhood, we discuss with the storekeepers there, with everybody” (Ben Salah 2013). The festival De Colline en Colline focused on creating access to art for the population: “Contemporary art is perceived as being elitist. How to make it accessible to a wider public and contribute towards preparing a better cultural future for Tunisia?” (Rouissi 2013:14).

Another level is the community building processes through the active involvement of festival visitors, such as exchange and communication processes. A common feature of all festivals is the generation of a new communication forum, which acts as a community-building factor in society. By bringing artists, residents, and festival visitors together, art festivals initiate exchange processes between different actors. Community building is thus of central relevance in the transformation process, as it is part of the generation of networks and the strengthening of cooperation capabilities of different groups of actors. At the same time, both residents and festival visitors are new target groups in the transformation process.

Format development and structure formation of art festivals
Format development and structure formation are central to enabling art festivals to play a sustainable role in the transformation process. The genesis of art festivals is characterized in particular by the relevance of processuality. They develop processually, usually in correlation with previous projects of the initiators, which are crucial on the way to their emergence (Gharbi 2018; Dunoyer 2018; Rouissi 2018). The festivals show a development from a one-off project to the establishment of a recurring, long-term format, such as a festival. The establishment of a format ensures regularity and a recurring element. In conclusion, art festivals are a progressive format in Tunisia’s transformation process by contributing to the promotion of cultural production, the development and professionalization of the cultural sector, and the promotion of democratic participation. As formats, art festivals provide new incentives and impulses for cultural activists and society and represent fields of engagement and facilitation in transformation processes. They operate both at the level of the individual and in the structural field.

Deficits of state cultural policy
However, the analysis also clearly shows that despite the relevance of art festivals in the transformation process, the ability of cultural actors to act is often limited due to a lack of local cultural policy support. Public cultural policy especially lacks an implementation of structural support mechanisms that comprehensively integrate independent, civil society actors. Funding in particular is difficult to organize and secure; this is also associated with dependencies on foreign donors (Dunoyer 2018; Kausch 2013:8; Rouissi 2018). It is mainly in the transition phase that an enormous increase in foreign financial resources in Tunisia can be observed (Kausch 2013:8). The festivals also criticize a lack of their own funding structures in Tunisia, a lack of public support and a lack of interest of state authorities (Dunoyer 2018; Rouissi 2018). Due to a lack of financing mechanisms, the festivals develop compensation strategies and work with volunteers and donations. Cooperation with the state[6] is mainly limited to formal permits and to some extent also to the provision of electricity and water (El Mekki 2018, Rouissi 2018). El Mekki (2018) of Dream City speaks of a balancing act in the relationship: “The idea is always to not break the exchange, or the discussion between us as a festival and the government.”

The desire for state support shows that after the uprisings, festival actors are generally willing to cooperate with the Ministry of Culture, despite previously subversive actions under the dictatorship and a conscious demarcation from the state. Nevertheless, even after the uprisings, one can still assume that there are reservations about state influence on content or even censorship. In summary, the relations are based on strict hierarchies, lack of transparency and trust, and a reciprocal granting of scopes for action.

 Foreign cultural policy in transformation processes
In part two of the study, the contribution of German foreign cultural policy to the transformation process in the context of democratisation in Tunisia is analysed by taking the examples of the three art festivals. Cultural policy is the third pillar of German foreign policy alongside security and economic policy (Federal Foreign Office 2015; Maaß 2015:47). It aims to promote cultural exchange between Germany and other countries, for example through intermediary organisations such as the Goethe-Institut. The democratic transformation process in Tunisia represents a substantial case to rethink international support in foreign cultural policy and interests followed by certain countries. By establishing the transformation partnership in 2012, the Federal Foreign Office has reacted to the uprisings in Tunisia and initiated a new political framework concept to support democratisation and reform processes, as well as civil society and sub-state actors.

The Goethe-Institut is a visible player in the cultural scene in Tunisia. In the context of the uprisings of 2010/11, the Goethe-Institut Tunisia reacted by closing the institute at short notice and then adapting its work: “Our institute was closed until 17 January, three days after the revolution, after which we questioned and changed all previous plans following talks with our Tunisian partners” (Junghänel, according to Bloch 2013:65). The German intermediary organisation is characterized by the fact that it acts as a constant in the transformation process and has a high degree of flexibility in action and the ability to react promptly. After the uprisings of 2010/11, the work of the Goethe-Institut was given a new accent due to increased opportunities for action following the end of the dictatorship. The expanded approach is based on local needs and partnership-based cooperation instead of conventional cultural exchange with presentational character under the dictatorship. The commitment is implemented in the areas of qualification, participation and networking. Capacity building is a central support approach here. The strategies and approaches of the Goethe-Institut Tunisia strengthen local cultural activists through bottom-up processes in the endogenous development of cultural projects and formats. The promotion of civil society actors is seen as a central element in achieving sustainable change. The Goethe-Institut acts as a constant and reliable partner organisation for local cultural actors and assumes various roles in the transformation process, from sponsor to enabler and partner. However, the development of partnerships with local cultural activists is mostly not very strategic. The existence of a physical location of the institute is of high relevance in transition countries, as shown by the example of Tunisia.

 Roles of the Goethe-Institut: Sponsor, Enabler, Partner
Taking the engagement of the Goethe-Institut as an example, the multiple roles of the intermediary organisation in the transformation process are analysed. Therefore, the roles of sponsor, enabler, and partner are defined. Tunisian cultural activists see the role of the Goethe-Institut in practice primarily as a sponsor who provides additional or solely financial resources: “just (…) give[s] money for projects and the result” (anonymous interview partner 2014). However, this strong perception as a sponsor contradicts the self-image and claim of the Goethe-Institut, which is to be a partner that acts as a moderator, facilitator, and enabler and primarily offers immaterial support and expertise (Bohrer 2014). Especially in transformation processes, the mediation of the role away from the sponsor is of high relevance, as shown in the following three examples.

During the liberalisation phase, the Goethe-Institut acted as enabler at the Dream City festival, but implemented classic exchange formats and was perceived as a sponsor. During the transition phase, the role of the sponsor was predominant, with mainly financial contributions being made. In the consolidation phase, the Goethe-Institut was assigned a new role as a partner; the team was described as young and more open to new forms of cooperation (Dunoyer 2018; El Mekki 2018). However, the role of the sponsor remains. At the festival De Colline en Colline, the Goethe-Institut has the roles of sponsor, enabler, and partner, whereby the latter dominates according to the Goethe-Institut, since the project is explicitly developed jointly and the sponsoring was less prominent. The Goethe-Institut refuses to finance the festival on its own from the very beginning, and as a condition for the cooperation it set dialogue based on partnership as a condition for further developing the project idea and concept together. In the case of the festival Interference, the Goethe-Institut can be assigned the role of enabler and partner during the consolidation phase, as the festival is based on a workshop by the Goethe-Institut and the support of preparatory workshops to develop the festival. The role of the sponsor takes a back seat here.

Accordingly, it is clear that the role of the Goethe-Institut in the transformation process is gradually evolving from sponsor to enabler to partner, even if the role of the sponsor sometimes dominates among local cultural actors. Since the image of the sponsor does not correspond to the “self-image“ (Mirschberger 2018) of the Goethe-Institut, self-perception and external perception differ widely.

The need for a paradigm shift in foreign cultural policy: From cooperation towards local ownership
The interviewed Dream City stakeholders describe that, especially in the liberalisation phase, international cooperation in the artistic field could act as an indirect means of exerting pressure in order to obtain permission from the government for art events under the dictatorship. As Mumme (2006:143) argues, “cultural institutions of democratic states always have a subversive effect in authoritarian states.” In 2010, many European artists were invited to Dream City as a protective function, meaning permissions were successfully obtained under the threat of troubles for the Ben Ali regime with European embassies supporting the festivals (Dunoyer 2013; 2018), as El Mekki (2018) describes: “[O]k you’re not allowing the festival, ok but we’ll stop but then you have problems with different embassies like the French or German or English embassy who are paying the fees or funding for the artists to be here. And we were always pointing, ok you will have problems with them if we stop it. So these were the keys that helped also the festival to keep on with its program.” This shows the central relevance and potential of supporting foreign organisations for local cultural actors in the liberalisation phase. The Goethe-Institut plays the role of enabler in this process, but the cultural exchange itself is limited to representative aspects of German contributions and conveying an image of Germany.

In summary, it can be said that the Goethe-Institut’s mission to accompany the democratic uprisings in the Arab region is only partial, as the foreign actor’s commitment was only strengthened after the end of the dictatorship. During the liberalisation phase (until 2011), passive conventional cultural exchange was predominant. Active intervention in the transformation process was only implemented during the transition phase (2011 to 2014), with an expanded approach and new priorities. The transformation partnership, like many other political programs in the context of foreign cultural policy, is a reactive overall strategy to the political uprisings of 2010/11 (Bauer 2015:115) and therefore only begins in the transition phase (2011–2014) after the fall of the dictatorship. As the analysis shows, the political framework of the transformation partnership does not differentiate between the individual phases of a transformation process (liberalisation, transition, consolidation) and the specific needs in each of these. In order to support democratisation processes progressively and more actively, a necessary paradigm shift in foreign cultural policy is identified. Strategic, long-term support oriented to the respective phases of transformation is relevant in order to implement a clear political guidance through foreign cultural policy in socio-political transformation processes. That ensures targeted support in all phases of transformation, even under the dictatorship. Especially in the liberalisation phase, there is potential for a stronger external support to actively accompany transformation processes from the very beginning. The promotion of a strategic civil society in the liberalisation phase and of a constructive civil society in the transition phase is central to the determined promotion of democracy. As the consolidation phase progresses, Germany’s involvement diversifies. The importance of a foreign cultural policy steadily decreases during this phase, as actors in the partner country are able to take over the tasks themselves and increasingly have resources for this purpose. Furthermore, an explicit contextualization of the respective strategies of foreign cultural policy in transformation processes is always necessary due to the different conditions in the individual partner countries.

The results of this research show that, in the context of foreign cultural policy in the transformation process, it is highly relevant to support local cultural production in its genesis by promoting international cultural exchange and artist mobility. Through international exchange, decisive impulse factors are set for the initiation of cultural projects. Network formation and artist exchange are of great importance in this context and show that mobility within the framework of personnel exchange is particularly worthy of support. Under dictatorship, exchange abroad is central to supporting a strategic civil society. Adequate visa regulations for artists and cultural activists are a central criterion here. Furthermore, residency formats at home and abroad play an important role.

The promotion of capacity building is an effective instrument for professionalizing the cultural sector in the transformation processes. Supporting the development of multi-year formats can help build cultural infrastructure in the partner country and demonstrate long-term commitment. Active and strategic target group orientation and diversification of the partner landscape by involving new actors instead of working with the usual suspects are also part of the necessary paradigm shift. Grimm et al. (2015:205, translation by the author) recommend as a procedure, “an active recruitment of new democratically oriented partners,” with the aim of ensuring a diversity of actors. An active scouting process could play a role in identifying actors themselves. Foreign cultural policy can counteract elite continuities in transformation processes by contributing to the generation of new elites. Young cultural activists and actors in decentralized regions are important target groups here.

Deconstruction processes of foreign cultural policy
Deconstruction processes of foreign cultural policy represent a fundamental aspect for achieving lasting legitimacy for foreign engagement in transformation countries. The transmission of an image of Germany is based on the self-representation of Germany. This aspiration should be overcome in transformation processes, since local needs and processes and a strengthening of the interests of the actors in the partner country are of greater relevance than German interests. This includes developing a post-national program and thus gradual deconstructing the power of foreign actors. This is accompanied by a strengthening of the autonomy of local actors, including the extension of content-related, structural, and financial decision-making competencies to local partners. This integration in decision-making processes is a central element in implementing local ownership and structurally implementing the interests of both sides on an equal footing.

The oft-demanded approach of cooperation (Federal Foreign Office 2019:45; Hampel 2015:24) in international cultural cooperation must be reconsidered in transformation processes. For this reason, the paradigm shift in foreign cultural policy advocates the development of the concept of cooperation towards ownership of local cultural actors. This requires a reform of the structures of foreign cultural policy. Turning away from the transmission of an image of Germany, establishing post-national mechanisms and strengthening the autonomy of local actors are part of the required deconstruction processes of foreign cultural policy.

By implementing these proposals of a paradigm shift in foreign cultural policy, Germany could assume the role of a progressive pioneer in the field of international cultural cooperation, also in comparison to other European cultural mediators. Part of this process is “to develop a joint communication and cooperation model based on reciprocal exchange” (Ernst 2011:41, translation by the author). This would facilitate the implementation of international cultural cooperation with transformation countries based on local ownership.

In conclusion, the concept of cultural activists represents an extension of the classical definition of the artist. Cultural activists form a new group of socio-political actors in the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, contributing artistic approaches to the democratic movements as their explicit mission. The shift of artistic processes in public space and the development of new methods of democratic participation are key approaches that can be identified in context of emerging art festivals. As part of civil society, cultural activists take over (1) the role of a strategic civil society, with a very high capacity society during the liberalisation phase, operating subversively; (2) the role of a constructive civil society during the transition phase, with a new great scope for action; and (3) the role of a reflective civil society during the consolidation phase, shaping and building a democratic culture. Additionally, two forms of politicization in the emergence of art festivals have been identified: art festivals as an action against censorship and restricted freedom of expression in the liberalisation phase and art festivals as a reaction to structural deficits in the cultural sector to promote cultural production in the transition and consolidation phases.

International exchange is a key catalyst and vehicle for the development of art festivals in the Tunisian transformation process. Germany’s foreign cultural policy supported the democratisation with a new transformation partnership. The Goethe-Institut supported especially capacity building and the professionalization of the cultural sector, as well as partnership-based cooperation with Tunisian cultural activists based on local needs. Nevertheless, accompanying the democratic change is only implemented partially. A lack of strategic, long-term support oriented to all respective phases of transformation (liberalisation, transition, consolidation) and the specific needs in each of these, also under the dictatorship, was identified. Further, the roles of the Goethe-Institut remain diverse (sponsor, enabler, partner). Even though a development towards the role of partner can be observed, the image of sponsor remains.

Especially in democratic transformation processes, the local needs and interests of the partner country’s actors are key factors for a sustainable consolidation of a democracy. Thus, deconstructing the power of foreign actors and strengthening of the autonomy of local actors should be high on the agenda. This approach towards ownership of local cultural actors requires a reform of the structures and a paradigm shift in foreign cultural policy.

The results presented in this article are part of the author’s dissertation at the University of Hildesheim (Germany). The book in German can be ordered via Springer publishing:

[1] Historically, Tunisia achieved independence in 1956, having been a French protectorate since 1881. The following decades were politically marked by two dictatorial regimes: Bourguiba (1956–1987) and Ben Ali (1987–2011).

[2] In this work, the terms pre- and post-revolutionary are used as categories to describe the uprisings in 2010/11 and are temporally oriented to the fall of the regime and the overthrow of the dictator. It should be noted, however, that uprisings usually unfold in a processual way and can hardly be classified into separate categories.

[3] Civil society-led transitions do not always contribute to democratisation processes. Historical examples also show contrary developments (Ekiert 2015: 200).

[4] This phase model naturally remains only an approximation and serves as an ideal analytical model. Furthermore, the model is oriented towards a linear development of the transformation process with regard to the democratisation of a country, as in the case of Tunisia.

[5] This does not mean that the creation of art festivals is exclusively an action and reaction and is limited to the respective phases. In the case of the three festivals, however, this was analysed in this way.

[6] It should be emphasized that festival makers speak of different authorities in relation to the state, such as the state, the government, the ministry, or the mayor. There is no uniformity to be found.

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