Syria/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.3 Cultural policy objectives

Strategies and objectives of the public cultural sector in Syria are highlighted through different chapters of this study. However reading the new development on cultural policies objectives requires light to be shed on the newly developed private and independent sectors. Though the independent sector is very new and has not created its history and traditions yet, and despite the difficulties of working in it, it is an actor that we cannot ignore when we pursue the development of the cultural policy discourse and the trend.

The following description of the civil cultural section depends on surveillance and a variety of examples and case studies. It's mostly considered "a description that cultural participants and Syrian artists agree on for the benefit of the relationship between artists (individuals and institutions) and the political authority in Syria." Since the year 2000, particularly with the arrival of President Bashar Al Assad into power, the political authority has sought a new period of reconciliation with the independent Syrian artists, ending a long-term dispute. Before the year 2000 there were two types of artists; independent, and those working within the political system and official media. Independent artists had had no connection at all with the political authority. After the year 2000 the political regime and its authoritative body, specifically those in the ruling level, have worked to build a strong and solid alliance with the artists. Thus, the Syrian community and moreover, the international community have changed their views on the political regime in Syria.

As a result, a new phenomenon was born: "The Shepherd Model" for cultural policies which prevailed inside the artistic and cultural life in Syria. Those directly responsible for creating personal relations with the artists were the second generation of the political authoritative body; those who belonged to the ruling political, economic, and security class in Syria. They constituted a network of mostly closed relations described as friendly and intimate for the benefit and coexistence of both sides. Therefore, artists gained fair support which didn't require any limitations or restrictions on projects or content, and didn't require them to be fully loyal or obedient. Instead, they were permitted to lead positive criticism of the authority (Al-Dumari newspaper - Ali Farzat, which was later shut down by the political authority). On the other side, artists were thankful to the regime, and most importantly convinced that it was more open and modernized, which had a great impact on the Syrian public opinion and helped to legitimize political power inheritance.

Along with the start of the revolution and considering the revolutionary movement and opponents as enemies by the government, a lot of artists have visibly joined the revolution with no hesitation. They were seeing the support they had received during the past ten years as their right and not “a favor” and that it was normality that artists would have abundant production opportunities in their countries. They also considered the support given to them by the State as a kind of “social responsibility” especially that they would actually receive it through trade companies allied with the political authority. 

This image resembles a general structure with a presence of exceptions.

The official bulletins that form the objectives of the non-governmental organizations cultural policies are:

  • Providing academic and field researches and studies that are necessary in cultural planning and building intellectual and cultural projects that are compatible with the needs of the new society.

  • Developing cultural policies and the main intentions of arts and culture on the national level to blend the definition of culture in the development process.

  • Publicizing civil characteristics and the rule of law.

  • Peaceful transformation.

  • Contributing to building a Syrian civil society.

  • Activating the independent artistic movement.

  • Defending informational freedoms by different materials of informational work.

New terms started to appear and spread in the Syrian cultural life and policies giving the cultural work, in the first place, a developmental attribute that links the cultural development to the socioeconomic development, seeks to establish dialogue with different categories of the local community, and tries to transform the cultural action to working programs on strategic dimensions. Accordingly, the basic pillars forming NGOs cultural policy objectives are as follows:

  • Promotion of Syrian Art and Artists: promotion is considered the objective of some Syrian institutions at local, Arab or international levels; example: Ayyam Gallery.

  • Youth Support: youth support attempts started to be a key inevitable headline in any statement of decision-makers in Syria and activists of all sectors of culture. Whoever observes the policy of the General Secretariat of Damascus Capital of Arab Culture 2008 notices that this is a main pillar of the year. The Syria Trust for Development is, as well, an important model for the cultural programs specified to support the youth.

  • Capacity Building: rehabilitation and training are an important axis for governmental and non-governmental cultural organizations in Syria. This concept started to develop to change from being mere workshops and courses proposed by the Ministry of Culture annually to integrated work programs designed so as to match basic needs of cultural domain.

  • Interactive Approach: since 2000, independent working groups, led by Dr. Marie Elias, started to introduce the interactive approach to the creative action, changing theater, in the first place, from conventional spaces to more lively places, so that the interactive concept is introduced to a wider range of work domains and directed to different groups and segments, according to the project and its purpose (rural population, school students, librarians, juveniles etc).

  • Local Communities: in the cultural work in Syria, local communities turn to be a partner in research, politicization and building programs. Communication channels between the cultural sector and local communities are still primitive, but it has big potential to future development. Cultural institutions started to move towards specific social segments (Syrian Funds for Rural Development – Syrian Commission for Family Affairs).

We also notice that, in the recent years, the Ministry of Culture has focused on conducting activities in the Northern Region of Syria, which was neglected because the culture work was concentrated in the Capital and a few big Syrian cities.

Cultural Policies Assessment Standards and Mechanism

No clear and transparent standards are applied in Syria to monitor and evaluate the cultural policies and their execution strategies. The Country Five-year plans and the annual progress reviews and the final revision of it, are the only way to monitor the executive programs supposed to be developed by the various Ministries and Bodies.

Chapter published: 06-05-2016