When a lot of your conversations are about culture one way or another, a question that often comes up is “what do you actually mean by ‘culture’?”
The more it’s asked, the more thought it provokes – maybe I should have a dictionary definition ready for just this eventuality* – but actually what is interesting is that the question is a little different depending on where it is asked, and who is asking.
Yesterday Julia and I took the Cart Tablecloth, aka the Coventry Cultural Moments Map, up to Bell Green and we joined in with one of the many groups for whom culture is a reason to get out of the house; it’s what brings people together; the things that they do together; it is their shared activity.
If that sounds like it might overlap with a definition of “community”, perhaps that’s not a coincidence. The word ‘community’ seems to be mostly used these days to group people together by accidents of geographical location or ethnicity – I’m starting to think this does the word a disservice, taking the warmth and generosity, the humanity, out of it. To me, ‘community’ is about belonging; about finding the people and places that you have an affinity with; the places where you are comfortable; where you belong; your people**.
So, if community is the people with whom you belong, perhaps culture is what you do together to maintain those bonds that create the sense of belonging in the first place? The conversations you have, the ideas you share, the things (and memories) you make together, all those things – small and large – that keep your shared sense of belonging strong. And those bonds need work in order to remain current, supple and connective. But luckily that work – the culture – is generally enjoyable!
The Sewing Group at Bell Green Community Centre has been going for a long time. For many years it has acted as a place where you can bring your sewing project and be welcomed in. A place where there is conversation and tea, as well as sewing.
A community. Made and sustained by culture.
For some people it began as something to get them out of the house, to force them to make contact with other people, to have a conversation, do something, make something. But despite all the creative activity that goes on – all the things that get made – the women there characterise the club as, above all else, a place where friendships are made.
When people come together, and share stories, skills and companionship – that is culture. Where they make and build things for each other, for their friends and families, for the women at the refuge, for the babies born prematurely – that is community.
And a city that celebrates and shares culture and community: that makes together, and makes things for others, is surely a city of culture – isn’t it?
*There are quite a few, eg:
– the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
– the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
– the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.
– the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations.
**Who, of course, might share a geographical location or ethnicity, or not. Younger and cooler people than me might also use the word ‘tribe’ here…