Art and cultural institutions often design their offerings for an audience that might describe itself as well educated and maybe even academically inclined. When communicating these offerings, there is a preference to use classical verbal elements (Greek, Latin) or modern internationalisms (translingual loanwords) are used to describe current phenomena. The substantive themes of these offerings—readily described as ‘discursive’ or ‘critical’—are frequently abstract and avoid too much proximity to practical everyday matters so as not to be condemned as ‘banal.’ Not uncommonly, these offerings are also difficult for the audience to understand, thus separating the wheat of those who understand from the chaff of those who don’t, even within the target group. This form of exclusion or differentiation is called social ‘distinction’ and has been extensively explored and described by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, among others.
By contrast, when people talk about ‘low-threshold’ opportunities, they often mean an attempt to avoid a form of exclusion as described above. In Urban Practice, this is achieved through the selection of content, such as whether issues relevant to everyday life are also addressed; through the form of the performance venue, far from the ornament-free world of white walls; and through the manner of address, or the choice of language(s). Further attributes are ‘affordable’ and ‘non-bureaucratic,’ as well as incentive factors such as food and inexpensive beverages.
A sustainable structure of low-threshold accessibility can be achieved by making the matters of decision-making and responsibility open to the broadest possible range of actors. Here, within the given linguistic culture of public authorities, a substantial amount of translation effort is called for, which in turn entails the danger of a power imbalance.
Conveying complex issues, practices, and structures is also a challenge: How can broad accessibility be maintained without coming across as overly abbreviated or even populist?
‘Low-threshold’ formats can play an important mediating role, especially when working in the public sphere, and enable encounters among people with different background circumstances, educational opportunities, and milieu affiliations, thus making tangible the ideal of a diverse, integrated, and open city.
Matthias Einhoff is co-director of the Center for Art and Urbanistics (ZK/U) in Berlin. The ZK/U unites global urban discourses with local, artistic practice and promotes the mutual exchange of knowledge among city makers via analog and digital formats. Matthias is a passionate facilitator of collective processes.