‘Artists express ideas, attitudes and beliefs that are often central to politics, society and economics’ says Director of Tate, Nicholas Serota. As a series of events launch at Tate Modern, he explains why institutions like Tate are crucial resources in a world where creative expression is becoming ever more important

Doris Salcedo Shibboleth 2008 installation view

Doris Salcedo
Shibboleth 2008

Marcus Leith and Andrew Dunkley
© Tate 2008

The lectures and debates in the Global Citizenship series focus on issues vital for everyone, not just world leaders, to consider. These range from climate change to cohesion, to poverty and the distribution of resources. They need to be addressed not just behind the closed doors of council chambers and ministerial offices, but in decisions in everyday life, in shops, classrooms and streets the world over, and also in galleries and museums. Tate is particularly pleased to host Global Citizenship: it is a reminder of art’s role in society. 

Art is a fundamental part of the public realm. In their work, artists express ideas, attitudes and beliefs. Often, these are central to politics, society and economics and, through artistic expression, they gain different resonance and reach. At Tate Modern, for instance, the juxtaposition of Leon Golub’s Vietnam II and Dia Al-Azzawi’s Sabra and Shatila Massacre prompts deep thought about the scars of war.

Museums and galleries provide spaces in which learning both through and about art can take place. They build and show collections that bring different views together and introduce new ideas and experiences. Recently, Tate has developed its collections of international art, introducing audiences to a wider range of conversations. Institutions like Tate are crucial resources in a world in which creative expression is becoming ever more important.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights enshrines a ‘right to art’. Everybody should have the opportunity to experience art, the skills and confidence to interpret and respond to it, the ability to make it and the opportunity to encounter art made by others. These capabilities are as important as writing and literacy: they give people insight into the world around them, and unlock their potential to engage with it creatively.

Art is the subject of one of the Global Citizenship sessions, but it has a place in all of them. Technology and the internet have brought both greater reach to institutions like Tate, and the imperative that society and governments reconsider the importance of art, the visual and creativity. Tate’s website reaches more than 14 million people each year, an audience that brings the responsibility to share and discuss global art. The power to create is in the hands of billions, and the power to circulate the products of that creativity extends beyond institutions like galleries, cinemas and theatres to include everybody with access to a mobile phone or a computer. People can voice views as never before; the questions must be what they do with that freedom and what skills they have to make the most of it. In this new creative politics, how do we enfranchise people and ensure that nobody is excluded?

Discussion and debate are central to Tate. As these events show, our work crosses disciplines and draws on a wide range of different skills and backgrounds. The next challenge is to champion the benefits that art brings to society, making clear the significance of the visual and how artists help us to see and interpret the world.

Nicholas Serota
Director of Tate

This essay is a foreward to the Zaymn Cultural Forum 2013: Global Citizenship progamme catalogue