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Can the arts be a stimulus for democracy? The question may seem strange because, in principle, there does not seem to be a relationship between the arts and democracy. What do theater, dance, cinema, and painting have to do with democracy? Or rather, what do these artistic manifestations have to do with politics?
The short answer: They have a lot to do with each other, and the relationship can have very positive effects.
How? The arts revolve around emotions. Democracy, on the other hand, corresponds to politics that, in a strict sense, should be grounded in rational decision-making. But the separation of rational decisions and emotions is not so simple. At their best, art and politics are not about manipulating feelings to produce political effects, but about activating emotions to “move” people to feel part of a community.
Democracy is based on popular sovereignty and the idea that citizenship requires effective channels to participate in the processes of political decision-making. Political debates alone do not produce much desire for people to feel a form of being “called” to action. But politics can do more than call; politics can excite, so that the called person feels a part of that community where he or she is going to make contributions and to define political decisions that transform a concrete reality.
Participation in democracy is often identified with voting, either to elect representatives or to make a decision in a referendum. Voting is the icon of democracy and it seems that democracy is reduced to that liturgical event.
However, we must recognize that there is another dimension of the democratic system that does not consist only in voting. Moreover, I dare say that voting is the least important aspect of democracy (and perhaps even an unnecessary one—but that is another story).
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Fernando Pindado Sánchez is Commissioner of Democracy and Active Participation for the Barcelona City Council and IOPD Secretary General.