Memo January 2013

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2013

Under the Irish flag we march: a few lines on culture on p. 45 of the presidency programme.  

In Moscow about democracy

It was more than seven years ago that the Council of Europe last convened the culture ministers of Europe in Faro in Portugal. In April they (their successors in office) will come together on the other end of the continent, in Moscow. More specifically, in the Bolshoi.

The title of the conference is Governance of Culture – Promoting Access to Culture. As to access: here is a timely contribution at hand. With regard to governance: the fact that the cultural activities of the CoE are embedded into the larger unit of DG Democracy explains the accent on the adjective of democratic governance. The organisers are paying special attention to challenges and opportunities of the digital era.

From Berlin on well-being

Not long after Culture Action Europe has put on its agenda the issue of culture’s place in the ranking schemes of countries or cities, the German Bundestag joined in the search for more meaningful indicators than per capita GDP. The 157-page report of the task force of the German Parliament behaved the same as the OECD: fully neglected culture.

But not birds. The farmland bird index is one of the ten selected top indicators by the German team. No doubt, environmental safety and biodiversity are vital markers of the well-being of a society. But so is citizens’ time devoted to a variety of cultural forms, or opportunities created by society to it – this is what friends of BO believe.

Diverse Europe

Currently the Compendium site displays 35 cultural policy country profiles. From the twelve founders in 1949, Luxembourg and Turkey do not have one. This underscores the significance of the exercise followed at Bilgi University of communicating an annual digest on Turkish cultural policies: on 2012, and earlier on 2011. The hottest issue has perhaps been around state theatres.

The file on 2012 astonishes with a chart showing steep rise of the budget of the culture ministry. Turkey was saved from the worst crisis – not so the Netherlands, where there’s crying time.

To add further hues to the European diversity, here is what BO saw on the Bulgarian festival scene.

Individual research

Having cast a glance on the research programme of the European Commission (€55 billion over seven years), BO screened one of its chapters, the €7.5 billion ERC – European Research Council. This fund supports outstanding basic research projects of the best individuals “from anywhere in the world”.

Apparently also in any subject. Peer-reviewed excellence matters. The most populous category is that of “starting grants”. In the course of five years 389 winners out of 2034 have been active in social sciences and humanities. Culture is not a privileged research topic: here is the project that comes closest. The composition of winners by country (this tells where the researcher is based, not the nationality) shows a striking UK percentage dominance in soft sciences. English, today’s language of science comes easiest in Britain.

What if the British vote out of the EU?


Limits of creativity

The British gave Europe and the rest of the world the ingenious concept of the creative industries. Now they themselves joined the pack that has been struggling with the demarcation of the concept. This important paper is too technical to grasp or enjoy. The authors use a strict definition for creative occupations, the essence of which is that the final form of the product is not fully specified in advance (p.24).

The mapping found that 53% of jobs in the creative industries (as defined by the DCMS) are creatively-occupied: their average “creative intensity” being thus 53%. This implies that in a number of branches (e.g. antiques trade or digital media) the overwhelming majority of the workforce is (at least by definition) not creative. There are, however, highly creative-intensive fields, e.g. performing arts with 81%.

We knew that it is a simplification to limit creativity to the so-called creative industries. It is still a surprise to learn that whichever method was applied, the number of creative jobs concentrated in the “creative” sector was 20-30% lower than the creative occupations dispersed in the rest of the economy.

The good news (for the UK) is that the share of creatively occupied jobs has kept growing; by 2010 it reached 6.7% of the workforce.