Memo March 2013


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

Forty-four links, including the pictures.

Between Tallinn and Alsóbogát

These pictures stand for the east-central European heritage projects that figure among the latest Europa Nostra distinctions.

One day any of them might receive a European Heritage Label. The first, rather spontaneous “intergovernmental” phase of the label’s history has come to an end. Official awarding begins from 2013 through a clumsy transfer procedure from the old system.

The tenth is coming

The Council of Europe (CoE) was in its adulthood, in the 27th year after its foundation, that its first conference of culture ministers was held. Earlier, western democracies (they were the only members of CoE before 1990) felt indecent to mix culture with politics, therefore policies on culture were at best discussed as part of educational policy. But the “emerging concept of cultural democracy” made it imperative to arrange ministerial conferences:

1.     Oslo 1976
2.     Athens 1978
3.     Luxembourg 1981
4.     Berlin 1984
5.     Sintra 1987
6.     Palermo 1990
7.     Paris 1992
8.     Budapest 1996
9.     (Opatija 2003, Wrocław 2004, Faro 2005, Baku 2008)
10.    Moscow 2013

(Strangely, ministers responsible for built heritage had first met as early as 1969. Four more sessions were held before 2001: Brussels – Granada – Malta – Helsinki – Portorož).

BO was active in the preparation of the Moscow conference, had a hand in the background papers and in the preliminary survey.

Peep into the archive

You may wonder about the impact of conference declarations and recommendations. At a historic distance they nevertheless signal the evolution of concepts. It is interesting to find, for instance, that cultural industries occupied a central position in the deliberations of the 2nd and 3rd ministerial conferences.

Reading those antique texts prompts two observations:

•  Before the EU took centre stage hammering national competence in culture, deliberations at CoE ministerial conferences were more at ease about exchanging views on policy issues; 

•  Concern for artistic creation and anxiety about multinational companies dominated the treatment of cultural industries, differently from the exaltation that we have lived with from the mid-1990s.

Social engagement

Two members of the European Commission have issued a guide about social innovation, a concept  that might become key in the next phase of the Structural Funds. If culture is mentioned, it appears as the outcome of innovation projects and rarely as enabler, except for intercultural mediation. The semi-finalists in the European Social Innovation Competition have little to do with culture, too.

The conclusions of the October conference on audience development nevertheless end with these words: “People are hungry for social engagement and connecting in communities. Cultural organisations and audiences should move forward confidently together, and these conversations with audiences will ensure the long-term sustainability of the cultural sector.”

The guidance issued by the UK government to cities that bid for UK City of Culture 2017 thinks broader than the sector. The programmes should use “culture and creativity to lead to lasting social regeneration” and act “as a catalyst for change”. Eleven cities are competing to follow Derry UK City of Culture 2013 four years later.

Collecting capital

MEPs expressed views about the future of ECOC, the European Capital of Culture. Some of these comments push the project further away from celebrating culture towards taking an even greater charge in urban regeneration. “The Commission should encourage the candidate cities to make full use of other potential sources of the Union's financial support, such as the Structural funds and the Cohesion fund.” As if the contest for the title – especially in our region – had not turned into hardly concealed competition for investment funds.

True, there are cities whose image has become more “cultural” after the ECOC; at some places this is not just PR slogan but based on facts. On evidence that in spite of the dozens of studies is still thin: by impact often short term performance indicators are meant. An illuminating exception is the comparison of Liverpool and Marseille. 

This smart study was done by the 7th winner of the Cultural Policy Research Award. Application to the 10th title is open till the end of May.

Struggle for statistics

International comparison is best when surveys are done simultaneously and along the same procedure (that is the charm of Eurobarometer). Still OK if the methodology is harmonised (e.g. by Eurostat) but collecting data is done individually. Analysts are at a loss, however, when methods are opaque and reporting unreliable: the case of Index Translationum, the only international data base of translations. This compelled Literature across Frontiers to dig for the first ever accurate statistics of literature in translation in the British Isles.   

Eleven in a haystack

674 – 275 – 235: the number of European festivals that applied for EU grant in the past three years. The decline does not signal fewer events or that less EU-money is needed. It reflects the recognition that chances to win are minimal. 

The decisive difference between co-operation projects and festivals lies in the name of the former. Assessing the worth of projects (plans, hopes, promises) for EU support runs smaller risk than judging the virtues of existing operations. How to select 18 (or 11, as this year) winners from the thousand(s) of festivals that meet the criteria (pp.62-65) in the 37 eligible states?

Festivals winning support in the frame of the co-operation strands fits more to the character of the Culture Programme. There is a decent record of joint festival projects, see for instance items 522428 or 522592 among the current multiannual, or 536589 and 536591 on the annual co-operation list. Let us hope for more in the future.

Anyhow, we are glad that in addition to the four festivals from our region that have been financed for the third year (top row), four more receive grants in 2013.