Memo March 2006
About observatories in Bilbao
BO attended a workshop on cultural observatories organised by the European Network of Cultural Administration Training Centres (ENCATC) in Bilbao. The opening talk set the tone: Luca from the Piedmont Observatory (Fitzcarraldo) emphasised the wisdom that the deeper we dig the less certain we are about our findings. The more we are able to measure, the likelier it is that we have to do with frozen phenomena while our instruments fail to detect the cutting edge. A central aspiration of observatories is to compare: however, the simplest things like "a concert," or "a festival" escape our attempts of pan-European definition. Therefore Luca prefers to talk of cross evaluation rather than comparison.
Nevertheless the ghost of the Heisenberg-effect did not prevent the workshop being constructive, optimistic and informative. For example, it was inspiring to learn about the Demoscerc project, a coordinated system of recurring representative sample surveys in medium and large Catalan cities about cultural habits and consumption. If you read Catalan, you can learn more here.
Watching 258 cities
The gigantic European project of the Urban Audit is easier to access. The comprehensive presentation on the Urban Audit in Bilbao prompted BO to consult the project. If you go quick, the home page features a (strangely undated) report on how cities comply with the Lisbon Agenda. With our sectorial pride (or chauvinism) we look for the attention that culture receives in this vital context. Of the 21-page text one is about culture: "Culture has become an important tool to promote a city and to attract "creative industries." Culture is now seen by many mayors as an important "soft" locational factor in attracting knowledge workers... Events have become a key tool for attracting visitors and changing a city's image." Culture is not recognised here as an engine; its indirect role is acknowledged. No indicators are quoted, however a few good "practices" are presented. Three references to superstar Florida, none to European authors on the creative city and related concepts.
The report treats population growth as an indicator of progress. Which recalls the lecture by Phil Cooke in Caernarfon (previous memo), demonstrating that "creativity and cultural strength are often a precursor to later demographic and economic growth."
Cranes and palm trees
In Bilbao one gets formal and spontaneous lessons about urban regeneration. One presentation highlighted the crux of the process. The area around the actual Guggenheim museum used to be covered with port cranes. These have been replaced by palm trees. Politicians are pleased. However, at the outset it was hard to convince them that palms do generate revenue and taxes like cranes, albeit less directly. For palm trees you may read statues, concert venues, heritage sites etc.
MEP's live appearance
Organisers of Inclusive Europe? Horizon 2020 failed to achieve the presence of a single member of the European Parliament of the host country. In Bilbao, however, the workshop had an interesting session with a (substitute) member of the culture committee. Mila esker, Ignasi!
Italy and the UK
In spite of modesty and self-pity of some of the speakers from that country, Italy seems to have the highest penetration of cultural observatories in the world. The ones in Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy stand out with their experience, governance and methodology.
UK is trying hard to catch up. Britons show flexibility in replacing medieval "-shires" and "-sexes" to modern names like "north-west" without apparent nostalgia. It seems that within a few years, all new "regions" may have their regional cultural observatories.
Not necessarily in Ulster. A think-tank meeting in Belfast considered pros and cons, with the involvement of a few similar institutions from "Europe", including BO. Chances appear to be - to use the English expression that made way to every other language in Europe - fifty-fifty. BO wishes success to the efforts of the University of Ulster.
In March BO attended two events on festivals held in Leicester. A more populous one-day conference was followed by the workshop of the European Festival Research Project. The 25 colleagues from almost as many countries heard a report about the national survey BO had undertaken in 2004-2005 on Hungarian festivals.
The workshop agreed on setting up a smaller consortium to run the project that will conclude in a volume to appear early in 2008.
The great jamboree of cultural policy researchers of the year is taking shape. The 4th International Conference on Cultural Policy Research will take place in Austria in July. On the impressive web site you may browse among 211 abstracts. Just like in New Zealand and Canada on previous occasions, the meeting will be dominated by academics from the Anglo-Saxon countries: more papers announced from Australia than Austria, more from the UK than from Germany (not to mention France).
Eastern Europe will largely abstain: not a single abstract by a Czech, a Slovak or a Hungarian! Croatia and Serbia, on the other hand, will be represented by powerful national teams.
The deadline for submission is over. The organisers carefully put that they „will not be able to guarantee the inclusion of your paper in the conference proceedings". It is worth trying.
I spoke of numbers. Reading most of the titles creates vibrations of intellectual curiosity; also the recognition of a few great names in cultural policy research.
A book on adaptable quality management
A propos Croatian and Serbian colleagues: read BO review about the book by Milena and Sanjin with the exciting title Arts management in turbulent times.
A book on Inclusive Europe? Horizon 2020
The proceedings of the November conference have come out of print. Here is how to get a copy.