Memo March 2003

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in March 2003

Cooperation has been the keyword in the past few works. BO has been busy observing cooperation as well as indulging in it.

Russia recovering
About ten years ago the efforts of enormous Russia seemed hopeless in tackling all those problems: everything falling apart, empire, past history, social tissue, economy, monetary system, and of course, cultural infrastructure and activity. For obvious reasons of various nature, Russia could not expect the winners of the cold war to hurry and help her; this nation had to enter the path of self-cure, promising little success if any. The observer is pleasantly surprised at the progress now - especially if the observation is limited to Moscow. 

BO participates in an interesting exercise at the invitation of the state institute on research on the arts in Moscow. In a respectable manner, Russian colleagues decided to confront their attempts to reform the financing system of the country with the experiences of a few selected countries. There we were, one expert on France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and the UK each, greeted nicely by minister Shvidkoy, and going through a full-day structured discussion with Russian colleagues. Well done, Sasha Rubinstein.

Franco-American cooperation
Joint close-up on issues between countries was taking place elsewhere, too. BO partner in Paris reported about the highly interesting symposium there on the financing of culture in the US and France. A welcome occasion when these protagonists, often antagonists, of national cultural governance systems, decide to open up towards one another and compare their practices and instruments.

Particular attention ws paid to the presentation of the US charitable tax regime by L.L. Silverstein, the in-depth study of which will take some more BO time. However, his introductory statement meets earlier BO findings: "(though) ...taxes do indeed matter, they are not the only factor motivating a charitable donation."

European cooperation
The large international team, led by the Interarts - EFAH (- Circle) consortium, is now in the thickest bush of accumulated material on state-run cultural cooperation in Europe. A few weeks are left for settling down and producing fine and clear conclusions.

BO undertook to elaborate on the issue in the accession countries. Our findings are ambiguous and difficult to assess. International cultural cooperation has become so diversified, with dividing lines so blurred, that for most participants it takes special concentration to tell where the state is in the process. Most projects collect support from multiple sources and clear state-run actions are rare. And even if there are, artists and curators care little if the support arrives from the regular budget, a special fund or from the contingent earmarked for the implementation of a bilateral work-plan, made between two ministries on the basis of a noble long term cultural agreement of the two governments. Our task was this: to single out planned, bilateral actions from all other interstate cultural intercourses.

Help from friends
BO received valuable help from friends who responded the following e-mailed questions: "If we take all forms of international cultural cooperation as 100, how do you feel, in which percentage is your government involved? And: within this number, try to estimate, which percentage is covered by 'classical' bilateral cultural agreements?"

Ironically, the greatest value of the responses this time was the broad variety in the answers, ranging from 2 to 80%. This corroborated our perception described above: that although bilateral cultural agreements have maintained their function in the past period but lost their distinctiveness. (Like euro coins: when you pay with them, you care little where they were minted.)

One thing surprised us. The majority of respondents thinks that the share of the state in crossborder cultural cooperation is likely to grow in the future instead of decreasing.

Observatory on cooperation
Many of us received inquiries on the possible functions of a European observatory on cultural cooperation, an institution advocated by the Ruffolo report in 2001. BO is looking forward with great curiosity to what Ecotec, the Brussels based agency arrives at, who were invited by the Commission to collect views and do a feasibility study. 

Money for action
A couple of days are left for submitting proposals to get a few thousand euros to participative policy-making projects in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro or Serbia. Check the website.