Memo November 2000


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of The Budapest Observatory in November 2000

Dear Colleagues,

The Board of the foundation, which is behind the Observatory, held its autumn meeting. The meeting approved what had been done this year. We were encouraged to intensify our PR work (especially inside the country). It was furthermore decided to organise one or two workshop meetings next year as well as to start preparations for a larger one in 2002. Maybe a follow-up conference to the one in January 1997, held on financing culture in east-central Europe.

Public Grants
It is really a matter of hours now till the Ottawa World Summit of arm's length agencies (for more information see summary ). On this occasion we updated our English, Finnish and Danish files in the Public Grants chapter. (Thanks, Paul, Paula and Vibeke!) All our efforts failed to increase our collection from our region: Prague and Riga kept silent. But it is not typical of the Budapest Observatory to give up.

And in a few days we shall know if the session in Ottawa on certain technical aspects of distributing public grants attracts sufficient attention and yields interesting conclusions. As you remember, this session is partly based on our findings.

One of the aims of the Summit is to establish a network of arm's length agencies. Though we are not one, as a keen observer of these institutions, the Budapest Observatory deserves some place in it. We do feel fine in some other networks (read on).

The European network on cultural policy and research had a round table in Vienna on the last weekend, entitled New Alliances (Culture - Social Cohesion - Civil Society, see official website ). The topic had relevance to several of our projects, indeed, my contribution drew from Tax incentives, Public grants, even Best practices. More importantly, the two-member delegation of ours (Attila Zongor and myself) collected a lot of ideas for our actual and future work.

I consider it an acknowledgement of the activities of the Observatory, that on the general assembly meeting, which followed the round table, I was elected general secretary of Circle. (The official spelling is CIRCLE.)

Sponsoring and Taxes
Our project was slowed down by the challenges posed by some legal notions, which made us considerably frustrated. I felt somewhat relieved during the Vienna round table, noting that after one or two decades of legal harmonisation, fellow citizens of the European Union could produce surprises to each other over the definitions of such everyday things as ‘foundation'.

Instead of frightening me off, this encouraged me to extend our search over the concepts of foundations and other typical recipient formations of cultural sponsorship and donations.

EU Observer
My optimism in the last sentence may stem from the successes we have had in finding our way among the Internet pages of ‘Europa'. We managed to spot and download the passages on culture in the latest country reports hours after their disclosure! Go and see, but do not expect too much. Cultural policy (fortunately?) is not among the higher hurdles to take for new entrants to the Union.

Best Practices
The latest addition presents a cultural centre in a lively university setting: the Rotunda Club in Cracow. The detailed tables reveal the financial basis of their activity.

We often warn against excessive expectations from business sponsoring on the basis that it rarely represents more than 2-4% of the cultural expenditure on a national level. One must remember then of specific, yet not uncommon cases: at Rotunda it is 36%!

To my satisfaction two more profiles are in the pipeline: one on a gallery in the north of Bohemia and an extremely interesting one on an alternative theatre in Tbilisi. (We know it is not east-central Europe, but still...)

Question of the month
The topic of next year's Circle round table is devoted to volunteering in culture. This is considered to be part of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and is particularly absent from our region. We of course do not categorise the Communist Saturdays as such.

In Budapest, the number of volunteer associations of museums, operas etc. has grown recently. The most active members tend to speak Hungarian with accent, many of them being expats or repats. Is there an east-central European society where volunteering in culture is an authentic part of national tradition?