Memo October 1999

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Memo to members of the BO international steering team (14 October, 1999)

Dear Daniela, Dorota, Eva, Katrin, Oskar and Vesna,

My last 'circular' was sent to you in summer. Since then the basic facilities of the Observatory have been installed and tested. No excuse for lengthy intervals in the future.

On 30 September the board of the foundation behind the Observatory had its autumn meeting. Their number has been extended with two new members: János Horváth, professor of economics and member of the Hungarian Parliament and Gábor Koncz, cultural researcher and managing director of the Hungarian Culture Foundation. The board, presided by Miklós Marschall, reviewed and adopted the modified budget for 1999. They also discussed the plan of activities of the Observatory.

On that ground I could finalise the sheet named Actions, Projects. You will find it attached but also copied to the bottom of this message in order to save you the work of unfolding attachments and of chasing viruses. The full page version was given to interested colleagues in Florence, where I attended the joint World Bank - Unesco conference 'Culture Counts' on the first week of October. (I also copy the one page introduction of BO, another flyer used in Florence.)

Some additional comments to the projects:

Best Practices seems to attain increasing interest. This pleases me, which I hope you share. I am impatiently looking forward to the completion of the first pilot case descriptions which are under way. They are going to present the following cultural endeavours:

  • 'Fono' means spinning or spinner, referring to the folkloric winter evenings when village people used to come together for spinning combined with talking and singing. This is the name of a cultural community centre created by a young businessman in Budapest 5 years ago when similar institutions where actually liquidated or just vegetating. Fono has become since a focal point for authentic folk music and dance, world music, ethno jazz etc. We shall learn more from Erika Koncz, director of department at Budapest City Hall, the author of this profile.
  • The Open Air Museum at Szentendre is a state institution and has been selected to display innovative approaches between traditional frames - presented by Zsuzsa Seres, researcher in culture.
  • BO staff member Zita Lévai is working on the small private company Odeon, a distributor of quality films on video.

The three contributors must shape the profiles which then will become standard for later contributions. I am involved in this job but I hope to have your comments as well when their draft versions are available in English - not before November. This is why I wrote I am impatient, but cannot reschedule their lives and make them work full time on the project.

There are two further candidates on the waiting list: a film festival in Croatia (an acquisition by Daniela) and a firm promise from Dorota concerning a Polish case.

In the meantime the web specialist has started to work on the BO site where the Best Practice profiles will be on display.

The presentation of tax incentives will follow the methods applied at a project run by the Centre for Publishing Development of the Open Society Institute. Please take a look at here and click on PLOP: publishing legislation. In a similar positivistic way shall we collect the sentences (lines, paragraphs) which in the respective tax laws of our countries define incentives for donors and sponsors for culture. Typically these are the same as for all good causes. Also we want to pick out sentences which directly refer to cultural activities and institutions.

This collection - which needs constant updating, at least once a year - will provide basis for real analysis, comparison and lobbying.

A specialist in taxation legislation has started to collect the Hungarian stuff which will serve for reference for contributors in other countries. When it is ready, I shall turn to you and to other directions to seek further help (including funds) for the project.

You all attended our April conference. As you see, we want to continue it on the same basis, combining the numerous come-together of Hungarian 'mediators of culture' with a more specialised international meeting. At the moment I cannot tell you much more than the two sentences of the flyer but we are intensifying our search for partners (including funds) in the next days.

I have received a pleasing and surprising amount of information via e-mail on my query concerning financing techniques applied in arm's length cultural agencies (arts councils). Having processed and structured questions and answers a little further, I shall come back to you with both answers received so far and questions to you. (Excluding funds - this is provided by the Hungarian Ministry for Cultural Heritage in this matter.)

I included the item on Seattle (the place of culture in international trade agreements) because I supposed the issue would be raised in Florence, too. It was, and with great weight. However, BO has not been invited to take an active part so far. Nevertheless we keep gun-powder dry in this matter, too.

When the board of the foundation went through the list of possible activities (which contained almost three times more items), we were of course warned to cut it down to realistic size. Nevertheless board members could not resist naming new and new ideas. May I quote chairman Marschall's wise comment: without indications of sources for funds, any new idea is of little worth. With this remark do I repeat my plea to you to channel queries in our competence - issues of financing culture in East-Central Europe - to the Budapest Observatory.

I thank those of you who have written or helped otherwise in the recent months.