Memo March 2007


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in March 2007

Warning: you will miss tributes to the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in this message.

Is BO Blairite?

In the middle of March Tony Blair gave a speech in the Tate Modern. BO is amazed and will remain so until you show us other instances of a prime minister's 2800-word speech on cultural policy. (Do please, we should counter Mr Blair's unfair advantage of speaking the Nr.1 world language.)

The speech is full of self confidence. Blair boasts that "government funding has doubled since 1997" and to "have developed a particular model of government working with the cultural sector that is both immensely successful and distinctively British. That model is a mixed economy. It combines public funding with private enterprise, subsidy and the box office together."

Festival budgets again
Blair exemplified the British quadriga of cultural finances with Manchester International Festival. Someone should tell him that by itself, the structure of the festival budget is little different from those elsewhere. BO has demonstrated this on national aggregate figures. The same can be seen on the graphs at the bottom. Data were collected for this memo. Salzburg was included because both Prague and Budapest are habitually compared to it. It is enough to mention, however, that the two together last shorter than the Salzburger Festspiele; for this latter 2005 was taken instead of last year's budget which was even bigger owing to the Mozart jubilee and the EU presidency.

The real specificity of the UK is the robust resources that secure a brand new festival over five times the budget of the 62nd edition of prestigious Prague Spring. In absolute terms, over six times more public money goes into the Manchester event than the circa € 1 million for the Czech festival.

Reaching for the gun
"Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun." BO would not be surprised to find this writing on the walls of the offices of the Commission, where the national development plans are being evaluated. Such is the attitude one hears from those who return from consultations over the draft plans for the structural funds of the next seven years.    

Officials in Brussels are said to be blunt in repeating that the structural funds are not for supporting culture, and are reluctant about how cultural institutions, professionals and activities serve the priorities of that Fund. The prime minister of one of the most successful member states claims that „the creative industries now account for more than 7% of the economy" and „the music industry contributes £6 billion to the economy and employs 130,000 people". How come that in other power centres of the Union culture is so undervalued with regard to growth and employment?

Reaching for the gun - we, too
BO is careful about instrumentalising culture: but whenever we do so, we must perfect our arguments. This is especially vital for the eastern countries where the social functions of culture have particularly strong traditions. Besides museums, libraries and arts organisations, in most of our countries the network of the former cultural houses still survives. They are not just a burden to digest, this legacy is an asset to exploit. It seems that these community centres are allowed to explore their potentials easier if they conceal their relationship to culture.

The next seven years are being decided upon in these months. The five-year-old EFAH study still appears to be the most comprehensive guide - although it neglects community culture. For actual guidance you are referred to sites run by Sylvia and Geoffrey. Anyone knowing further sources?

Not G but J - warned S
Many of you thought you knew the source of the quotation with culture and the gun. Many of you are wrong. When this sentence was attributed to a Nazi leader in an article of The New York Review of Books, a reader's letter followed, and explained that "Wenn ich 'Kultur' höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning!" - was uttered in the play of a Nazi author named Johst. The letter was signed by Susan Sontag.

Here is more about the case. And here is the true story behind the nice sentence attributed to Jean Monnet: "Si c'était à refaire, je commencerais par la culture". 

La rencontre de Séville was dedicated to public and private partnership in financing culture. BO attended, too, and will gladly tell more when the other contributions are available online.