Memo March 2008


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in March 2008

Poor British Airways has had so much trouble lately. Why not let them take the blunt for this belated monthly memo? Indeed, trying to check in at the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow slightly upset BO biorhythm.


Comparative search for routes
The exploration of cultural policies in three countries set against one another has proven successful. The scheme works and makes sense! You can judge this for yourself, as one participant has taken the pains to share his impressions - in English for the greater part. 

Sitting together for one and half days, several dozens of people interested in cultural policies, in majority Hungarians, plus a few Dutch and Flemish guests and students of the Central European University, has offered an opportunity to jointly construct conceptions about the cultural setup in these three countries. Such lessons are difficult to reach through reading alone.

The word instrumental was rarely used, yet it was one of the underlying notions: that is, the instrumental nature (the social function) of culture. In order to receive public funds, Dutch and Flemish cultural institutions, urban budgets etc. are expected to develop - or correspond to - an agenda, so it seems, more than in Hungary (eastern Europe?), where the mere existence of culture often qualifies as a service to the community (the nation). 

Which would imply a greater subordination to the authorities in the west: yet a greater level of autonomy of cultural operations seems to prevent from that.

BO prepared a small reader for the above forum, relying on the ever larger and more complex live anthology of European cultural policies, the Compendium, administered from Bonn by an Europäisches Institut.

The Compendium programme has entered its tenth year! From BO sphere of interest Slovakia is a latest addition to the now 41 national entries. Czechs still nobly keep outside.

By running this exercise, the Council of Europe contributes to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States (as much as it can with its petite budget), without trespassing into any harmonisation of the laws and regulations - to use official EU phrases. What excuses then the European Union from doing a similar project? (Not the same, of course.) It could be named, for instance, an open method of coordination.   

Brainstorming in Brussels
BO reported from the last meeting of the Compendium authors, who were encouraged to be trend spotters and norm watchers. The official report is more precise, quotes (page five) the need for "real" monitoring, to be more proactive and engage with the civil society. The Council of Europe follows this pursuit and holds brainstorming sessions in search of viable solutions: last March in Brussels, which BO attended.  

Brainstorming in London
In 1998 and 2000 the Unesco world culture reports were received with great interest. That initiative, however, never reached its third title. Not so The Cultures and Globalization Series, whose third item is well under way. Although they are thematically geared (the first on conflicts and tensions, the second on cultural economy, and the third on diversity and creativity), the bulky volumes are in fact world culture reports.

Essays are followed by a large section of indicator suites. The special name denotes a genre of its own. Instead of vast tables with 200 lines of statistical data, each line occupied by a state (for instance India or Nauru), here efforts are made to catch the mind through the eyes. Colourful graphs present numerical information in often unconventional grouping, like the top list of cultural establishments in selected world metropolis, or attendance figures of leading tourist attractions...

In order to identify such indicators, or the most important traits of global cultural futures, great many occasional or lasting contributors are involved in brainstorming meetings. This brought BO close to this huge undertaking, engined by the two editors.

Workshopping in Split
As the next station in our continued introspection, BO participated in the workshop on cultural observatories and cultural information and knowledge in the Croatian city of Split.

The meeting coincided with a conference on cultural policy and decentralisation in Croatia, which, among others, happened to offer interesting comparisons between the host country and France, represented by speakers du premier rang.

D'Art 24
Ifacca has grown into a global comparative cultural policy observatory, using its own open method of coordination: the D'Art reports are done ad hoc, upon proposals from network members. The latest one is on ethics in cultural policy. The next buzz-word? - I wondered when listened to one of the authors in Lisbon.

That would be nice. The idea of fair culture embodies and unfolds the often neglected dimension of the 2005 Unesco convention, usually overpowered by the issues of protectionism and multiculturalism.

Game won
The hype of the day is still the twin concepts of creative sector / cultural industries. This update of our vocabulary is rarely coupled with real expeditions into the newly conquered dependencies of culture. Here is news about one such exploit: from now on, thanks to the French, developing video games may qualify as cultural activity, and thus can be lawfully supported from public coffers - declared the European Commission.

This spring in Amsterdam
How many of you knew that one of the classical cultural industries has a different global capital city each year? The title has acquired much less significant marketing value than the European capital of culture.

Amsterdam was awarded to be the eighth World Book Capital City. The list of partners implies a genuinely inclusive cultural undertaking, going beyond the frames of an industry guild. 

45 more years?
Copyright will of course be discussed in Amsterdam. (For many, copyright is a dirty word, a betrayal of the principle of the author's right originally embodied in the Berne Convention - a quixotic linguistic quest.) 

The European Commission intends to extend the 50-year period under which musical recordings are protected to 95 years. President Sarkozy agrees. BO does not. The major part of the people seem to agree with BO.

Blunder corrected
Being party to a project like the Gulliver connect mobility programme has been central to the mission of KulturKontakt of Austria. It was therefore silly to write to you that they joined now only.