Memo August 2009

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in August 2009

August is high season for festivals. We shall start with them.

Laissez-passer. Laissez-pas-faire…

Besides doing a number of the usual things international associations are supposed to do for their members, EFA, the European Festival Association is keen on raising their standards. They invented a distinction, the FestLabPass, for those festivals (or related organisations) that commit themselves to pursuing excellence, and particularly to subscribing to the cause of creativity and innovation. Also, cooperation and joint action is required and thus promised. The first members of this league were sworn in in March in Prague, the second lot in June in Vilnius – the actual list contains 97 items.

Great initiative, attracts attention and may indeed contribute to excellence and originality of festivals in Europe. Now how to monitor which of the pass-holders fail to keep their commitments?

Rating in October

BO has been involved in a national experiment of rating festivals. At present, monitors are filling in their score tables by visiting festivals, and the first evaluation (the actual rating) will take place in October, with the complex comparative assessment of some 120 festivals of the summer season.

Why all this machinery, and – since it is voluntary – why do festivals take the risk of undergoing (and even paying a certain fee)? Questions are obvious. Curiosity and wish to be seen, surely, but the main motivation is interest: authorities are inclined to accept that getting a rate is a precondition for public subsidy.

The project is not limited to arts festivals: folklore, rock, even food and drink festivities are also included. This makes the exercise particularly difficult and exciting. Once the organisers (including BO) have agreed to cover such a broad range, they acknowledged that there are aspects and ways by which a goulash-feast or a folk-dance event can be measured against a chamber music festival. (Don’t panic, there will be separate categories, too.)

Screening for issues

News about the joint project of European federations of writers, booksellers and publishers made us curious about the main issues that preoccupy them.

Strangely enough, writers write the least on their community site. Their latest policy note proves that two-and-a-half years ago public library lending rights and fees were on the common agenda of European writers.

More up-to-date is the booksellers’ site. Two-and-a-half months ago they conferred with their American colleagues about shared concerns. These are apparently two. One is digitisation that “turns from brick-and-mortar to brick and click bookstores”. The other problem is the demise of independent bookshops, those that do not belong to large retail chains. The American promotion site of indies emphasises an additional feature: local community embeddedness. It is about more than nostalgia – argues the bottom of the homepage.     

Busy publishers

Publishers are the keenest to inform: the very home page of the website of the European federation of publishers (FEP) features a two-and-a-half meter-long (deep) news column. Matters of digitisation dominate the site – the Google-Europeana parallel saga is unfolded in details. Besides informing, the federation is also busy lobbying and acting – they execute a number of projects with the support of the European Commission.

Two brochures are worth downloading:

·         Europe and the book gives a broad analysis of the potentials and (claimed) obligations of the European Union vis-a-vis books and related fields. This is professionally explored and transposed into twenty concrete proposals.

·         The whole world is here is a readable presentation of the nature, concerns and prides of publishing in Europe.

(It is unusual from publishers that neither of the two pdf-format brochures have a decent impressum, indicating at least the year of publication.)   

Neglected translators

BO was stunned not to find CEATL (the European council of literary translators’ associations) on any of the lists of partners and links of the three federations’ websites (although the Writers’ Congress enrols translators as well). Not just because of CEATL’s diligence about translators’ rights, but because the three branches – especially FEP – otherwise duly emphasise the central importance of translation for Europe. 

Digital culture

The Commission demonstrates due zeal for digital matters. The public is invited to comment on the European strategy of digital economy before 9th October. Culture is not forgotten. One of the nine questions goes like this: “How can information and communication technologies (ICT) improve the quality of life of EU citizens by unlocking the storehouses of cultural heritage by bringing them on-line and by putting ICT at the centre of citizens' life?”

Almost at the same time, the Commission opened another public debate on the future challenges for book digitisation in Europe. The ten questions should be answered before 15th November. 

Europeana can become one of the successes of the Union. In spite of the impressive record, Commissioner Reding noted critically “that almost half of Europeana's digitised works have come from one country alone, while all other Member States continue to under-perform dramatically”.

Indeed, from the 4.6 million objects on Europeana by the end of July 2009, the ten eastern countries were represented with less than 2%! Little excuse that the ten most passive “western” countries – including Spain, Austria and Denmark – jointly uploaded about the same amount. 

Surviving the USSR

Time to mention an important 47-year-old agency. CEC ArtsLink started in 1962, as a US programme focusing on the USSR. The organisation went through various transformations, including changes in name: today CEC is not decoded (used to stand for Citizen Exchange Corps or Council). CEC ArtsLink Awards have been granted since the 1990s to artists and arts managers from the former communist bloc. Winners can spend a professional stay in the USA. You will find familiar names among past recipients of ArtsLink residencies and independent projects – and your name can be added if you do not miss the next deadline of 1st December with a fine application.