Memo September 2009

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

Czechs are stealing the EU-show from the Irish. BO regrets. What else to regret or rejoice about after September?


Who cares for music listeners’ health in Europe? A former Bulgarian foreign minister does. Ms. Kuneva, EU Commissioner for consumer affairs has called for new safety standards for personal music players. Scientists believe that up to ten million people in the EU are risking hearing loss due to playing too loud music through earphones for too long.

Who cares for east Europe’s prominence in culture? A former Bulgarian foreign minister does. Ms. Bokova, future director-general of Unesco said so after unexpectedly beating the favourite candidate, who had been culture minister in Egypt for twenty-two years. (For BO this long tenure is a counter indication in itself.) 

Bokova advocates a new humanism for the 21st century. (Almost human indeed – if only the reader wasn’t obliged to consult the web for EFA, MDGs, and ODA in the short vision statement.) Anyhow - yспех! BO wishes success.

Vilnius – Tallinn – Riga

Latvia follows suit. In all three Baltic countries the capital city of the republic has been offered the title of the first European capital of culture: Vilnius 2009, Tallinn 2011, Riga 2014 (together with Umea).

Four digit attendance

Over a thousand people attended the second European Culture Forum in Brussels. An opportunity to learn about work done, inform and be informed, spot emerging issues, discuss alternatives, and of course network and socialise.

The real test of such a forum is whether organisers and visitors can tell what they see differently after the event – this we shall see. Some early comments on a web forum wished there had been more debate and interaction – the eternal plea. Most worthy for appreciation was the efforts at transversal partnership building, which made the event “an affirmation that other policy areas in the European Commission have accepted that cultural actions can play a useful role in their areas” (quote from said Forum forum).

Complaints about catering? BO had not taken for granted that a thousand mouths would be fed for three days free of charge – thus does not complain. 

Productive platforms

Visitors received an array of platform position papers on the spot and on-line. These platforms embody the structured dialogue with the sector about the implementation of the agenda for culture.

Asking stakeholders for recommendations runs risks:

·         advocacy organisations are more at home at visions than facts (cf. evidence based policies), thus their recommendations are prone to become lists of claims and grievances;

·         which can still be valuable, unless they fail to sufficiently prioritise, stressing what is the most essential and urgent;

·         and if instead of focusing on new and future phenomena, the obvious and familiar prevails – even if valid.

But the real main risk is the absence of true demand for such recommendations. (Would authorities care and spend more but have been waiting for guidelines from the civil sector?)

The policy paper on access to culture follows a well conceived path. Good that language and translation problems come right after the claim for professional mapping of needs. The annex is a particularly useful collection of successful efforts to increase access. 

Two tiny pearls about French and Flemish venture projects in cultural investment are hiding in footnote xvi to the working group paper on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for the cultural and creative industries platform.  

(BO commented on the the third platform product, the Rainbow Paper, a year ago.)

The overwhelming majority of illustrations, arguments and cases from the north and west of Europe, and the limited presence of issues, peculiarities and operators from the east (and south) are a reality.

Revolution postponed

BO followed another cultural forum in September. The Polish congress of culture in Cracow was more explicit about discussing future policies than the Brussels forum. Review of press suggests that against expectations, instead of more pluralistic and flexible frameworks, and of mainstreaming independent and experimental culture, the prevailing mood was for reasserting status quo and the stability of state institutions. The minister acknowledges this, as well as the strong call for greater accent on cultural and artistic education.     

Count what was learned

As the Forum was closing, BO was already in the villa of an Italian count turned into an artists’ residence and training centre, run by Inteatro. The workshop was about how to grasp what artists learn when on tour, or at artist-in-resident programmes. Do the eight key competences of lifelong learning (European way) offer an appropriate framework for this quest? Which are the main patterns and personal strategies? We shall know all this by next June, when the project ends with a conference, also in and around Polverigi.