Memo January 2010

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2010

This memo contains examples of slow reaction and limited perception of BO.

Fifteen times is a lot

How much more is spent on culture from the EU Structural Funds than in the Culture Programme – an evergreen riddle. BO learned the official answer now only, although the Barca Report that contains it has been around for eight months.

Table II.10 of the report says that in the actual seven-year period 5962.9 million euro is spent on culture, in all 1.7% of the cohesion policy budget. Half of it on heritage, nearly 40% on cultural infrastructure. Which is fifteen times more than the 400 for Culture 2007. A wider gap than any intelligent guess known to BO.

Being involved in the spending of that money, we know that at the final count the 5962.2 will turn out to be anything between 5000 and 7000. Depending on how much of the allocation gets absorbed, and what qualifies indeed as culture at closer look, or else, how many cultural projects are hiding in urban regeneration or lifelong learning investments. 

(Here is a powerpoint version of the full Barca Report, the first draft of the cohesion policy after 2013.)

Homage to Poles

When planning the seven years, we were often discouraged to include direct cultural projects. Poles did not give in. We know of no other country where a priority (a rather high aggregation level in the National Development Plans) carries the word culture in the title. Yet this is the case in ten of the Polish regional programmes, in addition to Culture and cultural heritage, Priority Nr.11 in a national programme.

Danube after the Baltic Sea

When most of you are reading this, people in Ulm are discussing about an EU strategy for the Danube Region. The only model is the similar strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. In the eighty Baltic flagship projects one finds less cultural content than what the rich traditions of Nordic and Baltic cultural co-operation would suggest. We hope to achieve more in Ulm, and then in Budapest on 25-26 February.

Besides the nine countries on the sea, Belarus and Norway are also affected by the Baltic strategy, as seen on the map. Similarly, the Danube strategy map spreads as far as Slovenia, the Czech lands, Bosnia and Montenegro – at least in certain aspects.     

(The Baltic Sea and rivers meet at a forthcoming conference in Gdansk – on river banks as a space for citizens’ integration.)

Regional champions

Once so deep in regional development, why not take a look at its champions? The criteria for the RegioStars awards for innovative regional projects are modified each year. The shortlists of two dozen or so contained three from the east in 2008, four last year, but no winner till now. There are six eastern projects in this year’s list of 24 (four from Lithuania!).

Previous winners had little cultural content. This year’s categories may offer more: the  innovative use of brownfield sites or the integration of migrants or marginalised groups in urban areas…

Reading about ecocs

Shamefully, when BO dedicated a few lines to the ecocs (European capitals of culture), we failed to recognise the report in the glossy album heralded on the Stavanger 08 site. BO must develop its senses for blitz public relations. On the other hand, the curious should deserve a Spartan variant of the report next to the two kilo, 15 Mb full colour book.  

What’s more, we were unaware of the evaluation of four recent ecocs that was probably on display already. We appreciate the analysis of the ecoc concept in this document, and endorse most of the recommendations. It is interesting to find that the urban development aspect of ecoc was still so pale in the official decision in 1999. Also, that the authors of the evaluation (Ecotec) are so careful, too, about this dimension. They nevertheless recommend to “give consideration to EU Structural Funds” – when in the east this is a major stratagem at bidding for the ecoc (sometimes too much so). Furthermore, the document treats development too narrowly linked to cultural investment, demonstrating little faith in the general transformational power of a cultural mega-project like the ecoc.

Surprising is the total absence of comparative tables or graphs, so plentiful in the first Palmer report, a bit inelegantly referred to in the introduction to the Ecotec paper.

Talking about ecocs

All this will be presented, discussed, and of course celebrated in March in Brussels.

Ecocs seem to be the ideal place for deep conflicts; it is really difficult to handle them because there are so many interests; at the same time it is the only real European brand for culture that exists; big opportunity for politicians that want short term success; ecocs always have different ownerships who often can’t agree on what they want; organisations that make it come from zero, have two-three years to go and do something which the whole Europe looks on; and they should satisfy everyone…”  Is Mikko going to elaborate on his thoughts improvised this sharp in Maribor last week?

Immersing in an ecoc

Here is an opportunity: register for la rencontre de Pécs, a conference in March on the economic slowdown and the future of local cultural policies.

Homage to Danes

Eurobarometer asked people to name the three most important measures in order to boost economic growth. At the end of the dedicated year, still fewer Europeans chose “reward new ideas and creation” (left column) than “support agriculture” (right). The graph proves that we in east-central Europe are most to blame.

Updated profiles

The Compendium of cultural policies and trends in Europe features 23 newly updated country profiles. More about it in February. 

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