Memo May 2010


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

Warning. Heavy content. Over 1000 words.


Verbal high tide

Cultural and creative industries (cci) have been overflowing documents. Those who want to give substantial answers to the questions on the relevant Green Paper of the European Commission, should chew their way through most of these papers.

The 3013th meeting of the Council in Brussels stressed the role of cci in building a competitive, inclusive and sustainable Europe; the meeting adopted a document (called “conclusions”) on the contribution of culture to development: local and regional, but most of the text can relate to national and global, too – good stuff.

A few days later, in a different composition, the 3016th meeting adopted conclusions on creating an innovative Europe. This time economic decision makers emphasise that “culture-based creativity is an important tool for competitiveness, growth and quality of life for citizens”.

The northern countries do it also on their own way, keeping creative industries on the agenda for some time. What is more, their green paper is more than three years old.

The European cluster observatory (whatever it is) also disclosed a report on the employment figures in cci-s. The paper goes beyond generalities and cci-s are broken down into subsectors like advertising, museums and heritage activities etc. Furthermore, they pose a critical question whether cci-density has a spill-over effect to other areas of the economy. They honestly admit lack of definite proof.

Another critical question is how to measure and boost creativity: top specialists are searching for answers in a recent EU publication.  


Crisis goes on   

National, regional and local budgets for this calendar year having been approved, culture folks hoped that the worst is over. Then, with the Greek collapse, an even more dangerous wave of cutbacks has started. BO is eager to receive messages and links about specific cases (figures, please). Not that we can help.    

In the face of the crisis, the British become more British. First principle: public money mixed with private. Combine the best of European-style public support for culture with elements of philanthropy – kept hammering the new cabinet member for culture.


Paradigm shift

BO attended the debate about the shift in cultural diplomacy, away from single track promotion and exchange towards co-operation, that is taking place in most European countries, says Rod Fisher. Is the shift due to cuts in budget? To political correctness? Mainly to seeking efficient up-to-date ways of branding a country.


Packed hall

BO found a crowd on the Infoday in Brussels. 16 participants registered from our region, nil from Czechia, Hungary, Poland or Slovakia (unless checked in as Belgian residents). From Italy 161 people – this phenomenon has amazed us for long.


Evenly spread halls

Quite different is the geographical spread of Trans Europe Halles (TEH) – see the beatifully balanced membership on the map. Although genetically fully western, the row of semiannual TEH meetings shows an eastern bias: after Cracow and Žilina, a ship in Budapest hosted the event in May. Next come Leipzig (east of a sort) and Tallinn.

TEH is a European network of independent cultural centres, most of which are located in buildings from industrial heritage and have taken important action in challenging the established cultural policy. They are, in a way, iconic actors of today’s cultural scene.


74 ways of urban quality

The quality of life was surveyed in 74 European cities. 48 of them are located in old (“western”) member states: on the average 76% of their citizens declared their satisfaction in general, and even more, 84% were pleased about cultural facilities in town. The graph shows a staggering gap between west and east (and parts of south). Less so as regards culture, rather about overall quality of city life. Even if during the three years between 2006 and 2009 there was considerable increase in satisfaction: six per cent in the east, but also western city dwellers felt three per cent better.

This is Eurobarometer data, based on people’s feeling. Yet the evidence based statistical surveys have also shown similar pictures about tristes cités in our part of the world.

First column: average share of those satisfied with their city in general in 2006. Second column: the same in 2009 autumn. Third column: satisfaction with cultural facilities in 2009.


Stalinism in Finland?

The table presents selected details from the same urban survey, tops and bottoms of various lists of cities. Stalinist regimes produce voting scores of 95% and more. Now 95% of citizens of Helsinki declared overall satisfaction with their city in 2009, and 96% of them about cultural facilities! In fact, in 25 cities were more than 95% of people pleased with cultural provision – all 25 of them from the west.


People are more lenient with cultural infrastructure, sometimes much more. See Bucharest, where last year exactly twice as many locals were satisfied with culture than with general conditions in town. One hears encouraging news about urban progress in the capitals of Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria – and see how few people feel fine about quality of life. (Still in higher numbers than in a few romantic mediterranean cities.)