Memo Aug 2010

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

Three fleshy entries this time only.

Culture watch in action

Dozens of our regular readers will see these lines after they return from the CultureWatchEurope conference in Brussels, planned to whirl around change: searching for new arguments and justifications for cultural policies in a changing environment.  

Most of you have been wondering whether besides fear, anger, joy etc. animals also know the feeling of empathy: whether one gnu feels compassion for another gnu just being executed by lions. Science has discovered that this capacity is coded in human genes. At the conference, implications to culture will hopefully be explored by a guru.

BO has been taking pains to identify the implications of another sort: the effects of the economic crisis on culture. On the one hand, major festivals have been boasting attendance records in the latest season; but on the other, budget cuts are reported from every corner.

The important feature of the event is the deep involvement of the European Commission (and other EU bodies) into a conference organised by the Council of Europe. It is to be seen whether this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

2007 was the best

The awards granted to classical music records by the London-based Gramophone magazine since 1976, have enjoyed high esteem. BO took a look at the position of east-central Europe in this contest.

The winners in 2010 will be announced in the next issue of the magazine, selected from the shortlisted three items in each of the 16 categories. Chances for our region are bleak. We dominate the “orchestral” category only, with two records of the Czech Supraphone company, the Czech Philharmonics playing works of the Czech composers Dvořák and Martinů (competing with a Scottish orchestra and Mozart). Among the remaining 45 records in the other 15 categories there is one more eastern hopeful: Golgotha of the Swiss composer Frank Martin is performed by an Estonian choir and their national symphony orchestra. All the other 44 records feature western artists and record labels. (Even if one can spot a quartet with a Romanian born leader and a Polish viola player; as well as Bartók and Szymanowski among the composers.) 

Thin was the eastern crop of winners in the past years between 2000-2009. Five out of the 159 awards:

·       2007 Editor's Choice – Budapest Festival Orchestra playing Mahler

·       2007 Chamber – Pavel Haas Quartet playing Haas and Janáček 

·       2007 Instrumental – Piotr Anderszewski playing Szymanowski

·       2004 Artist of the year – Magdalena Kožená

·       2001 Vocal – Magdalena Kožená

BO could not find out the degree of difference in standing between the Gramophone prize or the 11 classical categories of the Grammy award existing since 1958.

The large museum spreadsheet

Using the quiet summer period, BO was browsing for cultural information in another direction, too. European museums have developed a nice sophisticated statistical system of their own: EGMUS. It is essentially one enormous table that lives the life of a plant, old chunks regularly replaced by new shoots.

We have extracted two graphs in the regular BO format, exposing the eastern countries. The first one shows the number of annual visits to museums per 100 000 inhabitants, including free entries. An average Norwegian or Swede goes to a museum at least twice a year. An average Macedonian hardly ever does.

The next table shows the number of museum staff per 100 000 inhabitants. The span is slightly less dramatic than above: the employment potential of museums in Estonia is six times larger than in Macedonia.

There is certain correlation between the two benchmarks. Spain and the Netherlands, however, show some inconsistency: few people work in their abundantly attended museums. Whether a sign of efficiency or of exploitation of the workforce?