Memo January 2011


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2011

BO has paid little attention to culture on the other shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Not so in the future, hopefully.

A modest attempt

Within the frames of the Hungarian EU presidency attempts will be made to define the contribution of culture to the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy – the actual ten-year plan of the Union. The endeavour will take the form of a conference on 28 February – 1 March, to be attended by invitation.

A big bang

Within the frames of the Polish EU presidency a European Culture Congress will be held in Wrocław on 8-11 September, to be attended by thousands. The event will be prepared by a book by Zygmunt Bauman, and a series of debates in various countries. The Centennial Hall, a world heritage item will serve as venue.

Besides Bauman, names like Pamuk, von Trier, Oz, Hadid, Eco, Haneke, Różewicz, Penderecki, Wajda i Wałęsa are connected to the congress in one way or another.

Remember September

To avoid forgetting what was an important step along the trajectory of CultureWatchEurope of the Council of Europe, here is the reader of the conference held last September in Brussels.

Nice and wooly terms

Besides conferences action is needed, e.g. to enhance development practitioners’ facilitation skills for the capacity-building of gender-disadvantaged women…

Even if BO tries to avoid such language, blushed a little bit at reading the spiky lines on newspeak.

Festival statistics

Last year’s substantial report on culture in the USA paid little attention to festivals. This time National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) decided “to enumerate the nation’s outdoor arts festivals and to identify their shared and divergent traits, considering factors such as event programming, staffing, finances, and audience demographics”. Exactly what had led to the Hungarian festival registration scheme (not limited to outdoor and arts).

The majority of the 1413 American festivals can be considered community festivities – 45% had less than 5000 visitors, and 76% lasted between one and three days. Even more revealing is that 59% of them had no entry fee! Compared to the 40% of the 212 festivals in the Hungarian database.

75% of these outdoor events had a smaller budget than $ 100 000, and nearly half (49%) smaller than $ 25 000. The equivalent Hungarian proportions are 84% and 36% (at face value, disregarding purchase value), a greater similarity than what you would suppose. Another interesting coincidence is that in both statistics the share of money received as corporate sponsorship is nearly the same as the revenue collected from vendors and caterers.

The NEA report operates with proportions and not with absolute figures, so we can only guess that the average festival budget is near the Hungarian average of $ 135 000, and definitely lower than the $ 280 000 of 193 festivals in the latest report of the British Arts Festivals Association (BAFA), not to speak of the $ 550 000 average of the 38 festivals reported by the Basque Cultural Observatory.

We know that 23% of the revenue is collected through the box office in Hungary, which is much less than the British claim (“box office income continues to be the largest single income”), and much more than the 6% in the Basque lands. We receive no clue to the American figure.

Among the four places, proliferation of festivals is the newest in Hungary, with only 23% of events older than twenty years (35% on the American list, and 48% of the British festivals). A third of the Basque cases is from before 1978 – twice the Hungarian share of 15%.

Comparing apples and pears? You do the same on the fruit market.

Justin and Wolfgang Amadeus

YouTube is undoubtedly a major channel of consuming music these days, as proven by the statistics of watching (listening to) music videos. A 17-year-old Canadian boy’s song seems to be the global winner with 450 million views, followed by two divas, nearing 340 million and 290 million hits respectively.   

BO would yearn to know about classical music but found no grip to help in the endeavour, certainly not on the real ‘home’ page of YouTube. In today’s pop music typically one carefully produced clip attracts the audience. Most classical music pieces, on the other hand, are uploaded in many rivalling renderings. A random search found a Beethoven and a Mozart viewed over 27 million and 13 million times – without identifying the performers!

Alternative folk

This curiosity was prompted by an article (in Hungarian), which discussed the top YouTube list in Hungary. Here, too, the local counterparts of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are unbeatable – but not entirely. A somewhat psychedelic song (lyrics in translation) of an ‘alternative’ group, available in seven or eight versions, has by now attracted almost as many viewers as the population of the country. More than half (5,2 million) is a performance by another group that originally plays authentic folk music.

Their success will console those who have been missing Hungarian items from the fairly dependable top lists of world music.

BO would love to learn about cases elsewhere in Europe: which song (which YouTube video) captivates Slovaks, Serbs or Estonians to generate views in numbers that equal fifty or hundred percent of the population? Especially if they defy predictions. Write, please.