Memo April 2011

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

BO continues to be chronicler of the effects of the crisis on the financing of culture in Europe.

Newborn and re-born awarded

The 2011 shortlist for the European award for contemporary architecture is similar to the previous edition: it is dominated by cultural edifices, and contains no item from eastern Europe. The top prize went to Berlin (followed by Maxxi, which has attracted larger media attention). 

The annual awards for exemplary conservation of heritage buildings were also announced. The main category contains eleven winners – one only from the eastern EU members, which is one more than last year. That prize goes to Gdańsk, for the reconstruction of a granary from the Hansa period. This you can guess only, since the presentation does not tell about the background, neither does the website of the house. One hardly learns more from an alternative source (except for the unexplained swapping the lamb for lion).

BO fears that this negligence about the historical and social context will characterise the European heritage label, too, due to be finalised soon. True, the concept of heritage community, introduced by the Faro Convention does not necessarily imply a retrospective (historic, diachronic) view. Still, one would expect Europa Nostra to be more sensitive to other than the technical aspects of the cultural heritage of Europe.

The good thing about the prize is that for the first time an “outsider” is awarded: an orthodox church in Albania.

Feeling excluded

Eurostat has published a pocketbook of cultural statistics for the second time. BO's jubilation turned sour soon. We have lately been deepest engaged in three fields of culture: festivals, translation and cultural centres (or socio-culture): we found with dismay that none of these words and concepts occur in the publication. They are not counted – don't they count?

Linguistic variety

Nonetheless we shall browse the Eurostat brochure with interest for data like what we turned into the following diagram (originally from a Eurobarometer survey in 2007). Left column: percentage of citizens that enjoy reading foreign books in their original language, right column: watching films or TV in foreign languages. The openness in smaller countries (including four from the east) is counterbalanced in the EU average by the culturally monolingual large countries.

Linguistic variety is the subject of the 3rd diversity report, too, presented by Rüdiger on the second day of the Ljubljana book summit, a highly original analysis of 451 authors that appeared on the best-seller charts of the ten leading European book markets in the past three years. One encouraging finding shows that differently from translation statistics, heavily dominated by English as a source language, such titles represent 42% only in the ten top lists of authors of fiction.

Nine prospective winners (or ten)

After architecture and publishing we go further along cultural industries. A call for proposals was announced by the European Creative Industries Alliance. Also an info-day on 4 May. Hang on, don’t rush. This call confirms the limited extent to which the creative industry hype relates to culture. The introductory part of the call mentions the cultural connection, which is then absent from the specification of the € 7,5 million to be distributed among nine or ten projects. 

Eyebrows raised

The result of the European Commission support to festivals has been disclosed.

The more we read the aim of the strand, and the more we watch the list of winners, the more it appears to BO as a scandal. A deviation from the original aim of the Culture Programme to promote co-operation between cultural organisations in different countries. Which in its original form benefits festivals, too: in 2011 there are 19 leaders or co-organisers in the 123 winning co-operation projects (in Strands 1.1-2) that have festival in their name. Selecting twenty-six out of a potential crowd of 2-3000 thousand European festivals follows the sniper’s logic, shooting at a huge pool of would-be beneficiaries; festivals do cross-border co-operation by definition, you cannot miss the target. From that crowd, 674 turned their face towards the sniper – and those with bright enough face were chosen.

In the past twelve years BO has been taking pains to avoid a bias for its Hungarian location. This time – familiar with the virtues and circumstances of both French and Hungarian festivals – we cry foul. Rewarding eight out of 92 French candidates versus zero from 42 Hungarian applicants, adding to the comfort of a few and leaving others wither, washing hands by pointing at the expert jurys is an insult to a vibrant festival cluster in Europe. Also to the principle of cohesion. (Of course we have taken note of the Italian ratio, too: one winner out of 85 festival hopefuls.)  

Stakeholders consulted

Random reading of responses to the public online consultation about the future of the Culture Programme suggests that the majority does not favour subsidising festivals this way in the future. (BO’s submission certainly does not). Processing the 965 responses will not be easy, some of them containing several pages of annexed comments.

This task has already been accomplished at the Media Programme, looking after the European audiovisual sector. Media appears to have achieved a greater resonance among its stakeholders than Culture, judging by the 2586 responses to the same online consultation, which is 168% more than in case of the Culture Programme, while the budget of the former is only 88% larger. From our region Czechs, Croats, Poles and Romanians were the most diligent, in this order. Among possible action lines for the future programme for European cinema, supporting distribution ranked first in the answers.