Memo May 2011


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

Heard a good Churchill quote lately?

Encounter Nr. 3090

Top culture administrators of EU member states held their 3090th council meeting in Brussels in May. They approved so called ‘conclusions’ on the place of culture in the long-term development strategy of the union. The Council breaks clearly with earlier attitudes by inviting the member states “to make use of EU financial instruments – in particular Structural Funds – to recognise the potential of culture…”

Another quote requires your imagination: “culture can contribute to sustainable growth through fostering greener mobility”.

BO was glad to find reference (probably) to the cinderellas of culture, “the specialised institutions and professionals that carry out effective socio-cultural work”. It is a pity the text argues for training and capacity-building done to them, instead of making a case for their increased use in building the capacities of their environment.  

The meeting also decided on the European heritage label. The first selection procedure will take place in 2013, leaving time for BO’s pet idea of diachronic interculturality to mature and get stuck.

The Poles are coming

The Hungarian EU presidency about to phasing out, you can start browsing the cultural programme of the Polish season. Also the website of the culture congress to be held in Wroclaw next September gets richer every hour.

Jubilee across frontiers

LAF, Literature Across Frontiers, an amazingly active platform / programme / network celebrated its tenth birthday with a conference. Among others, the effect of the new environment of digital publishing and social media on literary translation was discussed, as well as the prospects of more robust exchanges with cultures south of the Mediterranean. About the latter the analysis of translations between eastern Europe and Arabic is closest to BO sphere of interest: before the report is available, see the not less informative paper on what Arabs read by the same team.

The anniversary gathering established with sorrow the weak positions of quality translation, especially in the light of the strong lobbying of another class of cultural interpreters, music performers. BO believes that a well-conceived European Literary Translation Award could do good service. The meticulous feasibility study rightly argues that differently from the other four cultural awards of the European Union, in case of translation the Commission should not wait for a strong co-funder from the industries. What a pity the Aristeion Prize got defunct, before the eastern enlargement at that.

The LAF event was held in Istanbul, a great place for a jubilee conference. No wonder that after the closing dinner aboard a Bosporus cruiser calm literary translators and sober publishers turned untamed party kids at silly old tunes like this.

Museums and distinctions

The European Museum Forum has been selecting the museum of the year since 1977. This year a Belgian institution received the distinction, situated in a small Flemish town that claims to be the oldest in that kingdom.  

Out of the 33 awards in the past 35 years two went to museums from our region. In 1996 the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Bucharest), and in 2008 Kumu was found as the most noteworthy of European musems. This latter is a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, opened to the public two years before the award.  

Next to the museum of the year a number of other (in 2011 ten more) distinctions are established each year. The second most important award went to a rather strange Croatian museum: that of broken relationships.

Museums and municipalities

Those who have read the previous paragraph attentively will find interest in the 130-page analysis about the relationship between museums and municipalities. The study is based on a survey done last autumn, well in the era of the financial crisis. An issue that divides museums and municipalities to an astonishing degree is how they conceive the mission of museums. Out of seven possible functions museums put their role in advancing technologies at the top, and generating tourism to the bottom. For municipalities, however, boosting tourism is the primary purpose of museums, and piloting technological innovations is second from bottom only.

The last two chapters of the brochure deal with the topical issues of performance indicators of museums, and their governance. 

(The approach is distantly related to the examination of the relationship between festivals and municipalities, done in 2007.)

Then what are we fighting for?

BO is heartless detractor of urban legends. The 800 000 google hits prove the popularity of the latest Churchill quotation (in response to a suggestion to cut arts funding during the war). Not authentic.

Similar to the previous, countless opening speeches quote the saying "Si c'était à refaire, je commencerais par la culture", although Jean Monnet clearly did not say so. Also, none of the Nazi leaders said "Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my revolver."

 “Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato.” (Bruno)