Memo May 2012


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in May 2012

More theorising than usual, this memo is.

Culture and the Structural Funds

BO regretted the total absence of the creative sector from the first outline of the next seven year plan of the EU Structural Funds, as disclosed in October. Things have taken a sharp positive turn. The first version of the Common Strategic Framework (this is the name of the highest level document on the funding priorities of the EU) published this spring treats cultural and creative industries more generously than ever before. The main body offers little, the heart-warming items are in the 43-page annexes, listing the eleven thematic objectives.

One would expect culture to pop up in Objective 9: Promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. But no, the authors of the plan regretfully did not associate culture to concepts like “integration of marginalised communities”, “animation of local strategies”, “social innovation”, and “improving the attractiveness of rural settlements”.

On the other hand, Objective 1: Strengthening research, technological development and innovation states that “capacity-building… for the swift economic exploitation of new ideas …includes, promotion of … creative hubs, cultural and creative industries and social innovation.” 

Also Objective 3: Enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs, speaks about “development of small and medium enterprises in emerging areas linked to challenges such as creative and cultural industries, new forms of tourism” etc.

Strangely, the most direct references are found in Objective 6: Protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency: “diversification of local economies by protecting and enhancing cultural heritage” and “integrated urban development… through rehabilitation of cultural infrastructure”. Wow.

Furthermore, BO feels obliged to cite the full paragraph in the same 6th chapter:

“The Funds should coordinate closely with ‘Creative Europe’, which supports the European cultural and creative sectors, in particular by promoting their transnational operations and better access cross-border issues. Cohesion policy resources can be used to maximise the contribution of culture as a tool for local and regional development, urban regeneration, rural development and employability. Examples of potential investments in culture could include investments in research, innovation, SME competitiveness and entrepreneurship in cultural and creative industries under the corresponding thematic objectives.”

Culture and the creative industries

BO greets that culture has found a place in future plans. We are nevertheless concerned by the loose treatment of terms also in this Common Strategic Framework. Who exactly will benefit from those “structural” funds when e.g. creative sector is mentioned? Most of the mapping exercises (metropoles, Balticum, EU-level, “How to strategically use…” etc.) of the creative sector followed the logic of restaurant guides: cataloguing with brief presentations. Without strict and clear categories, and without analytical reference to the contribution to GDP, which is a general underlying claim.

One might argue that applying a large undifferentiated term is exactly the point. Without sorting its constituents by the degree of contribution to GDP-growth can the entire sector hope for privileged position in financing. Culture can benefit from the vague definition.

On the other hand, clear distinctions help cultural administrators remain focused on their direct jurisdiction, the cultural sector with all its shades from the heavily subsidised to the enormously profitable: A and B on the drawing, without being carried away by D, with which fruitful lateral relationship can be nourished though.



The creative industries and the economy

The creative industries are indeed the most dynamic area of today’s economy. Just think of Google, Facebook and Apple. Or Louis Vuitton. They cannot grow out of cultural deserts.

The New York Times has just written about the extraordinary successes of some young east European entrepreneurs in the creative industries. Do those champions of the global start-up scene know that they are part and product of the “CCI”, the “cultural and creative industries”? In the interview they owe their success to the times that the region went through after the collapse of the previous regime: “we believe in change.” The other explanation is the high standard of scientific education in our lands.   

We are evolutionists. We believe that creativity-based mega-successes are genetically related to the creative quarters and hubs which figure in the vocabulary of today’s cultural policies.

But just as science searches for the missing links that prove the evolution of humans from the animal world, BO misses reliable stories of small scale creative industries rocketing into growth-generating big businesses.  

Till then the creative sector hype is seen as a hugely successful Keynesian response to the post-industrial challenges of Europe that has the potential of solving critical situations. Unused buildings receive new functions, unattractive areas turn pleasant, creative communities find shelter, artists discover new missions, small businesses receive funding, idle persons get meaningful occupations, the cultural sector finds new dimensions etc. BO loves the creative sector.

The same in Riga

BO found itself in the middle of a relevant event in Riga (capital of culture in 2014). In a highly commendable way, civil society actors pulled together administrators from different sectors (including culture and economy), involved foreign and national experts and discussed the issue (creative industries and the policy of the culture ministry). Latvians on the right track...

Something special in Bergen

The city that is – as herself the mayor informed us – over-all first in Norway (except by population) played host to a thoroughly prepared, meticulously constructed, well attended (also from eastern Europe and beyond), photographically documented diamond jubilee of the European Festivals Association.  

Reaching out for more

In Bergen BO was involved in the workshop on audience development, done jointly with the civil society platform Access to Culture.

Earlier in May BO had a chance to peep into the work of the expert group a Manual on the promotion of access and participation in culture, hosted by KulturKontakt. The group had started its work by discussing a paper on access to culture by Anne, and will hopefully draw from her (and Michael’s) later report on audience development, both done in the frames of the European Expert Network on Culture (EENC). 

Things jammed into this last entry will be unfolded in the next memo.