Memo July 2012

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

A bit long for vacation time, sorry.

Cyprus agenda

The list of the main priorities of the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the area of culture begins with the social aspect, which pleases BO:

  •  to further promote the social dimension of culture,
  •  the promotion of cultural governance,
  •  the enhancement of cultural research and of evidence-based policy on culture.

There are other issues on the Cyprus agenda, too. Among others, decision must be made about the future of the European Capital of Culture programme (Ecoc).

Ecoc after 2019

This (the future of Ecoc) is more or less decided. Such kind of proposals are rarely modified. (Look at the sizes of Proposal and DECISION on the relevant paper.) 

Which is largely alright in this case, as the proposal is based on a fair process. The basic questions were put to an open consultation, the result of which was processed and presented in a transparent way. The original contributions are available, sorted as public authorities (including five national ministries), 62 organisations and 122 individuals. (You may find people among them that you respect and others that you do not, and may judge their responses accordingly.)

There was a strange distribution by country. Every third answer came from Spain or Serbia (!), while one or two came from many countries, especially from the east. From Lithuania and Sweden – zero.

Selection after 2019

Going through the issues raised in the consultation, the proposal largely aims at keeping the basic features of the programme, as it has evolved by now. In this the Commission was greatly reinforced by the consultation, where alongside a number of critical remarks, the majority was indeed in favour of the status quo.

The most selection of cities will follow the current procedure. The Annex of the proposal lists the countries from Croatia and Ireland in 2020 to the Netherlands and Italy in 2033. Chances for cities from candidate countries will remain limited to one every three years.

BO regrets that so little effort was made to challenge the simplistic formula of one country – one candidate. It goes against a Europe of regions. Territories like Scotland (remember Glasgow?), Catalonia, Bavaria or Italy north of the Po may have to wait fifty years. Next to the present scheme (two member states per year) the survey offered the alternative of an entirely open competition of a thousand European cities. The really innovative solutions that came to surface in the comments have had no chance to be tested against the status quo. Some of these can be read on p.17 of the analysis of the consultation, such as e.g. one city from the designated country and one by open competition. The medieval and nomadic custom of seasonal capitals was also raised: the Spring Capital of Culture, the Summer Capital of Culture etc, allowing for four cities to be in focus each year.

Using Compendium

Having celebrated Compendium, let us use it. The Latvian country profile was updated the latest. It tells us that no country in Europe was hit harder by the crisis: the 2010 budget of the culture ministry was 43% less than in 2008, the corresponding figure of the culture fund (Kultur Kapitala Fonds) was 72%!

In some places the crisis leads to centralisation, Latvia tries the opposite. Elsewhere lottery or excise tax on alcohol are tapped for culture – the Latvian culture fund switched back to the government budget.

A unique Latvian initiative is the Soros-funded Brigade programme aiming at innovative solutions at urban and social challenges involving culture.     

Country swapping

The real appeal of the Compendium site is the function of matching of the chapters horizontally. We can click our way through chapters 4.2.11. in a number of country profiles to check whether Latvia is ahead or behind in new technologies and digitisation in culture. A government agency was established as early as 2003 to coordinate operations. The reader wonders whether Bill Gates’ mega-project in libraries or the joint museum catalogue programme are in the remit, too.

We see no reference to using Structural Funds for these actions. No wonder, this was recommended on a high level for the first time in May, see there point 2 in the annex to the annex (!), not a prominent position. (Absent from the previous similar statement on cultural digitisation.) 

Since participation was in the centre at the latest Compendium meeting, we tried to match the relevant Latvian chapter to its equivalents in other countries. If you are a professor and want to assign your students time consuming and challenging tasks, ask them to make sense of the myriad of statistics spread across chapters 8.2.1. (trends and figures in cultural consumption and participation).

Here is what BO managed to do for the Latvian data. We found attendance figures by 1000 inhabitants in 2009 for three kinds of institutions.

Comments: 2010 is also available for Latvia, showing slight improvement in all three, but missing from the other countries. Except for Hungary where this was taken instead of 2009, which is missing there. Where necessary, population figures were taken from Wikipedia.

One can acknowledge the cinema and theatre output with a nod, and appreciate the nearly 1000 visits to museums as slightly higher than what trend lines would suggest: statistically each Latvian citizen goes to museum once a year.    

Mercurial choice

Finally, for the record: with 26 new inscriptions the Unesco World Heritage List has grown to 962 items. A (smaller) half of the five new European entries is from east Europe, a mercury mine in Slovenia. Its selection fits into the trend of adding more and more sites of industrial heritage to the list.