Memo July 2013


A memo sent to correspondents, friendsand acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in July 2013

To be read in a cool corner.

Crisis illustrated

The diagram shows what the crisis did to public finances of culture in Europe. The interrupted red line indicates that between 2007-2009 there was a relative boom of cultural expenditure from the central budgets. Its dynamics surpassed the growth rate of total central public spending. A considerable share of this high rate was without doubt capital investment, not independently of the attraction that investing enjoyed in Europe before 2008. After the credit crunch central funds had nevertheless other priorities, which included bailouts in a number of countries. In 2009-2010 this even meant increased growth of government expenditure followed by a sharp regression by 2011. In the meanwhile on local level (where about two thirds of public cultural expenditure is realised) the green lines attest continued expansion in defiance of the crisis – at least before 2011. BO shall watch out for the 2012 figures!

These data are collated from fifteen EU member states[i] but the graph is supposed to express the general picture in Europe: in most countries the central cultural budgets shrank first and deeper, buffered and counterbalanced by the relatively smaller decreases – or in fact increases – detected at the local levels.

The search was done in the frame of an EENC exercise, involving colleagues from Finland, Slovenia and Spain.

Arts education explored

BO participated in a project under Austrian banner that explored and compared arts education in a number of countries in Europe. The team concluded that there is a discrepancy between the increasing scale and importance of arts education across Europe on the one hand, and its conditions on the other. Cultural institutions pay ever greater attention to educating their visitors (not only children and youth) owing to a number of reasons: in the want of raising and recruiting new audiences, acting in a spirit of “corporate social responsibility”, or responding to the expectations of public or private sponsors. Most generally, cultural institutions cannot stick to static 19-20th century models of functioning.

Our pilot surveys nevertheless found that most of the educational activity carried out at the cultural institutions (theatres, museums, art groups, libraries etc.) lack stability and the necessary official recognition. Particularly precarious is the position of people in charge: the professional standards and standing of “cultural educators” is fuzzy in most places.

BO contributed with a country report. We pointed at a few Hungarian (partly east European?) specificities in this regard:

  • Owing to the devotion and authority of the composer Kodály , music (singing) education enjoyed great policy priority 40-50 years ago – not any longer,
  • The thousands of houses of culture (local community centres), with all their fallacies and merits, are par excellence institutions of cultural education,
  • Under the guise of non-formal education projects millions of EU-(European Social Fund)-euro is being spent on cooperation between cultural organisations and schools,
  • Particularly successful is the classroom theatre project, launched by a private sponsor and later channelled into the ESF structure.


John Holden inspired us

A British Council publication on cultural diplomacy contains a map about the saturation of the world with cultural institutions of the twelve most important countries in British eyes (pp.21-22). We did the same with the nine countries from our region that maintain such institutions abroad:

If you compare the two maps the most striking difference is China. All twelve “important” countries are installed there but none of the nine east-Europeans have reached that point.

The UK can afford acting for the aims of cultural relations (familiarity, appreciation, engagement, behaviour – p.22) on its own: EUNIC , the network of EU cultural institutions is not mentioned in the booklet. For the smaller eastern member states, however, using European Cultural Institutes as their “national” cultural agencies in Seoul, Montreal or Abu Dhabi would be a blessing.

For BO thinking about cost-benefit relations is no sacrilege also at cultural diplomacy, an intellectual challenge rather. Do 200 events (each dutifully reported as success) have twice the impact of 100 events at a “cultural season”? From what point is the  investment counter-productive? The British study deplores petty calculations by citing an (of course) Chinese maxim: “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

To me this wisdom supports the BO view.

All this is food for thought for the task force that is doing exploratory work for a common strategy on culture in the external relations of the European Union. It includes the person that drew attention to a paradigm shift in cultural relations, co-operation replacing direct country branding. (I am inclined to believe that promoting cultural cooperation is an effective service to the goodwill of a country.)

Enterprise and experience

BO has repeatedly complained about the indifference of the enterprise and industry sector of the EU vis-à-vis the excitement for creative industries in cultural communities. The ice may have broken, albeit from a somewhat different angle. The actual key term is experience economy. It is elastic enough to offer multiple chances for productive liaison between culture and the more muscular EU division of enterprise and industry. You can catalyse this by responding to the open call and argue convincingly about the fundamentally cultural loading of the experience economy.

Another proof of sincere wish for cross-sectoral linkages was the call for proposing transnational thematic heritage tourism projects by DG Enterprise. (Deadline just passed, expecting too much for relatively little money.) 

[i] Cyprus, Czech Rep., Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden. 2004 = 100%. Eurostat COFOG data accessed via