Memo March 2014


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in March 2014

Content: heritage, compound indexes, Europe’s future.


The European commissioner in charge of (among others) culture wants to conclude her term with a high level document on the contribution of cultural heritage to sustainable and participatory socio-economic development in Europe. This endeavour met with the cultural priorities of the Greek presidency: the conference in Athens delivered rich munitions for Ms Vassiliou’s drafting team.

When delegates walked through the gateway to the Acropolis called Propylaea few of them knew that European heritage fans had voted its conservation a distinction in 2013. You can cast your vote for this year’s public choice award by choosing from the 27 winners of the 2014 Europa Nostra awards. Voters’ favourite will receive an extra €10 000. The result will be announced on 5 May at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

Gone are the days when heritage was mainly associated with monument buildings. This year’s list includes steamboats, olive trees and a number of advocacy and educational actions. BO has picked the laureates from our region just like last time.



Friends of culture are hoping for a robust indicator like the GDP. The American Arts Index has come closest to satisfying this need: it first caught our attention in 2010. Last autumn chances for a European culture index were explored and discussed.

Boekman Foundation followed the US template and devised the Cultuurindex Nederland on four pillars based on 126 indicators from four years between 2005-2011. “Capacity refers to the resources of the cultural field, participation indicates the public interest in culture, financial flows brings the money side into the picture, and competitiveness relates to the relative strength of the cultural field within the broader context”. What we get is not usual statistics but indexes (indices, more elegantly) in the strict sense: figures that show relative change from an earlier point in time. The Dutch indexes are shown side by side with the latest American equivalent:  

The indexes show two similar patterns of responding the crisis. “Capacity” kept increasing: amount of cultural output, the infrastructure, even the human factor: jobs and volunteering. Participation (“consumption”), however fell: more in the Netherlands. The great divergence is at competitiveness: the indicators that the Dutch team found showed relative advances for the sector while in America culture appears to be losing with regard to other social spheres.

Researchers know their limitations. The availability of indicators determines a lot. Once an indicator is discontinued it must be removed retrospectively, which is why each edition of the US Arts Index modifies the earlier figures, too. Footnote 1 of the presentation of the Cultuurindex in English warns us: the index reports about things being more or less – this is not the same as better or worse

But still, we have a signal device that has the capacity of attracting attention to serious deviations about the position of culture in society.

It took Boekman two years to pull together cultural actors and their statistics for the first edition of Cultuurindex and the process seems to continue. In the United Kingdom the National Campaign for the Arts lobby organisation has brought out the second edition of their vitality measure of culture in England without one permanent staff member. That index shows modest monotonous yearly improvement / growth between 2007-2012. Its twenty indicators are grouped differently from the American model. Characteristically most of the English indexes relate not to their previous value but to the combined UK figure.

Browsing the Arts Index of England offers interesting findings. Its authors calculated the financial contribution to culture by population. Here are the sources of culture per person in the 2011/12 fiscal year in England in pound sterling:



Local government


Earned income




Trusts and foundations


Individual contributions


Data show the true relative weight of business contributions to culture – knowing of course that much of the money coming from trusts, foundations and individuals is also indirect support from the business community. Central and local public sources nevertheless dominate cultural finances even in England. 


Meanwhile in Europe – as we peep out of the sector – the latest Eurobarometer data allow for a careful smile over EU prospects.

17% of Europeans see respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law as Europe’s biggest asset, almost as many as votes for the economic, industrial and trading power.

For citizens in seven countries (out of 28) democracy is a greater asset than the economy – from our region Latvians only share this view. People in crisis shaken Ireland and Portugal give enormous advantage to economic power over democratic values.

Yet on the whole Europeans have turned softer since the last such poll. For instance, advocating for cultural diversity in face of global challenges received a bit higher support than two years earlier. But not in the east, here the idea is generally much less popular than in the north and west of the continent.  

To the same question (which issues to emphasise in face of global challenges?) there are seven EU countries where over one third of respondents opt for free trade and the market economy: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania – and Cyprus. No nonsense people live here.   

But they have a heart for traditions, which they want to pose against challenges in highest numbers (16-18%): Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania – and 21% in Cyprus.

The antipode is Sweden. (Not for the first time.) 61% (highest rate) want to emphasise environmental issues, 54% social equality, 29% (the highest) cultural diversity, and only 16% market economy and 3% traditions (both lowest rate in the poll).