Memo August 2014

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

Within days the name of the next European cultural commissionaire is disclosed.

Budgetary trends

Last summer we showed how abruptly central governments cut cultural expenditure after 2008, and that local governments, on the other hand, did not follow suit. We promised to wait for the 2012 data and see how the story continues.

Here it is, red: central government, green: local governments, interrupted lines: culture, 2004: 100%, data from the same fifteen countries as last year (Cyprus, Czech Rep., Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden. Eurostat COFOG data accessed via http://datamarket.com.) Yes, the trend goes on, central governments keep cutting but positions of public culture on local levels are being held.

We made the scale this high so that you could really feel the difference if the five eastern countries (CZ, EE, HU, LT, SI) are extracted into a separate diagram:

Look first at the total budgets. Differently from the general trend, it is municipalities that suffer most from public austerity in these post-communist states. As to cultural spending, the scissors between central and local are closing again, unlike on the broader stage of fifteen countries. 

What about the steep rise on the left side of the diagram? Indeed, according to Eurostat the average central cultural spending of these five countries rose by 62% between 2004 (EU entry!) and 2008, more specifically by twofold in the Czech Republic and by four times in Lithuania – some of you must have felt it.

37 plus 21 cooperations

In August, selection results of the first cultural calls of the Creative Europe programme were published one after the other. As usual, the now classic “small” cooperation projects attracted the largest number of applications, resulting the highest rate of failures – 89%. The 37 winners were selected from 327 applications. The record fiasco happened in spite of the somewhat lower number of applications than the annual average during the past seven years, which was 396, as Geoffrey pointed out in his ConDo 012 analysis, available to subscribers. The radically reduced number of grants is the explanation.

A sign of consolidation, on the other hand, is that there were more applicants and winners of the “large” cooperation projects than between 2007-2013. Several of the 21 winning projects got the maximum subsidy of two million euro. It is BO’s duty to warn that none of the 21 is led from our region – indeed, among the 74 candidate projects three only were submitted from Eastern Europe. (The French were the most successful with four instances of project leadership). The gravitation centres of the more complex cooperation projects are still in the old member states.

Statistics on money demanded by country are misleading, since the greater part of the support is spent on the partners, often based in more than a dozen countries.

Regrettable is the absence of project descriptions that prevailed in the previous system. 

63 plus 11 publishers

The same complaint applies to the literary translation results: we used to get better service. (By the way, an analysis of the hundreds of supported titles could reveal a latent indirect literary policy of the European Union – and point at the some blunders.)  

Welcome steps of consolidation are the so called framework partnerships. Huge victory for east-central Europe: eight of the eleven winners are from this region. Again, the public should be better informed about the deals that these publishers offered for the guaranteed hefty subsidies for the next couple of years.   

Five platforms

Another novelty would deserve to be heralded more: the category of European Platforms. Five groupings receive up to half a million euro each for Europe-wide programming of cultural activities. A Brussels-based organisation collected some information on the five projects, performing the communication that the Commission ought to do:

  • Liveurope (Brussels) gathers popular concert venues

  • Aerowaves (London) is a broad network of contemporary dance

  • E-merging Creativity (Ljubljana) is a network of poetry festivals coordinated by a Slovene publisher (also beneficiary of the “framework partnership” above)

  • In Situ (Marseille) promotes artistic creation in public space

  • A Prague-based project with an awkward name aims at a variety of very contemporary artistic activities. By clicking on the picture you will learn the name of the leader of the institution:

In these troubled times more care should be paid to communicating how Europeans’ money is spent: will the project library  subpage serve for that? Applicants ought to be obliged to prepare blurbs for such purpose (including web addresses and the organisers’ name also in the national version).  

Twenty-two networks

The fourth scheme in the row is European Networks. The winners get up to 250 000 euro in each of the next three years. (Labels are arbitrary. Some of the twenty-two “networks” are real platforms for voices and interests of a sector or subsector, just as the five “platforms” above function as networks.)

BO is glad to see organisations with which it is or was connected. And is astonished to learn about others failing, for instance the choral association Europa Cantat, the network of artist residences Res Artis, as well as TEH and On the Move, which both made it to BO memos four times over the past decade (1 2 3 4 and 1 2 3 4).

European subsidies do not go for ever, true. But the latest list suggests a tilt towards organisations closer to public administrations (EUNIC!) at the expense of civic NGOs.  

A crowd of forty

Taking part in a comparative exploration of crowdfunding in the Visegrad countries did not make BO believe that Hungary was most advanced in this area. And yet, the owner of the only really active platform in the country gained membership in the European Crowdfunding Stakeholders Forum. Romanian researchers have also been included from the region, plus public authorities (ministries?) from three more countries (CZ, LV, PL).