Memo February 2015



A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in February 2015

Evidence is BO business. We felt at home at the meeting on measuring the value of culture.

Value of culture

How to identify, how to measure, how to prove what culture means to society, to mankind... Attempts galore have been seeking evidence or just smart arguments to attract the attention of decision makers. February has seen a few notable instances in this regard.

Heritage experts united forces in Leuven to highlight what heritage counts. Meanwhile, in America new rank lists have been devised to boost the spirit of rivalry about cultural achievement of cities on top of the project that has created sensation also in Europe. The American Arts Index appraises vitality (now up to 2012), the new measure is vibrancy.

In the UK one more concerted effort aims at positioning the sector just like a Flemish-Dutch enterprise. But while the focus of the Warwick report was on cultural and creative industries constituting an interrelated ecosystem, the Gielen report is more reserved about the economic measure, stressing instead the benefits that the “dismeasure” of the arts brings to society.

Another difference is that while Europe figures in the title of the main chapter of the Gielen report (Culture, the Substructure for a European Common), the word pops up once only on the 76 pages of the Warwick report. This latter is indeed about “the role of the culture and creative industries in carving out Britain’s global status” because “too often we have let our historical advantage in key industries be eroded by our international competitors”.  Not easy to be a former world power.

The IETM meeting in Brussels discussed advances and limitations of using metrics in advocacy for the cause of culture. Consensus was shaped about well-founded arguments being at least as good as “scientific” proofs.

Here is a powerful although greatly unnoticed argument. Every six months Eurobarometer asks people in Europe to rank issues by their capacity of creating a feeling of community among EU citizens. Culture invariably tops the list, particularly clearly at the last time, in autumn 2014


Compendium blooms

The country directory of the Compendium programme greets spring with four updated profiles. Besides being neighbours, all four countries have had economic and related challenges lately. How are they reflected in the chapter on current issues in cultural policy development and debate?

The Italian chapter concludes with some mild optimism, suggesting a cultural policy focus on pertinent issues. Croatia, on the other hand, appears to lag behind as “the policy is far from being fully conceptualised”. The Slovene chapter tells about the latest steps on the long and winding road of reforming the system, lamenting that culture has been pushed to the margins during the planning for new EU funds. There is lots to tell about the overhaul administered by the current ruling party in the Hungarian chapter.   

A benchmark

In Estonia, the relevant social partners – the culture ministry and the trade unions – have agreed about the rate of the minimum monthly gross wage of a full-time cultural worker in the public sector: 731 euro per month. (No information about vacancies.)

473 translations

The agency that administers the cultural and educational support programmes of the European Commission (EACEAhas introduced a practice that finally allows for the comfortable analysis of the titles to be translated with community grants – although BO complains that the list is not broken down by publishers. As we remarked, studying the list may reveal a latent indirect literary policy of the European Union, especially after June, when hundreds of more titles are added. (The former EACEA practice of displaying results would make the inclusion of earlier lists rather cumbersome.)

In 2014, in the frame of the Creative Europe programme 74 publishers received translation grants for 473 books written by 382 authors. The majority, 316 authors are represented by a single title; at the other end are four lucky writers with four books each into four different languages.

Disregarding duplications, there are 423 titles in case. Most of them were written in the past few years but 23 works first appeared over a hundred years ago.

The 423 books will be translated from 28 to 24 languages in 301 combinations. You would never guess the most frequent coupling: from French to Bulgarian 14 times. The second most popular choice is from German to Italian, 13 times.

The foremost winners are readers and publishers in South-East Europe, in Bulgaria above all.


A switch in the future would turn BO much happier. EU money should enable literature in the lesser spread languages to reach readers in the largest markets, by translating into French, German and especially English. This time, from our region such a favour was bestowed upon ten titles only out of the 423 (or due to the double privilege of a Slovene novel: eleven instances out of the 473):