Memo August 2015


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

In the coming months migrants require a greater place also on the cultural agendas.

Where peers assess

An item in the Ifacca newsletter prompted BO to revisit the topic of the assessment of grant applications. The Australian culture ministry is recruiting experts for peer reviewing: artists, curators, philanthropists and producers. They, however, are also interested in “individuals who may not be involved professionally in the sector, but who attend, visit and participate in cultural activities.”

Similar practice was encouraged in the 1990s at the National Endowment for the Arts in the USA, where lay participation was required on every jury.

It is ages since BO last looked into the matter; or anyone else did. Views range from “peer group assessment is simply a form of institutionalised corruption” to “the best way of ensuring quality is to extend assessment processes of peer judgment to all funding programmes”, a recent pledge from Dublin.

How peers assess

Little is available on the ways recipients of cultural grants are selected across the globe. The latest policy paper of the archetype institution is silent on the issue. Greater attachment prevails elsewhere in the Commonwealth (“peer assessment is central to the decision making process”), and the transparency is disarming both in Canada and Australia.

Regardless of the sophistication in those places, statistical scoring and the use of other complex numerical formulas is not in the focus of the assessment methods – differently from poor EACEA that acts under the heavy constraints of 28 governments and a diverse constituency of over half a billion Europeans.

One aspect, however, is shared by the meccas of peer reviewing and the agency in Brussels: they refrain from standing panels and apply rotation from a pool of peers for the assessment tasks. Conversely, in the east and north of the continent standing (mostly three-year) expert panels prevail, see for instance the detailed description of the Estonian case. This expression of arm’s length self-governance appears to meet satisfaction in spite of the worries about “institutionalised corruption”, suspected somewhat also by BO.    

And more

The time factor in grant assessment, as well as the challenge of conflict of interest have been addressed by the world wide federation of granting agencies. There was also a more general inquiry among Ifacca members: it would be interesting to know whether roughly half of the agencies (that answered the survey in 2009) still do not apply peer assessment. BO appreciates when professional associations explore and discuss their practices besides advocacy and celebrations.

(By assessment we meant the evaluation of applications for grants. The involvement of peers in the assessment of performance and impact is another matter.)

Fiat lux

Ida won last year. One of these three will win this year:


The Forum d’Avignon Ruhr is based on a partnership between the think tank Forum d’Avignon, founded in 2008, and ecce. The forum exists also in three-dimensions, to be held for the fourth time on 22-23 September in Essen.

A main feature of the forum will be the announcement of the third NICE award. “N.I.C.E. spells out as ‚Network for Innovations in Culture and Creativity in Europe’. This nascent network invites stakeholders from all over Europe to join forces and systematically promote the impact of culture on innovation, urban development and economic growth as set out in the EU Agenda 2014 – 2020”.

Last time the shortlist of ten included an application from Košice, Slovakia: the Kasarne. This time the shortlist is a bit longer yet no item from the east among the sixteen.

Rien ne va plus?

The Forum d’Avignon appears among the sponsors of one more attempt to assess the weight of the creative industries in Europe. The authors arrived at figures that are larger than what we could communicate in March from a similar undertaking. Then Ernst & Young estimated 4.2% as the share of the creative sector in the GDP of the European Union while the Tera project arrived at 4.4% – which by adding “non-core” creative industries reaches 6.8%. (The financial crisis does not favour this sector: both figures decreased with 0.1% points from 2008 to 2011.)

Likewise, the Tera experts calculated 8.3 full time equivalent jobs in the creative industries in the EU, which is significantly higher than the 7 million produced by the E&Y team. And if the “non-core” is added, we get approximately 14.0 million jobs – the million artists BO identified are included in both.

Browsing the complicated yet clear full report can explain the differences from the other project. Like any categorisation, theirs too is open to criticism: core vs. non-core (as well as “interdependent”), or or 100% vs. 7% “creative factor” of jobs (e.g. retail sale of newspapers…).

The creative sectors in the five biggest economies of the EU (UK, FR, DE, IT, SP) are examined separately, arriving at the conclusion that a 2008-2011 „decrease of the creative industries has proved much stronger in the ’centre’ than in the ’periphery’ (the other 22 countries)”. Sounds nice over here.


In February we promised to complete the analysis of the literary translation programme when the new data are out: they are but without the list of books like before. If the list gets available we can round up our analysis of the first two years of the Creative Europe programme, covering amounts and dynamics of relationships.

Johann Gottfried

Every Hungarian pupil learns about the prediction by the 18th century scholar J-G Herder about the likely extinction of the Hungarian language. Few of them know about his affection to the Baltic peoples and their songs (in Hungarian, p.227).