Memo December 2016


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in December 2016

BO wishes you happy 2017, in the colour of the year.                                   

A global fund

144 countries plus the European Union have adhered to the 2005 Unesco diversity convention (Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions). A 24-member Intergovernmental Committee meets every December to run the process. They decide among others on the programmes to be funded by the International Fund for Cultural Diversity, IFCD. This December altogether 503 thousand US dollars were divided between six projects:

  • Colombia           Mapping and training cultural industries in Bogota
  • Madagascar       The cinema as a means of expression and an industry
  • Namibia              Connecting musicians of the San community to global markets
  • Palestine             Promoting cultural and creative industry startups
  • Paraguay             Identifying and promoting new cultural expressions of youth in Asunción
  • Togo                    Construction of local cultural policies through regional workshops

The six were selected from 445 applicants through a painstaking process which is amazingly transparent – click on the linked words above to see. Next to the full application you – like anyone else – can read the detailed evaluation by two experts on the 36 pre-selected eligible projects like this one from Serbia. (“While the project is generally relevant, well planned and realistic, some doubts linger about just how useful in practice the online platform will be to target beneficiaries” etc.).

Plunge into details

The majority of the 445 applications came from the south: 136 from Sub-Saharan Africa (31%) and 117 from Latin-America (26%). But the third largest group, 80 submissions (18%) arrived from post-communist Europe, but only 43 from Asia! Even more surprising is the top position of Ukraine in the rank list of countries by the number of applications:

  • Ukraine  34
  • Colombia  33
  • South Africa  23
  • Bangladesh  20
  • Argentina  14
  • Ecuador, Kenya, Mexico, Zimbabwe  12
  • Bosnia, Palestine  11

Ironically, the more you apply apparently the less you win: practically nil. So much labour lost: the dozens of hopefuls from Ukraine and Colombia did not get a penny, not just in 2016 but back in all six calls ever.

Yet this is no golden rule. This year’s third most active South Africa can boast five IFCD grants in 2010-2015. The top of the list of all time winners:

  • Kenya, South Africa  5
  • Cameroon, Zimbabwe  4

An analysis of the 80 unfunded applications from east Europe would draw an interesting map of deficits and aspirations from cultural operations in the region. BO is intrigued but not in the frame of this memo.


IFCD is incredibly low funded. The strand of smaller scale cooperation projects of Creative Europe lends itself as a benchmark. Regardless of one aiming at development and the other at cooperation, also irrespective of the number of operations involved, the content of the projects is often very similar.

                                          Applied       Won          Amount                           Average

CE small scale 2016            404            51            € 9,847 thousand             € 193 thousand

IFCD 2016                          445             6             $  503 thousand               $  84 thousand

A word about transparency: compare what you can learn about the first European loser on the IFCD list (Creating society with dance) and about the first European winner on the EACEA list (Echoes from invisible landscapes).

Beyond the obvious

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is roughly the British equivalent of the relevant sector of Horizon 2020 of the EU. They, the AHRC, funded a 3-year programme on the value of culture. The complex operation has involved most of the authorities of the western (Anglo-Saxon) thinking on the subject. 72 projects were commissioned, surveys, reviews, workshops: impressive research management.

The open-minded and sober report has delighted BO. The project embraces much more than the obvious advocacy arguments for public subsidies and discusses the value of all manifestations of culture. Valuing of all kinds are addressed, from impact studies to correlation analyses, assessments for feedback and ranking or sorting, impacting individuals, communities and the society etc. The authors attempt at “grown-up conversations” facing “when arguments are weak, methodologies are unsatisfactory, or evidence is insubstantial.” British scholarship at its best, in impeccable English (no wonder, although the constant use of arts and culture for culture is unusual for some continental ears).

Apropos beyond the obvious: it is not too late to make up your mind about coming to Budapest on 26-28 January.

Apropos Apropos: BO also strives at an open-minded attitude to issues of culture (in Bulgarian).

A heritage project

BO got involved in CulturalBase, a programme running between 2015 and 2017, whose complexity resembles the British project. One of the aims is to come forward with suggestions to research and policy priorities in the area of cultural heritage, memory and identities. The timing is fortunate, as the project will have been concluded before the content of 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage gets finalised.

Comparing these two research programmes: while CulturalBase is one among 260 if you click on the line Europe in a changing world on the page of Horizon 2020 projects, the British operation appears to be an AHRC flagship project. CulturalBase receives just below one million euro (displaying the internal division between consortium members) but BO could not find the amount of the AHRC grant.

All those years

The string of thematic years is no EU communication success story. Who noticed that 2015 was dedicated to development aid? The one on citizens was little more memorable. The years on active aging and volunteering popped up in our pages.     

2010 with combating poverty and social exclusion and its connection to culture was handled better, producing a conference and a document. Different from 2009, year of creativity and innovation, which irritated BO month after month and again.

The brilliant note by Dragan Klaic makes us best remember 2008, the year of intercultural dialogue.

All these experiences made us glad to hear at the last session of the CulturalBase workshop in Florence about the special care that European leaders took by designating only one thematic year (2018) in the term of the actual Commission.