Memo July 2017


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in July 2017

Mid-vacation briefing on cultural processes in Europe.


The Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s science and knowledge service came out with a great product, the Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor.

It needs considerable courage to express complicated phenomena with one figure and state that the cultural and creative temperature of Tartu is 26.1.

Such bravado raises dilemmas, but without it we get nowhere. Careful readers understand that this simple figure is the function of dozens of decisions based on experts’ judgments. Changing a single one of these decisions may recalculate every index. In fact the methodological rigour is a main virtue of the scheme. Every choice is substantiated, its impact carefully studied. 

Even more courage is needed for ranking, displayed on every page. Brave move was to put together an ideal city from features of eight cities: Cork, Paris, Eindhoven, Umeå, Leuven, Glasgow, Utrecht and Copenhagen. It remains up to BO to construct the fictitious most miserable city from eight losers (not now).

Cities with many more jobs, more young people, especially university students, more foreigners as well as highly educated residents than the average will become “cultural and creative”. The researchers claim the opposite direction, with the pardonable light handling of cause and result. 

What for?

“The Monitor is designed to help policy makers…” A surreal picture as the deputy mayor is pondering over the dimension Openness, Tolerance and Trust. In reality it is the media and pressure groups that are the major targets beyond researchers and the curious public. The eye-catching layout (that deserves a Red Dot), the thrill of ranking, and the easy handling will hopefully attract masses of visitors. The portal will teach them about the complexities, interrelations and importance of urban culture and creativity. 

Try your hand

The portal is interactive, you can modify weights given to indicators. If you decide that cultural vibrancy should count full this will raise Tartu’s score to 29.6. (And brings down Zagreb’s from 25.9 to 24.9.)

This feature is similar to OECD’s Better Life Index, which next to countries already classifies regions of the developed world as well. (Against our hopes, without a cultural dimension.) The interactive part of the culture and democracy indicator framework of the Council of Europe does not allow to change weights: its user can modify the aspects of comparing countries.

Regardless of users’ manipulations, the C3 score set for Tartu remains 26.1 until 2019 when an update is promised.

Nice and useful


Dozens of Red Dots were granted for best designed products in Essen, selected from more than 5500 submissions from 54 countries. CzechPolish and Slovene designers or manufacturers were awarded in great numbers, also a couple of Estonians and Ukrainians. In the top category of the Best of the Best, among more than a hundred winners BO spotted a clothes dryer and an office desk from east-central Europe.

Meanwhile in Porto 130 European Design Awards were handed over in 35 categories. Twelve of them came to our region (CZ EE HR PL SI UA), including gold for a book, a magazine and a museum exhibition.     

And in Cannes, in the frame of a global festival of creativity 3854 entries competed for Cannes Lions in twenty categories. The east of Europe was represented by BY CZ GE HR HU PL RO SI UA but only in the print section can we see gold, items of Czech design.

The Chinese are coming

There is a portal that claims to bring together all design awards, cumulatively up from 2010. With 557 prizes the USA is on top, but this is nowhere behind the altogether 1351 awards collected by the next three Chinese countries.

The Turkish miracle continues, they show an even more secure lead in Europe than three years ago. Compared with the 2010-2014 lists, Europeans on the global scale and easterners on the European rank list have both confirmed their positions. If indeed design is par excellence creativity, these are good news.

Memory, inclusion, creativity

BO took part in the CulturalBase project which has concluded its work by issuing a 39-page Roadmap for cultural heritage and European identities through memory, inclusion and creativity. The document reviews the ways these sensitive topics have been handled lately in Europe. Interesting is the active conception of identity: rather than what identity is like, what matters is what it does as a socio-political device (a dispositif). The Roadmap notes and welcomes increasing inclusiveness and self-reflexivity. By this, countries where the opposite trend prevails get between brackets, as often is the case in today’s Europe.

Four policy briefs present the findings in digestible manner, one on heritage rights, the second on new museum paradigms, and the third on culture and the digital single market.

Populist heritage

The fourth CulturalBase policy brief discusses the forthcoming European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018, warning about what can go wrong. One pitfall is if the event remains in the “cultural comfort zone in which Europe only celebrates its achievements” to use the phrase of the Roadmap. Instead, the brief calls for risky but potentially high gain projects by actors normally marginalised from institutional funding.

“The greatest risk is if the Year is hijacked by national agendas of memory politics. It would be hugely counterproductive if the initiative fuelled the current centrifugal tendencies in Europe. It will require determination, diplomatic skills and tactics on the part of the Commission, to prevent that under the guise of subsidiarity the Year is misused for populist nationalism.” Let’s not let populist nationalists have the last laugh!