Speech in Ljubljana, 2008


Reconstruction of the speech by Péter Inkei, director of the Budapest Observatory, at international conference Re-network! on networking and stimulating transnational cooperation and free flow of information in the cultural sector, held in Ljubljana on 12 June 2008.

First of all I would like to pay tribute to the editors of the little booklet entitled Give, Get or Get Off! (Challenges of cultural networking today), published by the European Festivals Association based on the conference held almost exactly a year ago in Brussels on Cultural Networks at Work. From the two lists of participants I can see that at least half a dozen people in this room also attended that meeting. They can confirm that it was a useful conference – at any rate, this book contains valuable observations about cultural networking in Europe.

Getting away

The conference in Brussels emphasised, among others, that networking takes place in very diverse forms. From this huge variety, I would focus on one particular aspect of cultural networking. It is the motivation to get away from one’s original environment through joining a network. Getting away is not necessarily a dramatic action. This is a common wish for instance in every family – except of course the cases of runaway teenage kids. It is customary for dad and mom, or younger and older family members to want to share time with peers. A similar drive makes cultural operators and organisations to want to do trans-border networking.

They want to get away from what? From insufficient attention, acknowledgement and response. From scarcity of opportunities to operate. And from outmoded conventions in their home circumstances. We need not enter now into the question to what extent these sources of frustration are real or imagined.

Networking takes cultural operators to where? To like-minded peers: to situations where one can exchange concerns and experiences, and can collect enriching experiences. Broader scope and space. Networking is a valuable tool for those, who are searching for new impulses and new interactions in their cultural work, as well as for new opportunities to create and present. Giving support to path-seeking, pioneering cultural networks helps to create a favourable environment in Europe.

It sounds as if I am idealising cultural networking; I indeed am, a certain type of it. However, two remarks are in place here. Networking is not just for the frustrated, or for the rebelling pace-setters. Established mainstream operators and their institutions had started forging international alliances much earlier. These transnational guilds exist also today and fulfil their own important functions.

The second remark is a warning about fetishism of hyperactivity of cultural operators. Being an international busybody is no automatic indicator of sustainable value. Here is the example of two artists who played decisive roles in revolutionarising 20th century art: Stravinsky and Bartók. The former was a par excellence networking species, mobile, sociable, which indeed got essential reflection in his creative work. Bartók, on the other hand, was a seclusive, shy person, with much fewer professional bonds than Stravinsky, which did not prevent him from being equally open and ground breaking in his art.

Responsive funders

One of the drivers that enhance networking is the hope to easier find and attract funders. On the European scene the European Commission is one of these. Differently from the previous periods, the so-called Strand 2 of the Culture 2007-2013 programme has taken the charge of funding cultural networks (“operating grant for organisations active at European level in the field of culture”). This support is being done alongside with “ambassadors” and festivals. I will present and comment the latest list of these grants. Finding information from the Commission is rarely easy, in fact they belong to the lousiest data-providers. The most obvious errors remain uncorrected on lists of winners of Culture 2000, put up years ago – if they are accessible at all. It is not just archival pedantry that is at stake, it is a matter of transparency and respect for the partners, the cultural community of Europe. For today's opportunity we, at the Budapest Observatory, have tried to arrange the lists in a user-friendly manner.

Ambassadors – politicians’ pets

You need not share my views about the Ambassador category. For me this is an anachronism from the 1980s, when culture was even less integrated into the common matters of the European community than today. Culture was mainly used as a symbolic decoration, applied for diplomatic and protocol purposes, carriers of PR messages. Today I can see no artistic justification for the EU to maintain orchestras of its own. Which, in my mind, infringes competition principles, too. If I was asked, I would abolish this category as soon as possible and use the money for networking, festivals or other goals. If this appears too drastic, I would use the analogy of the European Capital of Culture and give the title of the classical (or jazz, baroque etc) orchestra of the European Union to different ensembles each year, based upon clear criteria and implying firmly set duties. (I know this is an illusion. Politicians and journalists love these artificial top-down creations that border Guiness-record attempts: who is able to recruit musicians from more countries?)

Even the assiduous examiner of the web sites of the cultural directorate or of the agency fails to learn for sure that the mark “3 years” implies that the sum is automatically paid two more times. Thus, for instance, the European Youth Orchestra received a pledge for 1 800 000 euros to be used over three years.

With regard to festivals, I can seriously wonder about the sophistication level of the selection process, on the basis of my own experiences; of the evaluation apparatus we applied for the selection of festivals to be supported by the Hungarian National Cultural Fund. 

In from the margins 

Coming back to European cultural networks, I am pleased to identify some of my heroes on the list of supported networks (although I will not name them). It is clear that a network based in Brussels is often fully representative of the whole of Europe. Nevertheless, I find the fringes – and especially the east – underrepresented (as usual). In 2004, in the Osterweiterung year, a Dutch citizen, a resident of Amsterdam proposed at a major conference that for the next several years all cultural support of the European Union should be channelled to the new member states. The name of this Dutchman was Dragan Klaic. He did not mean his proposal literally. Nevertheless I would require a much more apparent bias in this list also for the new and future members as well as for the neighbourhood policy.




(P.S.: I was pleased to sense sympathy and agreement with what I said. One delegate went even further and informed us (disapprovingly) that in addition to the support form the Commission, the flagship of the EU orchestras’ fleet asks for regular support from the governments of the member states, too.) 


Top 20
of cultural organisations supported by the European Commission


Mid 20
of cultural organisations supported by the European Commission


Bottom 19
of cultural organisations supported by the European Commission


Frequent flyers and one-time travellers