Hollande’s cultural challenge

If Francois Hollande wins the French presidency then a major cultural challenge has been set for him.  With nearly one in five French voters expressing a preference for a racist party, and the (hopefully) outgoing president making statements which are not out of place at a le Pen rally,  France really has to get to grips with its attitude to racism.

Something is clearly wrong.  It will mean changes to current practices, in employment, in all sectors.  Current policies have clearly failed.      A President Hollande will need to mobilise a changed cultural sector to help in the anti-racism programme.  Changed?  Yes.    How open is the cultural sector, from museums, theatres, orchestras, to independent arts organisations and groups to a multi-cultural programme.   Audience extension and development.  An interesting take on the Musee de Quai Branly for example is here.  Personally I loved the architecture but really disliked the approach taken in the exhibits, as did the author.

The report in Germany on the future of museums makes an interesting point.  Ignore the headline grabbing comment about closing half the museums and focus on the comment about the need to engage closer with the tax paying public.

In addition, he argues, cultural institutions should be organised differently and [be given] more detailed targets, not only in regard to visitor numbers, but also guidelines about where visitors should come from and what age groups in particular should be attracted to the museums.

This is not only a domestic issue.  France’s soft power and cultural attraction is weakened with such a growing vote for the extreme right.   And if the right win in the second round?



More Europe? More Europeans

With austerity and unemployment rising across most of Europe now is certainly the time for more Europe.  Comments by candidate Sarkozy, seeking the racist vote were quite frankly appalling for a President or any politician seeking high office.   (“They must know which side of the Mediterraean they live in”).

I make no concessions to this view.  The closer, and to adopt a Chinese buzz word in its most progressive meaning, harmonious Europe we have the better for everyone.  It is not just a case for eurozone countries to work together or closing down out-of-date tax loopholes between countries. We need to move to a more positive approach to Europeanness at the personal level. For far too long the EU has focused on the corporate and national.  In the next period.. and starting now not waiting for the 2014-20  “Europe 2020” agenda the priority must be to bring Europeans together.

“Unity in Diversity” is being abused to mean “my diversity is paramount” as nationalism and regionalism take precedence. It is no use arguing for More Europe if the target audience, the participants are the already cosmopolitan members of European society.   At the same time I think it is useless to promote some ideal “European Culture”: a favoured viewpoint of an intellectual elite.

As a starting point I recommend this publication from the Council of Europe:  “A Handbook on Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in Europe”.   The European Year of Citizens in 2013 has a fundamental political task in taking head on politicians at local, regional and national level, the commission and civil society.

Creative Europe: “We urge you to reconsider….”

They listened to the Minister (who said no).  They listened to the European Commission and the sector (who said yes).   And they asked the Minister to reconsider.

The UK’s House of Lords Committee scrutinising the Creative Europe proposal from the European Commission came out firmly in support.  Their letter to the Minister says….

” .. we received compelling evidence from the cultural and creative stakeholders…about the economic and social benefits provided by EU funds to UK organisations and to the cultural and creative sectors across the EU more broadly.  We also note that the Commission’s proposed increase constitutes only a fraction (0.002%) of the overall allocation  for the next MultiAnnual Financial Framework for the period 2012-14. In the context of the domestic funding cuts for this sector and taking account of UK organisations obvious capacity for attracting EU funding and notwithstanding the Government’s declared  negotiating stance of achieving a real terms freeze across the next MFF, we would urge the Government to review its approach to this funding proposal”.


They were also (politely) critical of the Ministers’ failure to attend meetings with other Culture Ministers.  I woonder what they would think if they read my article of the UK Culture Ministers failure to sign the Decalogue for Culture (leaving it to a Business Minister)

The Minister has ten days to reply.

Creative Europe strikes back

Creative Europe struck back yesterday at the House of Lords committee which is reviewing the European Commission’s proposed new culture programme.  Last week the UK’s minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey, said the UK government will oppose the planned 37% budget increase.   Yesterday Ann Branch (European Commission), Yvette Vaughan Jones (Visiting Arts and the UK’s Cultural Contact Point) and Agnieszka Moody (MEDIA Desk UK.) refuted Vaizeys’ objections.

Last week I said that the supporters of the Creative Europe programme need to offer hard facts rather than appeals to vague concepts of “Europeanness” if they are to convince politicians to support the increase in the EC’s culture budget. That is precisely the approach the three “witnesses” took yesterday.

To every question they replied with hard facts and practical explanations of the impact the EC Culture programme has.  Benefits to UK?.. of course; benefits to arts and creative professionals?..here’s an example, benefits to wider society?.. lets look a this example,  supporting jobs and growth?.. look at the numbers and the multipliers, is there European added value?.. see through these examples, Will the increase benefit the UK arts sector and society?  here’s another example.  On the critical issue of the proposed loan guarantee facility the Ann Branch gave compelling evidence of support from the European Investment Bank.

Watch the session here on Parliament TV.

Vaizey was clearly embarrassed last week when he said there had only been 6 responses to the UK consultation exercise run by his ministry.   He extended the deadline to 26 March.  The CCP, and this blog, alerted the arts sector.  There are no nearly 50 responses.  There are still a few days to get more responses.  Send them to DCMS.

The Committee were clearly impressed when the sheer scale of consultation across Europe was listed by the three witnesses.

And now?   My guess is that the Committee will support the increase in the programme, re-assure the Minister that EU funding is not replacing reduced UK arts funding and will benefit the UK sectors.   The big question is less over the Creative Europe budget itself.   I suspect that over the next 12 months as heads of government start to become involved over the EC budget as a whole .. and I guess that the EC will not get away with any real increases but have a static budget (except for inflation) then the inter-programme battles will resume within the Commission.  The issue then is whether the proposed culture programme benefits Europe’s (not the sector) jobs and growth strategy more than other programmes run by the EU. We all have our favourite programme to hate.  Naturally the Common Agricultural Programme tops my listing!

“Creative Europe”: yes but no more money says UK Minister

The UK will oppose the proposed 37% increase in the EU’s culture budget.  The European Commission has put forward a new programme for 2014-2020 under the banner “Creative Europe” to cover culture, media and a “cross sectoral financing facility”.  Ed Vaizey, the UK’s Minister for Culture, Communication and the Creative Industries told a Parliamentary Committee on 15 March that the UK does not support any increase in the EC’s budget, in these days of austerity. Consequently it opposes the increase in the culture budget.  (The Minister’s uncorrected comments to the Committee are here).

Vaizey gave strong support to the objectives of the culture programme and to the support to the media and film industries.  In particular he supported the translation programme saying the publishing industry was often overlooked.

Vaizey said: “On one level it is unusual for me as a Culture Minister to oppose a proposed substantial increase in a budget designed to support the cultural and creative industries, but I do oppose it because I very much sign up to the Government’s position that in times of great economic austerity, when the European Union should be focused on growth, looking hard at its budget and the money it spends and reducing it if possible, it would be terribly wrong for me, given my own particular passion, to say, “That’s all very well but we’ll take the increase in the culture programme“.


He singled out the proposed financial facility  for strong opposition .  The Commission have proposed this loan guarantee facility as small  businesses in the creative industries have difficulty attracting commercial loans from the financial sector in many countries.  Vaizey disputed this. His objections rested on the risk that starting such a loan guarantee system ran the risk of other sectors seeking similar preferential treatment, and that the better way  forward was to educate the investors.  His own ministry has recently launched a support scheme based around tax relief.

Two surprises came from the hearing.  Vaizey does not know or meet his ministerial counterparts across the EU. He did recall a short meeting with the French Culture Minister at the Venice Architectural Biennale.    Secondly his Ministry  has only received 6 responses to its consultation on Creative Europe.  This clearly concerned the Minister.  So much so that the Cultural Contact Point wrote out that evening saying the deadline for comments has been extended to 26 March.

The UK’s view is not surprising. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will not let the EC claim an exception to the general cuts in government spending that we are seeing across the EU.  The EC’s culture budget increase is a casualty of this policy.   The messages for the “We are More”  campaigners are clear:

* the need to argue why culture is more effective than other areas of EC spend (presumably the Common Agriculture Policy as the largest element of the EU’s budget)

* why the local guarantee facility will help small and medium companies in the creative and cultural sector.

* and, in the UK, to get your views to DCMS and Vaizey before 26 March.

General pleas to a conceptual idea of a “Europeanness” will fall I suspect fall on deaf ears (the point of another article soon).  As governments cut their own budgets only hard evidence will sway them now.

Soft Power: can it be measured? Part two

This is the second in a series of articles exploring various Indexes measuring the influence one country may have or may seek over another.  The first article is here.

Commentators on international relations over the last 60 years have identified a number of high level areas where one country can exert, or seek to exert, influence over another.  They tend to illustrate their ideas with diagrams:  a continuum, a spectrum, others use various degrees of concentric circles.  The common theme is that the degree and depth of international engagement increases the chances of success in changing views.  It is a power game.  The ending of the Cold War unleashed more varieties: after all wasn’t the Cold War won without the inconvenience of actually going to War in the old-fashioned military sense?  Of course the multitude of wars since 1989 has demonstrated that good old military might has not gone away.  Indeed the current war mongering by nuclear armed Israel shows that old habits die hard. As do civilians and military personnel in a war.

The prime categorisation of power is hard and soft; based on Joseph Nye’s work from the early 1990s when he was at the Pentagon.  Hard power: the power to coerce from invasion, military strikes, economic and trade tactics is clear.  Soft power: the power of attraction of ideas has its supporters. It also has its denigrators.   Nye has more recently tried to merge the hard/soft dichotomy and handle the critics with a third way: smart power.

Hot on the heels of the academics and commentators are the measurers.  Create an Index based on criteria to demonstrate who is powerful, whose power, hard or soft or smart, is better/stronger than someone else.

Real Instituto Elcano based in Madrid produce a Global Presence Index.  This reviews 54 countries in 5 categories: economy, defence, migration and tourism, culture and science and development assistance.  Unlike most other Indexes it relies on the international element of each indicator and on objective data: no room for perceptions or value judgements.  So Nobel Prize winners do not get a look in as this is based on a subjective assessment of the awarding jury.  There are no subjective views of participants in international arts or youth activities or of views of other countries’ governance or human rights. Just plain hard quantifiable facts.

The Introduction to the Index is a valuable analysis of the methodology. It offers short sharp reviews of 14 other Indexes including those from the World Economic Forum, KOF Index of Globalisation, and even the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.

The Elcano approach is in my view the most rigorous of all the Indexes.  It seeks to avoid the “multiple indicators of same subject” which comes with those with a longer criteria list.  The rejection of all perception based indicators is novel and marks it out.   The eventual country ranking (USA, Germany, France, UK, China, Japan, Russia, Italy, Spain and Canada are its top 10) is slightly less western orientated than most Indexes.

The inclusion side by side of both the elements of hard power (military and trade) with the soft power categories (cultural, educational, scientific, development assistance) is a useful antidote to one sided supporters of one or the other.

But I’m not so convinced of its core premise:  “Global presence is a prerequisite for the exercise of influence through diplomacy”.  This presupposes that global influence is the aim, or at least feasible.  Most countries do not have a global foreign policy.  They may have a wide Embassy network and most countries have at least some trade with 100+ other countries.  But influence and importance?   Very few aspire to global pretensions.  It is easy to list them so I won’t!  The majority of countries have a triple international policy:  their neighbourhood (which may mean for example for a EU member, the other 26 members), the major countries (roughly the real G20 attendees.. around 25 countries) and very importantly the countries of their diaspora.  A good example came this week with the three Baltic countries clearly saying that their foreign policy was geared to “Russia, Russia, Russia” and their EU partners.

So a Global Presence Index has a use but it is not comparing like with like.   Space for another Index perhaps?

Framing the Creative Cities agenda

Cities around the world aspire to be creative.  Creativity is the key to success, to prosperity, to growth. It is difficult to find a city PR message which does not proclaim it as, or aspiring to be, a creative city, or hub, or focal point.  Creativity has become the great global battleground for cities. Conversely no city dares promote itself as “uncreative” (except the area of north east London where I live).

So if creativity is the key to urban nirvana how do we measure it? What factors come into play? If city mayors and leaders know these infallible factors then their route map to success can be plotted (until perhaps the next election).

“Global city index construction is a new emerging industry”: the words of Professor John Hartley and his colleagues at Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University in Australia. Hartley, commissioned by the Beijing Research Centre for Science of Science, has duly entered the arena with a new Index.

The Index “(C2I)2 = CCI-CCI Creative City Index” to use its catchy title incorporates 8 themes, 72 components and over 250 individual data points.

In presenting the Index Hartley has done cities and planners a major service. He reviews 22 other Indexes. Yes that’s right, 22 City Indexes; from the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia and international bodies.  The big names are there: Richard Florida, and Charles Landry  as well as host of others.   I challenge anyone to list the 22 (without a quick glance at the report!).

The assembled indexes cluster around 16 themes.  Some are driven by economists, some by sociologists: an important distinction. The short summaries and analyses are perfect for a quick but comprehensive overview of the nuances of importance and interpretation.

Some soundbites:

“a creative city is not the same as a global city”

“caution about “real-estate” city development” (e.g. Canberra and new cities in China and Korea)

*importance of festivals: where freer and more open engagements between arts producers and audience

“small cinemas more likely to show independent films rather than large scale cinemas”

*divorce rate a good indicator of women’s freedom and subversion of strong conservative cultural norms.

I was particularly attracted to several items:

•            The emphasis on the youth sector as the driver for change , experimentation and innovation

•            How cultural factors can distort global comparisons:  the non-collection of data in one country; the failure to disclose information; how not to focus on western cultural norms of systems,

•            The importance of a free cultural environment not just a top down built, provided, supported structure.

•            And given a Chinese client: the importance of looking at equivalent Chinese cultural factors: not special ones but equivalents.

To conclude I recommend that anyone interested in city  development, in cultural and creative cities, reads the report.  .   To quote:

…a global city must first be a creative city, and a creative city is invariably powered by energy and entrepreneurial experimentation of the young, of the outsider, of those seeking to new ideas and to challenge existing ideas.  A creative city will invariably be complex and challenging, “lovable” more than “likeable”, edgy rather than middle of the road, often with a clash of cultures, demographics and ideas in its mix”.

Indexes help frame a debate. It will be interesting to learn of the reactions of the Chinese, or of any other city with a strong controlling culture (whether political, religious or social)  to this conclusion.  Can mayors, politicians and planners promote inward migration, an edgy challenging city?    Based on this index, and indeed most of the other under review, they may need to loosen up!



China: in sounds and images

Imogen Heap, an award winning, musician, recently spent six weeks in Hangzhou in China.    She made this beautiful video  http://www.youtube.com/embed/jgvAx2Bdt-o.

The song will form part of her next album.  It’s interesting to see how an artist sees, and hears, a different city; which images and impressions make it to the finished product.

In the Guardian she explains:

Well, I’ve just come back from six weeks in Hangzhou in China. The British Council and the PRS for Music Foundation helped fund the trip – I had to put in an application – but it ended up being much more expensive than planned. Before I went I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I’d heard that people practise qigong by the lake, and that there’s a famous temple bell that’s rung at sunset every evening, so I was thinking about finding a rhythm in the chaos of this huge city and a journey through it in the course of a day.

I ended up curating this 24-hour period. It was my birthday as well.  I wanted to combine the sorts of things that happen there every day with different media and art forms. We filmed the whole thing and then I drew on all the sounds for my latest Heapsong.  So we filmed the fishermen out on the lake at midnight, but it’s kind of illegal to do that, so we had them fishing out a treasure map. And there are a lot of skateboarders there, so we filmed them at 1am, surrounded by a ring of taxi drivers shining their lights on them.

We went into a primary school class, where the children were doing their eye exercises, and the teacher giving them their instructions gave us our tempo. The sound of the newspaper printing presses – that became the beat. And we caught this woman who heads up this huge hill to a temple every day at sunrise and screams at the top of her lungs, so the sound of that is now in the middle section of the song.


Cultural democracy; save the cinema in Walthamstow

Walthamstow has no cinema.  An amazing statement in this day and age.   It used to have one: a 1930s outstanding example of cinema architecture. As well as films it was also a live entertainment venue: from the Beatles to the Stones.  The cinema fell foul of the out of town multiplexes and closed about 10 years ago.  The building was bought by a Brazilian evangelical organisation, (a “Church called United Church of the Kingdom of God”) who want to turn it into a “Help Centre”.  Local residents oppose the change.  There is a locally managed alternative option to create an arts based centre to help drive regeneration in Walthamstow.  The local Council rejected the application by the “Church”.  A decision widely supported by local residents. (see my report on that meeting on my previous blog)  The “Church” has appealed.  Here is my objection to their appeal sent to the government planning inspectors.

I write to oppose the appeals of the UCKG and to support the decision of the LBWF Planning Committee in refusing change of use consent.  I have been a resident of Walthamstow for over 30 years.

There is considerable professional literature and practice across the UK, Europe and indeed the world, on the important role that culture has on urban regeneration and prosperity.  The arts are in themselves a major economic sector; a community with an active arts-based sector benefits from those gains and from the reputation a vibrant
arts scene brings.   Culture in an urban context is important to attract and retain new residents and increase the
overall GDP-per capita.

As an expert member of the Selection Panel for European Capitals of Culture, nominated by the European Parliament, I am fully aware of how cities around Europe are prioritising culture in their development aspirations.

The EMD cinema is the only large scale cultural building in Walthamstow.  It has a formal heritage listing and as importantly has an informal intangible heritage reputation for its residents.  Recent decisions by UNESCO and the Council of Europe have highlighted the importance of intangible heritage and memory.   The loss of the building, if the appeal is upheld, will be irretrievable to the cultural sector and life in Walthamstow.

There is a viable proposal to use the building, with its existing use category, as a multi-purpose arts centre.  This is completely in keeping with cultural regeneration projects and one which has proven success in regeneration
programmes.  The proposal is at no cost to the public purse in these days of public sector austerity.

There is very little evidence that religious based projects, (single focus projects), contribute to the economic development of an urban community. I exclude the benefits which come from major heritage religious buildings such as cathedrals, churches, mosques and synagogues where the  attraction is overwhelmingly led by the attraction of the architectural
heritage.  That is not relevant in this case.

Religious based projects tend towards exclusivity; attracting their own followers and rarely having a broader appeal. There is of course a place for such projects but in this case not at the expense of a unique property both designed for another purpose and where there is a continuation option available.  It is unlikely based on practice elsewhere that the UCKG’s claims in impact on regeneration will be realised.

In the years they have owned the EMD cinema they have allowed to fall into decay.  If your site visit took place today you would see it boarded up for safety reasons.  The UCKG has not demonstrated, over a number  of years, that they are willing to maintain the building to a satisfactory state.

Successful regeneration projects are those which are “bottom-up”: driven by the needs of and the aspirations of local  residents.   It was telling that at the Planning Committee meeting in May 2011 that the elected representatives said
that they had no postbag requesting support for the UCKG proposals.  Indeed the clear view of local residents is
to retain the EMD building as a locally managed arts-based centre.  As such the programming is more likely to be
open to all residents of Walthamstow and Waltham Forest. This is the experience of similar centres in other parts of London. This contrasts with the exclusive appeal of a single focus based organisation.

The case put forward by UCKG does not stack up in terms of the development plans of LBWF and of the residents of Walthamstow.   Sustainable economic development will come from maintaining the current use category of the EMD enabling the viable alternative to proceed.   Cities and communities across Europe are seeking to keep their cultural assets, to develop them and expand them as one of the major avenues for sustainable and locally led development.

I urge you to reject the appeal.  There are inadequate grounds in UCKG’s case to warrant a change from the original designation and use of the EMD cinema.

Save the Wedgwood Museum

We like to think that the creative industries are new; a product of our times.  Not so.  The Wedgwood ceramics factory was just one of many craft based companies which played a major role in Britain’s Industrial Revolution.  It was a pioneer in engaging top artists of the time to design its wares. Its products were triumphs of design, construction and marketing.  Its labour force was at the forefront of factory workers of the time.  It today’s world it would have combined the knowledge economy world of the creative sector with the manufacturing, export led, business.

Exports were a key to its success.  It made items explicitly for the export market.  One range was for the Dutch market where the economy was booming in the late Eighteenth Century.  Early on in my British Council career I was able to support an exhibition of Wedgwood items at the Princessehof Museum in  Leeuwarden and the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.  The curators worked with the Wedgwood Museum in Barleston. It was a show which demonstrated the close artistic , commercial and personal contacts between the countries.

Now the Wedgwood Museum is under threat. An obscure pensions law has an even more obscure clause which has forced the courts to demand the sale of the Museum.   Details here.

Its collection is an essential part of our heritage, of the heritage of the creative industries.

If you are reading this in the UK please contact your MP.    UNESCO is supporting the campaign to keep the museum open; join now ,become a supporter.

And visit the Museum.

Update   26 March:   Minister Vaizey to visit Musuem.  No government money of course.. (what do you expect from this Tory government) but a possible solution.   More here