2017: the year of 18 “Capitals of Culture”

There are 18 “Capitals of Culture” around the world in 2017. A few are formally called “City of Culture” but the idea is the same!  The full list is later in this post.

Many cities (amplified by travel journalists, place making and marketing PRs) call themselves a “Cultural Capital”.  There is something special about having the title awarded from outside the city. It implies recognition not self-promotion.

The concept has come a long way since the first “European City of Culture” in 1985.  Built on the initiative of probably the two most well-known Ministers of Culture (Melina Mercouri of Greece and Jack Lang of France) the European Union programme has evolved considerably since that opening event in Athens. Fifty-four cities have held the title (now the European Capital of Culture).  Pafos and Aarhus share the title in 2017 and nine further cities have been selected to hold the title in the years to 2021.

In the mid 1980s there was very little appreciation, in practice or in academic circles, of the impact culture can have in a city. From seeing culture, (especially what used to be called “high culture” mainly for a small minority), in formal galleries, theatres and festivals the understanding now has widened and deepened. An annual title is no longer just a major pageant of artistic celebration but brings benefits through its social and economic impact.  Now there is an abundance of academic and management literature, reports, thesis and indeed consultants each with their own interpretation of the (mostly) positive effects of culture in a city’s wellbeing and prosperity.

From that initial event in 1985 the idea of designating a city as a “Capital of Culture” has been progressively adopted around the world. In some cases the title is organised in a  single country and in others the designation comes from a multi-lateral organization.

There are considerable variations. The main one is probably whether there is an open competition, many benefits can accrue to unsuccessful candidates as well as to the title holder. Are the cities appointed by ministries or through a competition with an independent selection panel? Is there a short period of notice from selection or enough time over several years to develop a programme?  Is the selection based on a city’s heritage and current culture or on a specific programme for the title year? The specific objectives of each programme are different.  The budgets, and programmes, of the capitals vary considerably. Some have an intensive annual programme, others focus on a month.  A few are linked to formal Ministerial meetings and many keep a long arms length from politics.  With the exception of the European Union programme there is severe lack of transparency in most programmes.   I will explore these differences in a longer paper.

The 18 in 2017 are

Aarhus and Pafos        European Capitals of Culture

Hull                              UK City of Culture

Pistoia                         Italian Capital of Culture

 Klaipėda                    Lithuanian Capital of Culture

Lisbon                         Ibero-American Capital of Culture

Vuokkiniemi                Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture

Luxor                          Capital of Arab Culture

Bogra                   Cultural Capital of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation

Amman, Sennar, Mashhad, Kampala      Islamic Capitals of Culture

Kyoto, Changsha City, Daegu,                 Culture Cities of East Asia

Mérida                                                      American Capital of Culture

Turkestan                                                 Culture and Arts Capital of the Turkic World

There could have been more.  The Irish “City of Culture” programme is on hold as Ireland will host a “European Capital of Culture” (Galway) in 2020.  Canada had a “Cultural Capitals of Canada” programme for 10 years but it ended in 2012.  A non government organisation in Korea awarded the title of National Cultural Capital in 2016 to Siheung  but no news yet on a 2017 title holder. In recent years the idea of a “World Capital of Culture” has been floated and there was an attempt at a “West African Capital of Culture” programme. There was an initial announcement in 2015 that Russia was exploring the idea. A Russian city was one of the candidates for the 2017 Finno-Ugric title.  Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, is currently preparing the groundwork for a “London Borough of Culture”.  

In addition to these major “Capitals of Culture” programmes there are many more titles for cities. Conakry is the UNESCO “World Book Capital” in 2017.  The European Union has a wide range of titles including “Youth Capital” (Varna in 2017), “Green Capital” (Essen in 2017) and “Capital of Innovation” (Amsterdam in 2016).  Other organisations in Europe award Capital titles, based on a competition, including “Sport” (Marseille in 2017) and “European Regional Gastronomy Award” (East Lombardy, Riga-Gauja and Aarhus).  Indeed several cities have become serial title holders (or at least candidates) seeking titles every few years.  That’s for another paper!.

From small beginnings the organic and unplanned growth of the “Capital of Culture” concept has become a global activity. Every continent has its opportunity (although limited in Africa despite its flourishing cultural activity).  Competitions are attracting more candidates.

So in 2017 if you are looking for somewhere to go, try a “Capital of Culture” or two. If you live near one, support it! Why not encourage your city to bid for a future title

 

NOTE:  edited on 30 December to include note about the Korean National Cultural Capital.

 

Brexit and UK-EU27: How will culture fare?

The short answer is that nobody knows.  UK Prime Minister May is refusing to offer a running commentary on the British approach to negotiating the exit and EU27 is refusing to open negotiations in advance of the formal notification under the now infamous Article 50.

The nearest to anything like a policy view during the referendum campaign was Boris Johnson’s comment that the “UK is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe”.  Oh that it would be that simple. The arts sector overwhelmingly voted to Remain. A view>  Simpler still to stay in but that’s another story.

This is the first in a series of postings where I look at the possible future UK-EU27 relationships in the culture arenas (and there is certainly more than one arena!).  To start with in this post I simply list the areas, and programmes, which need to be addressed in the Brexit negotiations. I don’t claim this is exhaustive so please drop me a comment and I’ll update the post.

Later posts will start to look at the implications.

I’m assuming the dark Brexit day will be sometime in 2019, before the elections to the European Parliament and before the next EU finance period from 2020. I’m also ignoring both any “transitional” arrangement and a straight switch to the EEA/Norway model as PM May wants a “bespoke” deal.  Many formal statements emphasise that the UK remains a member and so can still play its full part: see the Arts Council of England.  But then they would wouldn’t they!.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The Article 50 process means EU27 have the upper hand, by a long way. They will decide the terms of the exit.  Will culture be seen as a small area, with no EU competency, so can the UK/EU27 carry on as before?  Or will it be seen as the UK trying to cherry pick the “nice” parts of the EU?   Time will tell.

The specific areas fall into money, people and processes.

Money: funding sources from the EU which could dry up with a very hard Brexit.

People:  restrictions on the free movement of people both to the UK and from the UK to EU27

Processes:  how “access” to the single market could work, taxes, laws, standards, influence,

A fourth area covers external influences:  the UK economy, exchange rates and importantly the effects on the culture sectors in EU27 after Brexit.

Taken together they illustrate the complexity of Brexit (imagine the same issues multiplied across most of the UK economy).

In terms of impact we need to look from three different directions:

from the cultural and creative sectors: the producers

from the audiences and future audiences

from the effect on the 30 year momentum of the increasing influence, ambition and internationalism of the British cultural world

The worst case will be a serious and possibly slow shift to an inward looking insular society where because of money (lack of), difficulty, or even purpose the arts offer in the UK diminishes in ambition.  There is a risk the Brexit cultural debate will focus on the producers, the list below does.  The more important issue will be the effect on “the audiences” and the longer term momentum.

Creative Europe (or its successor).  Will the UK seek to remain and pay an annual fee ( as Norway or as Turkey until they withdrew earlier this year over a genocide reference and took their €2m+ annual fee with them).  The UK arts sector does well from Creative Europe.   Continued participation in Creative Europe after 2020 should also smooth the path to co-host a European Capital of Culture in 2023 as membership of Creative Europe is a pre-condition).  See Labour’s view >  and mine on ECOC2023>

Media programme, (part of Creative Europe) gives funds for cinemas in UK showing films from other EU countries (and these cinemas are by far the main locations for any foreign language films in the UK).  Supports pre-production costs (I, Daniel Blake received almost €100,000, The Kings Speech over €500,000), supports British films shown in the EU, has training programmes.  Funding also helps co-productions. A view>

Other Funding Opportunities> Erasmus+, Europe for Citizens, COSME, INTERREG, ERDF (helped fund Peaky Blinders) and more.  The British Council  is successful in winning  or managing EU projects, for example SHARE in South East Asia, European Voluntary Service, projects in China, Kosovo, Lebanon, Egypt. Will the British Council stay in the European Union Network of Cultural Institutes (EUNIC)? Will it take part in the new programmes of culture in the European Union’s external relations?  Is there any effect on the UK’s and the EU’s soft power?  A view>

Freedom of Movement.   The “Big One”.  Will UK arts organisations still be able to recruit staff from EU27?  Will the creative and cultural industry sector still be able to recruit?  Will existing EU27 staff and self employed keep their full rights after Brexit?  Will any new recruits after Brexit need visas? Will the UK government impose sectoral quotas or salary thresholds?   Will British citizens now in EU27 still be able work in EU27? Or only tied to their current country and/or current job?  And in future will British citizens still be able to go to EU27 to work: (Bowie’s Berlin days a thing of the past?).  Architects, animation studios, museums, heritage: you name it, the UK workforce is diverse (one of its strengths).  Not forgetting those academics in cultural subjects in universities. What will EU27ers in the UK feel as they show their pre-Brexit or post Brexit ID cards?  Will the rise in xenophobia die down?

Carnets and permissions?   Will British based touring companies need a country by country carnet as they do for China?  Touring orchestras, rock bands, early music groups, Adele, Rolling Stones, djs, theatre companies , exhibitions etc all affected.  Will touring artists from EU27 also need carnets to bring their equipment etc. into the UK; effect on festivals? A view>

Qualifications: will UK qualifications still be accepted?   A version of the qualifications issue is that EU committees, panels, “Open Methods of Coordination” (which discuss a wide range of policies)  will no longer have British members.  Will I be the last member and chair of the Selection Panel for European Capitals of Culture as membership is limited to nationals of EU member states?

Exports.  Over 40% of the creative industries exports go to EU27.  Free trade continues?  Or tariffs (and WTO does not have any useful categories to use and Free Trade Agreements normally have little to say on services).  Will British architects still be able to compete for commissions (Foster’s Reichstag?).  Will the UK still benefit from the Digital Single Market?  Will British TV and films still be classed as European in those countries with European quotas?   And of course the mirror image of exports are imports.  The cultural sector has supply chains as well as Nissan!  Import duties on items from EU27?

Intellectual Property Rights.  A minefield.  A loss of engagement with developments in the fast moving field?.  A view>

More law: Artists Resale Rights, Export Licencing Regime, restitution claims, the art market   A view> and another>

And then there are the broader issues, the consequences of a Brexit.

The £ and exchange rates.   A lower £ sterling affects many areas of the cultural sector. A view>

Weaker public finances.  Will these put a further strain on public sector budgets at national and local levels?

I don’t expect this list is exhaustive. Please add!

 

YES!! DCMS start the competition for European Capital of Culture in 2023

DCMS has launched the call for applications for the ECOC in 2023 in the UK.   

Details here  

Good luck to the candidates (Dundee, Leeds and Milton Keynes at the moment)

 

The UK hosts a European Capital of Culture (ECOC) in 2023. Under the rules DCMS needs to start the competition before December 2016. This gives the competing cities time to finalize their bids for shortlisting in autumn 2017.  The final selection will be in 2018.  It is now mid September, time is running out.

As the current chair of the selection panel for ECOCs I know that cities need time, over four years, to develop their programme. They also need clarity in preparing their bids.

Several UK cities are preparing bids: Dundee, Leeds, Milton Keynes (and possibly Bristol). They are investing time, money and more importantly, building up momentum in their cities and networks with their citizens, businesses and cultural sectors.

No recent ECOC has been able to prepare a successful bid in less than two years.  In my five years on the panel I’ve seen over 100 bid-books and city presentations and it is easy to spot those which are underprepared; they do not get shortlisted let alone selected.

So what’s the problem? DCMS is not indicating when it will start the formal competition on behalf of the European Commission.  It will have all the paperwork and the rules (they are the same for each country).  Why not?  Simple, I guess,  DCMS look like a rabbit stuck in the Brexit car headlights.

There is no reason for DCMS not to start the competition. The UK, as the Prime Minister frequently says, is a full member of the European Union until it leaves. During that time it will perform as a full member with all the rights and responsibilities that membership entails.  It is both legally and morally the correct stance.

The selection of the ECOC in the UK for 2023 will take place in 2017 and 2018: when the UK will be still be a member of the EU. The ECOC “Decision”, the legal document which governs the ECOC programme, was approved by the UK along with 27 other culture ministries and the European Parliament and it requires the competition to start.

What are the risks to DCMS to starting the competition?

Financial? Not really, the EU only contributes €1.5m to an ECOC and that is conditional.  An ECOC’s programme budget is likely to be over £50-£60m over 6 years found from city, regional, lottery and business sources. This is twice the amount that Hull have successfully raised for their UK City of Culture programme in 2017. The UK government could easily replace the €1.5m in 2023.

The main impact of a delay will be to the candidates. They need to ensure funding lines and commitments and discuss project plans with cultural partners across Europe (and indeed globally).

Reputation?   An ECOC is required to demonstrate a “European Dimension”.  This is cultural not political. ECOCs show and share the diversity of cultures in Europe to their own citizens and to visitors.  Most recent ECOCs have over 70% of their events with international partners and these are not limited to EU countries.  Even the ardent brexiters said that “Europe” is a cultural area of which the UK is a part and it is distinct from the political entity of the European Union.

Split process?   Perhaps. Unlike the UK City of Culture programme an ECOC is subject to a quality control process by a monitoring panel (in effect the selection panel).  This process may be interrupted but can easily be adapted.

Brexit may mean Brexit but no-one knows what that will entail. The referendum indicated a departure but not a destination.  Under the current Decision it is possible for non EU members to host an ECOC: but only closely defined categories:  candidates and potential candidates and, soon, EEA members.  There are calls for the UK to continue to be part of the Erasmus scheme, of the EU research programmes and of the cultural programmes. If the UK stays in the EU cultural programme it could be eligible to host the ECOC in 2023. A very small element in the whole Art50 process.  Staying in the culture and education programmes does not affect the hallowed sovereignty of the brexiters as these areas are not under EU competency. The UK has always had control

And if not, if it is an exceedingly hard Brexit? Well then DCMS could simply introduce a new “UK Capital of International Culture” in 2023 and rebrand the ECOC title to fit between the UK Cities of Culture planned for 2021 and 2025. The successful ECOC city selected in 2018 continues with its implementation, same programme, same objectives with only a minor change to its logo.

So two scenarios: the post Art50 EU-UK deal enables the European Capital of Culture process to continue as normal (clearly the overwhelmingly preferred option) or the UK simply rebrands the title.  Neither prevents DCMS from starting the competition.

A win-win. But DCMS need to give a firm green light now.

Steve Green

Chair, European Capitals of Culture Selection Panel

 

 

Labour won’t win in 2020 by re-running 2015

Labour lost the general election in 2015.  A leadership election is underway.  Candidates are writing their manifestos. Is it too early?  Will the candidates be too tempted to re-run 2015 rather than look ahead to 2020.  The political landscape will change. Here are a few thoughts.

Five more years of a Tory government, unhindered by any Liberal Democrat brake, and in hock to the more right-wing members of the Tory party, will mean a harsher landscape.  Not just fox-hunting but abortion restrictions (and I suspect a few Tories will be looking longingly at Orban’s attempt to restore capital punishment in Hungary).  More banks, more in poverty, greater “security” surveillance.  We will be spending billions on the four Tridents. We will have an even more authoritarian society, officially sanctioned.

The Tory leader in 2020 is likely to be from George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Theresa May.  Will they skip a generation after Cameron goes, probably in 2018?  Doubt it. Well-known senior figures appealing to the Tory heartlands.

Public finances will still be in a mess. Osborne’s forecasts on both debt and deficit have been proved wrong; there is no reason to expect any change. There will still be “no money”.  More years of stringent cuts.  It’s difficult to see how significantly more full wage jobs can be created so the tax take won’t increase to mitigate cuts.

The public sector ethos will be further weakened. Not just through out-sourcing, privatisation and ” public sector social entrepreneurialism”.  Top managers in the public sector will be required to operate as private sector equivalents. The internal culture of the delivery arms of the public sector will drastically change. TTIP and ISDS will prevent the re-nationalisation of public sector contracts.

The Scottish Parliament, from 2016, will be firmly in the nationalist camp. It is hard to foresee Jim Murphy (let alone the old school of Scottish Labour) turning the electoral prospects around in a short time.  As Spain has seen with Cataluña a nationalist mind-set always wants more.

Osborne’s “northern powerhouses”, led by Manchester, will be in full swing. Devolution in England will be underway mostly led by Labour councils and they will want, and deserve, more. Power may be devolved but in reality in many cases it simply means power to implement more cuts to local government. Bye bye not just libraries but many areas of local services. No way that the Tories will restore any form of sensible London government.

And looming over all of these changes will be the defining political topic of the next five years: the in/out EU referendum.  Polls may indicate a “stay in” majority but as we have seen polls are not at their most brilliant.  The lesson from the Scottish Independence referendum is that even a seemingly clear 55/45 division does not end the debate.   A “stay in” vote may not end the question; UKIP and the right-wing Tories will continue for a second chance in the 2020s. Will we see Theresa May leading a UKIP/Tory grouping in 2020 pledging to reverse the “stay in” vote?  Or an Osborne  (perhaps even the bend in the wind Johnson) leading a “happy to be in” a reformed EU?

A “leave” vote in 2017 leads to two years of negotiation of the terms of the exit (the Treaty sets a time limit).  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be up in arms if they have been outvoted by the English.  Constitutional turmoil.  How does that stack up in 2020?

In my view Labour leadership candidates will find it easy to outline their social and local policy positions; obviously with different priorities. This is their comfort zone.  But the overwhelmingly strategic political decision they have to take is on how active in the next two years they will be for a pro-EU vote.  No more fence-sitting.

Yes, this means tackling the concerns over migration in areas not used to it and not pandering in UKIP-lite style. It means jettisoning the “Controls on immigration” mug. It means leadership from the front not from the backroom focus group. We all want to reform the EU. If it was being invented now we would not build the current version. But it is the one we have. The 2020 election depends on the EU referendum. Time to step up and be counted: the UK’s future lies unequivocally as a member of the EU. That’s what a potential prime minister in 2020 needs to project.

 

Who will be the UK’s European Capital of Culture in 2023?

Updated June 2016 with news on bidding cities and the selection in Croatia for ECOC2020.

Updated August 2015 to highlight the report from the panel on the pre-selection (shortlisting) for the ECOC in 2020 in Croatia.

 

A UK city will be the European Capital of Culture in 2023. It will share the title, and work with, a city in Hungary. 2023 may seem a long way off but cities thinking of bidding should be starting their preparations now. The bids will need to be completed in mid-2017 for shortlisting. The final selection, based on revised bids, will be in 2018.

So far Leeds and Milton Keynes appear to have set up bidding teams; will more join the competition?  Dundee will decide to bid in September.  Cardiff may put a bid together.   These are leaving it very, very, late to put a bid together.  Many recent ECOCs have spent 3-5 years before the submission of the bid.  Why the long time?  Because it is no longer a top down application which can be prepared by a city administration and a few cultural operators.  The criteria require extensive consultation and  participation in the development of the bid.  Not just marketing or convincing people but actively seeking views and acting on them.  This poses a challenge to city administrations and as importantly to the cultural sector in a city.  In essence a bid says “we are not satisfied with our cultural offer and we seek to transform our city through culture (and other sectors).  Putting a programme together also involves considerable visits to other ECOCs and in finding partners for projects across Europe (and beyond). 

An ECOC is not a big celebration of the present but a transformational programme for the future.

They, and other cities considering bids may find the report on the pre-selection of the ECOC in 2020 in Croatia useful.  It is the first report based on the new criteria for ECOCs from 2020.   Four cities, out of 8, were shortlisted.

The Panel selected Rijeka at the final selection. The report is here.   The panel will select the Irish city as the co-ECOC in 2020 in July. there are three candidates (Galway, Limerick and the Three Sisters (Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny)

There is a new guide for cities considering or preparing to bid . This is essential reading!!    http://ec.europa.eu/culture/tools/actions/documents/ecoc-candidates-guide_en.pdf

As the current chair of the Selection Panel of the European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) I see bids from candidate cities in many countries and all start their bid preparations well in advance. Many spend five or six years preparing their bid, well in advance of the official announcement.

A key point to notice is, of course, this is the EUROPEAN Capital of Culture.. not the UK City of Culture title successfully held by Derry-Londonderry in 2013 and awarded to Hull for 2017. That competition was part of the legacy of Liverpool becoming the last UK city to be awarded the ECOC title, in 2008.

The criteria at European level are different to the UK version; they are also different from the ones used to select Liverpool (let alone Glasgow’s ground breaking programme in 1990).  The selection process also differs to the UK City of Culture.

The Culture Ministers of the 28 EU member states have recently agreed the new programme and the European Parliament have also completed their formalities. The formal “Decision” will be published shortly. There is a preview later in this post.

So what does a candidate city have to focus on?  Well each city will be different; it will have its own objectives and purpose. There is no single magic template which guarantees a successful bid or programme. The title is not awarded simply because a city is in the UK (and still in the EU of course).  A city’s size is not relevant.  Nor is its cultural heritage a major factor.

An ECOC is based on a future programme and not a celebration of the past. Successful cities integrate the standard selection criteria with their own local objectives. The “legacy” is important: what are the longer term outcomes?  In recent years the budgets for the ECOC programme have varied from €20m in the smaller and newer EU member states to between €50 and €80m in western European countries. The money is spread over the five or six years of the overall programme.  This is on top of the usual cultural budget of a city and excludes any infrastructure or new buildings. Several recent ECOCs have successfully bid for EU regional funds for culturally related projects (mostly linked to cultural tourism).  Most ECOCs build up to a management team of 40-50, plus hundreds of volunteers.

There are six criteria. These are set out in detail, together with the background to the programme, in the new formal “Decision” which covers the competition from 2020 to 2033. Cities thinking of bidding should read the document closely (that old adage from school “remember to read the question first!”). The final version is here:

Final Decision 2020-2033

The first criteria is that a city must have an existing cultural strategy even before it can bid. The ECOC is not a one year “super-festival” but needs to be part of the overall cultural development of a city which in turn is part of a city’s strategy. This is one of the reasons potential bidding cities may need to start soon, developing their city’s cultural strategy takes time.

Four criteria will be familiar to cultural managers:  outreach (including the involvement of citizens in the development of the bid), management, the capacity to deliver and a high artistic and creative content. “Culture” in the context of an ECOC has a wide interpretation: all artforms from djs to opera, new media, community and participatory arts, arts in schools, hospitals,  languages, creative industries etc.   The focus is on the programme which normally progressively builds up to the events of the year.  The programme needs to be additional to the existing cultural offer in the city (as is the programme budget).

A common and crucial feature is that it is a highly international programme. Some ECOCs have an international aspect to virtually every project or event or base their programme around European themes.

The remaining criteria is the one which marks the ECOC out from national cities of culture: the “European Dimension“.  The programme must highlight the cultural diversity of Europe (to the cities own citizens and not using the title solely as a tourist/city branding exercise), highlight European themes and the common aspects of European cultures, heritage and history. This is a challenging criteria and one which is of major importance.  Recent ECOCs have developed a wide range of imaginative projects to meet this European Dimension requirement.

What should cities thinking of bidding do now?  My advice is to go and visit the two current  ECOCs, (and those already selected for 2015 to 2018) to learn. There is a wealth of good practice, and lessons to learn and share.  Riga and Umea hold this year’s title and are in full swing.  In 2015 the title goes to Mons and Plzen; in 2016 to Donostia San Sebastian and Wroclaw; in 2017 to Aarhus and Pafos. In 2018 Valletta and Leeuwarden share the title.  Several of these ECOCs have their bid-books (in English) online. All are working hard to develop their programmes.

Later this year the Selection Panel will recommend the cities in Italy and Bulgaria for the 2019 title.  There were 21 candidates in Italy and 8 in Bulgaria.  There are now 6 on the shortlist in Italy and 4 in Bulgaria.  Read the Panel’s reports on the pre-selection shortlisting.

There are clear short-term and long-term benefits for a city holding the ECOC title. These are outlined in the recent report commissioned by the European Parliament from Beatriz Garcia of Liverpool University.  Recent holders of the title (eg Marseilles-Provence,) are in no doubt about the success of their programmes. Many cities which were not successful in the competition find they have made significant gains: the bidding process in itself was more than worthwhile.

Who will bid for the title when it comes to the UK? I’ve no idea but now (June 2016) is the time to be deeply into preparing the bid.  Good luck to all the candidates!

 

 

 

Culture, Citizens and the European Parliament

In a years’ time citizens in the European Union will be at fever pitch as they prepare to vote in the elections for the European Parliament. Well perhaps not at fever pitch! Turnout at these elections has been declining in most member states. In only 9 countries in 2009, the last election, did half the voters cast a ballot.  Apathy and indifference were stronger contenders.

2014 may well turn out to be markedly different.  The European Parliament now has real powers. Under the Lisbon treaty, it is no longer a wasted vote or a missed democratic opportunity. Members of the European Parliament have already shown they can alter proposals from the European Commission and from the inter-governmental Council. The 2014-2019 European Parliament will feature far more in our news than its predecessors.

But who will be in the Parliament?  At the moment it is dominated by four main political groupings: the Christian Democrat EPP, the Socialists and Democrats, ALDE. (liberals) and the Greens. All pro-EU and used to working in “the spirit of the EU”.  Of course they all have a few mavericks but generally they work comfortably together.  With well over 70% of the members they control the Parliament.

The rest form odd groupings: from the left to the right.  Noisy, splintered, fragmented and mostly ineffectual,

But will this be the same after next years’ elections?  The current political climate across the EU suggests otherwise.  A feature of recent elections and polls in member states has been the rise of parties not affiliated with the big 4 at European level.  Golden Dawn and Syrizia in Greece; UKIP in the UK, Grillo’s M25 in Italy.  A new party will contest the German elections in September (pro-EU, anti Euro). Opinion polls in Spain show a breakdown in support for the two main parties with the left and centre gaining. Concurrently there is increasing support for the 15-M movement.  Logic dictates that voters in Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus may not look too kindly on pro-EU candidates next year as the EU takes the blame for the austerity measures (and you can’t vote for the IMF). The far right-wing parties also seem to be gaining in popularity with their anti-EU, xenophobic, reactionary rhetoric. The True Finns, Swedish Democrats, Le Pen’s Front National.. the list, goes on. In the UK, sadly, it seems to be a given that UKIP will be the largest party in the May 2014 elections. If nothing else the noise from the far-right drags the centre of debate even further to the right.

Already alarm bells are ringing in Brussels.  A European Parliament with a substantial minority being anti-EU or at least anti current policies?  Indeed it is not too difficult to forecast a blocking minority (although the chances of all the “minority” parties agreeing on anything is remote).

The political parties are preparing.  Gossip abounds about who from the in-crowd will get the top jobs.  But outside of party politics there are several attempts to influence and mobilize opinion before the elections.

In June we see the “first-ever Citizens Summit” organised by the “EU Civil Society Contact Group“. The Group brings together eight large rights and value
based NGO sectors – culture, environment, education, development, human rights,
public health, social and women. The Summit aims:

to bring together for the first time professionals, practitioners and activists
from across the different sectors, culture, development, education,
environment, health, human rights, social affairs and women’s rights to
discuss the future of Europe. Our intention is to foster an open dialogue
amongst a diverse group from across Europe in order to start a genuine
participatory process on the future of the European Union, and what this means
for people living within its borders. We believe that by creating a shared
understanding and dialogue, we can help move forward common objectives for a
common future. 

The Cultural Coalition for a Citizen’s Europe holds its latest conference in Lyon in May.  After its meetings in Brussels and Amsterdam this coalition turns its attention to

At its borders, in a Mediterranean political and social transformation, Europe is experiencing a strong migratory pressure from its neighbours and more distant countries. Inside, the moral, social and economic crisis leads us to retreat, promoting the growth of xenophobia, nationalism or simply mistrust vis-à-vis foreigners (whether EU or non-EU ). How are we to consider the prospect of the European population’s decline in this major contemporary tension if we do not accept more than 55 million foreign workers in four decades? How should the cultural and civic dimension be taken into account in international relations, especially with countries of the Mediterranean basin?

Even the European Commission gets in on the act with the “New Narrative for Europe“. Launched by Commission president Barroso the project runs to three “états généraux” of participants, mainly representatives from the world of culture and intellectuals, in Warsaw, Paris and an as yet undetermined city in Germany. It will result in

the publication of a manifesto by the participants in the “états généraux” meetings and other interested parties, incorporating elements relating to the values, culture and history that represent the connecting link between Europeans, in order to develop a vision for Europe which can be adapted to the current challenges such as solidarity, strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU and the role of Europe in the age of globalisation and interdependence.

These initiatives are to be welcomed.  But are they enough and will they tackle the hard issues of today?  It is noticeable that none of the meetings in the three projects will take place in a country under a EU/ECB/IMF bail-out regime. Not perhaps a good message to send!

Trust in the six largest European Union member states as a basic concept is declining.  When economic times are tough solidarity with fellow Europeans declines.  Yet virtually all the solutions on offer, including those based on culture, seek greater Europeanness, More Europe.

Aart de Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German think-tank, warns that the drive to surrender more key national powers to Brussels would backfire. “Public support for the EU has been falling since 2007. So it is risky to go for federalism as it can cause a backlash and unleash greater populism.”

Jurgen Habermas and  Zygmunt Bauman have weighed into the debate about the limits of solidarity, the rise of populism and the risks to the European project. The Trade Unions are calling for a Social Europe as a way of going beyond the economic focus.

Barroso himself warns  ” We cannot let populism, scepticism or pessimism undermine the foundations of Europe, not to speak about new forms of nationalism that I believe are a very serious risk for the European values that we cherish.”

The key test for the Cultural Coalition, the Citizen’s Summit and the New Narrative is to move beyond the cultural cosmopolitan, the “educated urbanists” in marketing jargon. I’m assuming that the participants will not use the projects to press for their own sectors’ financial case.  Lobbying has its place: this is not that place.

There have been many fine sounding declarations of the importance of culture in Europe, how culture is at the heart of being European and how culture can support the European Union. (This last assertion is the hardest to sustain).  I hope the initiatives do not come up with more of the same, however well-intentioned.  The economic austerity in many countries in the EU, the threats to free movement of people (but not it seems capital), the failure of many austerity programmes, rising un-employment (and under-employment) change the context.  Those previous declarations have appealed to the committed Europeans in times of plenty. Now is the time to send a positive message to those less than committed to a European Union.

It is probably too late for the projects to change their programmes but they surely must hold meetings away from the Brussels/France/Germany nexus.  It will soon be EU-28 but you wouldn’t notice it.

Robin Wilson puts one of the key challenges this way:

For a young generation for whom the war is sepia-tinted history and neoliberalism offers only insecurity—including in some countries a more than even chance of being unemployed—’Europe’ therefore now holds no meaning except Erasmus programmes for the educated elite.

This chimes with a major report on Youth Participation in Democratic Life,  which should be required reading in all three projects.  The research looked at youth (13-30 year olds to match the EU’s Youth in Action programme) in six countries (Austria, Finland, France, Poland, Spain and UK).  The report calls for major changes to remove poltiical and cultural barriers to increased youth participation.

Given the overwhelming levels of perceived betrayal, distrust, scepticism and/or anger expressed with regard to politicians by 95% of our focus group respondents from “reference”, “active” and “excluded” in all six countries and the survey results that point to a political offer that is often perceived as inadequate, this seems to us to be an immediate and significant challenge and action point.

A challenge indeed.  Let’s see how they respond.

 

If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep

 

 

At the time of writing it is unclear how the Cyprus “bail-in” crisis will be resolved. Regardless of the ending it is clear that a modern Rubicon has been crossed.  It has been a tenet of faith since the financial crisis exploded in 2007 that the money people have in banks, up to  EUR100,000, is safe.  Taxes may be raised, public sector jobs and salaries cut, public services reduced or sold off but banks can still be trusted to look after people’s’ money in their bank accounts.  “Savers” are now “lenders to banks”.

The initial terms of the Eurozone “solution” of Cyprus’ banking problem has blown that tenet apart.  It seems that finance ministers, EC officials and the IMF have decided that bank accounts are no longer safe. Some are hastily backtracking once they see the public anger but too late: they did say “cross the Rubicon, it’s only a little stream in little Cyprus”.  The details, still being debated whilst I write, are irrelevant.

The European Union prides itself on being a union of values. The claim is a fixture in many documents from all of the Brussels institutions: Parliament, Commission, Council (and the Bank in Frankfurt).

The initial terms of the Cyprus “deal”  break a fundamental value: that of trust.

I think that the Cyprus “deal” is a watershed. Across the EU more and more people are becoming angrier, more cynical, and more distrustful of those in power.  Dissent is moving from the fringe nearer the centre, the mainstream, perhaps not now but slowly and progressively.

One of the posters at a demonstration in Nicosia read “If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep“: the title of a recent play at the Royal Court Theatre in London.  It marked a return to overt political theatre.  The play may not have hit the heights of theatrical drama but the message and intent was clear.  The cultural sector often claims for itself that it challenges the status quo, that it triggers a deeper look at our society and current beliefs.  In reality the overwhelming output of the creative and cultural sector does nothing of the sort.  But in times of crisis, when basic values are under threat, it is promising that some parts of the creative world can present a strong reflection.  It is surely a time when culture, the arts, needs to challenge the economic basis of society, a return to collective values rather than the intensity of challenging individual identity.

There are calls for a new European Union. They vary from one based on a cultural concept, or led by and for citizens or a social Europe. They have in common a demand for a fundamental change in direction, a rejection of the pure market led society and ideology now prevalent.

Ken Loach’s film “Spirit of 45” records the transformation of British society after the Second World War; a social transformation slowly dismantled from Thatcher onwards and being rapidly dismantled by the current UK government in the name of austerity.    It is not just in the UK.

The film highlights the poverty of the 1930s. There is a telling shot of a poster “Starving men fed daily”; the film ends with a queue at a food kitchen in Walthamstow in 2013.  Recently the leading Labour Party politician charged with drafting the new party policy said that he believed food kitchens will remain with us, (and not just in the UK).  Leadership? Progress? A warning?

2013 in the EU has been marked by a succession of comments, speeches and plans based around the false idea that the European Union welfare state concept, the social market, can no longer “compete” in the world increasingly dominated by Asian societies paying little attention to welfare of their citizens.

If there was a time for a cultural European Union, a citizens’ European Union, it is now. Both need to reject the current direction of politicians; it is not a time to tinkering at the edges or for confusing lobbying for more money for the arts with a need to change the ideological direction.

Photo from here

 

Unity through Conferences

It’s November and the conference season in full swing across Europe. Austerity and cuts may be the dominant reality but Europe’s cultural cosmopolitans have their boarding passes at the ready.

The ever-welcome newsletter of the Platform for Intercultural Europe (PIE) sets the scene.  Conferences in Belfast, Brussels, Turin, Vilnius, Helsinki, Brussels (again), Cosenza, and Kobuleti; and that’s just November.  Amidst this cornucopia of lanyards, name tags and lost luggage two themes emerge, the ever-changing make-up of European societies and how “culture” can, or should, solve Europe’s problems.

I’m sure that participants in all these events will come away energised with new ideas, some which may be put into practice.  My own more limited hope is that conference organisers put as much as possible onto their websites after the event. It is so frustrating to read the programme, perhaps read some advance papers, and, then, nothing more. (advance #Hashtags also useful!).

The Platform’s newsletter goes some way to open up one series of meetings.  The European Commission’s use of expert groups has come under criticism recently from the European Parliament. The PIE reports on a meeting in Brussels of the “Open Method of Co-ordination” .. an expert group on  “Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue”. It’s a comprehensive report: just as well as I can’t find any formal minutes or names of members. “Open” clearly does not mean “public” which is a shame in today’s more transparent requirements of governance.

I was taken by Chris Torch’s expert paper prepared for the meeting in which he gives an overview of migration and poses some ways forward for the arts sector to address social cohesion and diversity issues.  A sound paper but one I felt stopped short of proposing the radical changes needed.  It seems the OMC meeting itself also took the easy way out with its interim view that arts organisations should perhaps carry on as usual and merely add some additional “community” arts to their programmes.  The EU prides itself on its “Unity in Diversity” but nowhere more so than the ways member states deal with their own citizens and residents in their countries.  This point was raised at the meeting by representatives of member state governments. The Torch paper underplays the wide nature of “migrants” weakening many assumptions and recommendations he made.  There are, post 1945, four main waves of migration, loosely described as “guest worker”, post colonial, economic and intra-EU free movement. Western Europe has seen the four waves, in different mixes, from the 1950s. The newer member states in Central Europe had a long period of increasing mono-culture and a more recent and shorter experience of both emigration and fluidity.  Countries with a history of being emigrants themselves now find themselves receiving migrants. In many countries migrants, as in newcomers, are outnumbered by second and third generation citizens, no longer migrants nor should they be considered as such. Racism not migration is the issue.

Each country has a different mix based on their own history. I found both the Torch paper and the report on the meeting too timid in their views. The hard topics are avoided: religious  and cultural differences, the rise of overt racism (in Greece for example with Golden Dawn, in Hungary etc). In short: the policies and practices of the last decade do not seem to be working. More of the same is not enough.  What was missing from the Torch paper and it seems from the OMC is the realisation that change is needed within the arts and creative industry sectors, as employers of managers and artists. Adding activities on the margins of the mainstream is not enough.

Brussels naturally, hosts two conferences which look at two sides of the second mega-theme.  Culture Action Europe, a lobby group for the arts sector, opens with a programme  Let’s ask ourselves: what we can do for the European project, in what ways can we be useful? And then: engage to do it!   I do admire the conference’s aim ” A starting point for a large-scale movement of European citizens, regardless of the sector in which they are engaged, to reclaim the destiny of the European project.”

These arts sector orientated debates are followed two weeks later at the Brussels Conversations on a Cultural Coalition for a Citizens Europe, discussing “the future of the European project and the citizen’s role in making it a reality”.  A brave aim when many are questioning the very concept of the European project. Was the Nobel Peace Prize the final accolade for the project now it has achieved its original aim of ensuring enduring peace between France and Germany?  I do like the conference proposition that  “The lectures and workshops in this encounter will move beyond the theoretical-legal-philosophical discussion and show that citizenship and its cultural component is something we should practice in our daily lives”.

A busy time indeed. And myself?  Well not to be left out I’m speaking at a conference in Paris on 23 November.  My theme?  “Europe: cultural solutions to a wicked problem?”

 

E17: capital of culture

Imagine:    350 exhibitions and events in 180 venues; 47 music acts in 29 gigs; add an international film festival and the second month of a major refurbished top class museum.  Where’s this cultural extravaganza taking place?  A Capital of Culture somewhere in Europe?  A major city’s  annual programme?

Walthamstow. In September.  All of it.  Yes that’s right. The butt of so many jokes, a closed dog-racing stadium, E17. Walthamstow.

Well September sees an explosion of culture that consigns those jokes to history and puts Walthamstow on the map (well it’s there already: end of the Victoria Line).

The E17 Art Trail opens on 1 September is an independent artist-led project started in 2004. This year’s programmes covers all artforms (with 350 events of course it covers everything!), takes place in private houses, pubs, estate agents ( part of a poetry trail), shops,  cafes, in the streets and parks: in fact just about everywhere including churches (but not yet a mosque).  Check out the programme and  just experience the vitality of the area. (Even better of course come along: there will be something for you).

The E17 Film Festival recalls the 1920s heyday of British films when Walthamstow predated Hollywood.     “Walthamstow had four major film studios which produced over 400 films before the outbreak of the second world war. One of the most famous was The Battle of The Somme (1916). The film sold over 20 million tickets in its first six weeks – a record that could only be smashed 60 years later by the first Star Wars movie”

This years’ 10 day festival showcases short films. The international competition has short listed films from Germany, Japan, Russia, France, Spain, Czech Republic and UK here and a few tasters here.

Music takes over at the end of the month with the Stow Festival.  From Baroque ,Collegium Musicum 90, to soul  to Naz Anine’s Moroccan songs to, well the list is endless (inlcuding indie for those who,, well).  An advance playlist is on Spotify full line-up and gig info.

And whilst all of this is going on the newly refurbished William Morris Gallery gives a permanent venue for the borough’s culture.  Socialist, craftsman, poet, entrepreneur, designer, re-discoverer of Iznik pottery, founder of the heritage and conservation movement, Morris’ life and work is celebrated in the house he lived in as a teenager and student.  Hurry, as Grayson Perry’s “Walthamstow Tapestry” is on show until 23 September.

As a member of the selection panel for the European Capitals of Culture I often see cities putting forward cultural programmes which seek to engage the whole community, to bring culture and citizens closer together.  The commercial benefits of a vibrant cultural scene are critical to today’s prosperity. It’s just good to live in a borough which is a capital of culture, every year.

 

European Capitals of Culture 2020+

The new criteria and procedures for the ECOC from 2020 have now been published. See my later blog entry   http://wp.me/p20NFR-8S

There is also a new guidance note for cities considering or preparing to bid   http://ec.europa.eu/culture/tools/actions/documents/ecoc-candidates-guide_en.pdf

Original blog entry continues……..

The European Commission proposes to continue the European Capitals of Culture programme beyond 2020.  The current programme ends in 2019, with cities, as yet unselected, in Italy and Bulgaria.

The EC’s proposals take the programme to 2033:  the most long term assertion of the EU’s existence in recent months given its failure to address the crisis of the eurocrisis.

As now there will be two capitals a year, from different countries set out in a long term rota.  I would hazard a guess that some of the larger countries will adopt the UK’s national city of culture  on a four year cycle (Derry in 2013)  as they wait for their turn at the European level.

A new change is the return of applicants from candidate and potential candidate countries. (I already know bids are being prepared in cities in Serbia and Turkey for 2020).  However these only come into the programme every third year on the current proposals.

The Commission has issued two detailed papers on their proposals. One includes a very intensive review of recent trends by ECOCs and the proposed strategic direction for future ECOCs.

No doubt there will be strong lobbying by governments, cities and the cultural sector!  The Commissions proposals need to be approved by the Council (presumably via the meetings of culture ministers with input from others no doubt) and the European Parliament (via the Culture Committee and others).  Watch out for your turn to comment at both national and European level.

In the meantime here is the proposed list of countries:

2020: Croatia and Ireland (and candidate)

2021:  Romania and Greece

2022:  Lithuania and Luxembourg

2023: Hungary and UK (and candidate)

2024: Estonia and Austria

2025: Slovenia and Germany

2026:  Slovakia and Finland (and candidate)

2027:  Latvia and Portugal

2028: Czech Republic and France

2029: Poland and Sweden (and candidate)

2030; Cyprus and Belgium

2031:  Malta and Spain

2032: Bulgaria and Denmark (and candidate)

2033: Netherlands and Italy