The race is on for the first London Borough of Culture.

London will have its own “Capital of Culture” in 2019 and 2020.  Mayor Sadiq Khan has launched the “London Borough of Culture” competition. Inspired by the European Capital of Culture and the UK City of Culture the title is open to the 32 boroughs in London.  The boroughs are medium-sized cities with most having over 200,000 residents and several over 300,000. Many are larger than recent European Capitals of Culture or national Culture Capitals in the UK and Italy. I was a panellist at the launch (as a former chair of the European Capitals of Culture selection panel).

This is the second time a Capital of Culture programme has focussed on a single city. The short-lived Métropole Culturelle en Communauté Wallonie-Bruxelles ran a similar competition in Brussels for 2014. Molenbeek was successful after 9 of the 19 boroughs put in bids. Let’s hope the London title lasts longer. Two editions, particularly with only one bidding window, are not really long enough for a competition to build momentum and gain experience.

The aims are ambitious, as they should be.  A “Capitals” programme is not an opportunity for a slightly bigger “business as usual” or a new grant funding source. A key lesson from successful Capitals of Culture is that they plan for the medium and longer term and not just the title year. “It is a process not an event” is the soundbite. It is easy, if hard work, to spend a lot of money on a bumper season of festivals, events and even garden parties to attract lots of visitors. It brings high numbers to the evaluation headlines. But the year after?  Raised expectations are dashed as everything falls back to pre-title activity levels. Who now remembers the Cultural Olympiad of 2012?

There is a very short time to prepare bids. The online applications have to be in by December. The time scale means councils have to engage with their residents very quickly, and not with the usual “tick-box but change nothing” attitude of planning consultations. A bid needs to be rooted in the views of local residents rather than a top-down effort prepared by council staff, consultants and the local cultural sector.

I hope bidding boroughs make their bids public as a trust building step. It will show they are serious in working with and not just for their residents. One strong approach in bids will be to include structured open calls for small neighbourhood projects. With the limited funding available perhaps the greater sustainable impact will be through smaller targeted activity of participatory and community arts rather than one off “blockbusters”.

It will be interesting to see how the national cultural institutions in London take part (if at all) under the leadership of a borough. All need to work with local London residents as well as for tourists and the international cultural scene. Can they work with an outer London borough as well as their local borough?

One of the selection criteria is to engage with people who otherwise may miss out on culture. Surveys show from 92% to 70% of Londoners fall into this category. That sets a worthy challenge to the cultural sector and bid directors.

There is a special resonance for 2019 and 2020.  London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. Sadiq Khan has been very strong in his support for EU27 nationals in London. Bids and programmes for the London Borough of Culture provide a massive opportunity both to reassure EU27 residents of their future in London (notwithstanding the May government’s derisory current offer) and demonstrate the long-term benefit they bring to London. The EUNIC cluster in London is an obvious port of call for international partnerships.

The London Borough of Culture competition is a great opportunity for all boroughs to rethink their approach to culture across all their portfolios. Austerity cuts and planning decisions (for example closing down music venues) have hit culture in many boroughs. The London arts scene can raise vast sums for its world-class institutions (the Tate and V&A spring to mind and possibly the new concert hall). Just a fraction of those sums needs to be used to ensure a vibrant grassroots culture for all Londoners.

The challenge has been set, let’s see how the boroughs respond with a cultural transformation for their residents.

 

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

The cultural and creative sectors contribution to the EU is fundamentally important

“We would see funds redistributed from the Common Agricultural Policy towards other programmes such as Creative Europe, which offers growth potential”

The UK Parliament’s committee looking at the European Commission’s proposed budget from 2014-20 has given  resounding support to the Creative Europe proposals. It asks the UK government to reconsider its position.  I’ve written about the committee’s previous meetings here (Ministers view); here (the sectors and EC view) and the preliminary verdict here.

The final report gives a clear overview of the Commissions’  total spending plans, far clearer than anything I can find on the Commissions’ own Europa website: openness, transparency and public accountability are not Commission virtues).

” The cultural and creative sectors contribution to the EU is fundamentally important. We heard compelling evidence that the increased budget proposed by the Commission would stimulate job creation and growth in line with the Europe 2020 strategy. In the context of domestic funding cuts, and the organisations obvious capacity for attracting EU funding, we call for the Government to support a proportionately larger budget allocation to this area, which represents only a very small proportion of the total MFF.

We also call on the Government to reconsider its position regarding the proposed financial facility. Businesses in the cultural and creative sectors often experience greater difficulty in attracting investment than their counterparts in other sectors. The Commission’s proposed financial facility could offer an important bridging mechanism between these sectors and private-sector investment.

We also call on the Government to reconsider its position regarding the proposed financial facility. Businesses in the cultural and creative sectors often experience greater difficulty in attracting investment than their counterparts in other sectors. The Commission’s proposed financial facility could offer an important bridging mechanism between these sectors and private-sector investment.

A welcome call.  It is interesting to see that the support for Creative Europe does not match the views of many of its supporters.  No mention of forging a closer European citizenship and no mention of artistic and creative benefit.  Pragmatic and to the point, perhaps a better reflection of the role of EC funding.

The report also supports increased educational spending and improved EC communications to citizens.

Will the UK government make these arguments at the EU Education and Culture meeting on 10-11 May?

Who knows?

 

 

Where’s Perry Tracy?

A chance Facebook posting of a photo of a school friend I had long forgotten has triggered a blitz of FB chat, with former students of the school I, and some of them, left over 40 years ago.  I dug out my diaries (for a few years I kept a diary but it petered out during university) and a box of what I call memorabilia and others would call junk.  Frantic googling and LinkIn-ing followed.  Why this magnetic attraction to a part of my life in the 1960s at a boarding school in West (as was) Germany?  Why seek to recall now?  Why are so many revisiting their youth?

Obviously because it is easier now: the whole social media empire makes contact so easy, so global, so possible now what was impossible just 10 years ago.  Friends Re-united made the initial breakthrough but its rigid structure designed clearly by database engineers has lost out to Facebook’s ease and realtime.

Just because it is possible doesn’t explain why. Curiosity stands out. What is X doing (cynical sub-text have they done better than me?) ;  did X and Y stay together? (well I never, they did), does anyone remember no (no of course not: their world did not revolve around you as much as your own). They did! OMG. And they still want to be in touch!  Did I remember them?  No?  grey cells going faster than I thought?

Is it to redeem a sense of loss?  School was a community, closed, safe, structured. Now life may be less so.  Or it is safe now after a hectic life so time to reflect and remember.   The fun comes from discovering others and engaging.  The members of the group feel like disconnected Google+ circles.  Our immediate close friends of the time are not taking part (yet) but we are connected by stronger bonds of the school memes.

I’ve liked the American tradition of school yearbooks.   From time to time newspapers show pics of hopeful teenagers who go on to become celebrities of one form or another Of course we cringe when we see photos of our youth: hair, fashion, geekiness. I’ve just seen Damon Alban cringe when shown his earliest Blur concert. he’s moved on; the image hasn’t.  A recent retrospective, and useless, regret is that as editor of the school mag I didn’t adopt the US tradition even though I had many American friends.  Instead I’ve a few poignant farewells written in the school mag: well in the Girl’s School mag.  “It’s complicated” existed even if not recognised as a status.

What stands out from the conversations are the school memes.  Richard Dawkins’ term for the intangible DNA of ideas and wisps of imagination. The school rituals, the in-jokes, the little easily forgotten eccentricities which meant so much at the time, passed through the 29 year life of the school. Handed down by staff, by students, by convention.  Someone who attended in 1954 would find elements in common with someone at the close of the school in 1983.

The school was unusual. A boarding school run by the UK  Ministry of Defence for children of military stationed in West Germany; a Boys School and a Girls School a kilometre apart.   The buildings were converted military barracks built in 1935. The school in my time was livened up with Americans whose parents worked for a Du Pont factory nearby. There was a sense of mourning when the buildings were demolished two years ago. Except the chapel and the dining block.   But that’s another story.

And the straightforward simple explanation with the deepest implications.  Online contact friendship and interaction is a new cultural factor.   It will be a paradigm shift in personal, and collective, culture.  Within a decade I expect it to transform politics, the arts, international affairs as well as economy.  Connections are key to that change. It’s fun. 

I’ve spent my working life working for increasing international contact and engagement. The school years with its mix of British, Canadian, German and Americans was a valuable starting point.

And Perry Tracy?  If anyone knows him please let me know, for a friend.

 

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

Stand up for Culture in the EU

” With Europe currently facing serious social and economic difficulties, it is up to the key players in our cultural life and the political decision makers to reaffirm that culture lies at the heart of Europe’s construction and must not be sacrificed”

A ringing endorsement of the role of culture indeed.  Surely the preamble to a manifesto from the arts world?  Or the latest declaration from the We are More campaign which is lobbying hard for 100,000 signatures on its petition for a larger culture budget in the EU.

The fine sounding words, the call to action, comes from culture and arts ministers.  Led by Frederic Mitterand, French Culture Minister, twenty arts ministers (plus a Business Minister from the UK doing things differently as usual) and the European Commissioner for Culture, (Mrs Androulla Vassiliou) have put their names to a tenpoint manifesto ” A Decalogue for Europe of Culture”.

Mitterand announced the idea of a statement just before the Deauville G8 summit in May 2011 which explains, perhaps, why he leads instead of the EC or the EU Presidency.  The current EU presidency is held by the Danes and they have not signed (along with Slovakia, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden).

The declaration was published as two adverts (English and French) in the International Herald Tribune.  A very strange choice. I haven’t seen it yet in any other newspaper.   The Decalogue is at the end of this post (and a Scibed copy is here )   A French version is here on M Mitterand’s website.

So what can we see in the Decalogue?  Several statements from the University of the Bleeding Obvious: “Europe of culture embodies the values of democracy in all the nations of the EU”: although perhaps less so in Hungary at the moment. “Promotes access for all” ,  ” lobbies for the reinforcement of school curricula”. Fine words.

The ten clauses get longer and longer as they move beyond high sounding ideals and come down to earth with practical issues. Some of these might cause problems for ministers so I detect the hand of advisers and lawyers!

Tucked away in the declaration are several less appealing views.  “All appropriate measures against the threats of piracy” rings alarm bells as the  secret ACTA process gathers pace but hopefully the European Parliament will put a stop to this.

A leaf is taken from the Chinese vocabulary when talking about promoting innovations and the need to ” guarantee their harmonious development protected from any commercial monopoly”.  As in China “harmony “seems to be used as a code for “don’t rock our boat”. Given the recent French court decision against Google Maps this does not look a promising statement.  Its also redolent of the narrow views in the second half of the declaration that the artistic opportunities of digital revolution take second place to matters of financial and legal challenges.  Very defensive.

The final clause seems out of place: simply confirming the EC’s decision to merge the Culture and Media budgets. This focus on an adminstrative step fails to remind the EC to place culture as a mainstream part of all its activities.  Culture is noticeably lacking in virtually every other programme of the proposed budget from 2014.

Of course many of the ministers making the declaration are presiding over reducing culture budgets.   They do need our support for making such an endorsement of the role of culture in today’s European Union.

The test of whether this is indeed an action document or simply a piece of PR (visibility without responsibility) will come when they ensure that their countries sign up to the increased budget for culture in the EU’s spending plans for 2014 onwards.  After this declaration they cannot go back now.   To remind them of their commitment sign the “We are more” petition now.

Here is the Decalogue for Europe of Culture:

With Europe currently facing serious social and economic difficulties, it is up to the key players in our cultural life and the political decision makers to reaffirm that culture lies at the heart of Europe’s construction and must not be sacrificed. The European Commission’s Education and Culture DG and 22 EU Ministers have approved a joint declaration: the Decalogue for Europe of Culture.   (signed F Mitterand, French Minister of Culture).

1.   Europe of culture embodies the values of democracy in all the nations of the EU.

2.  Europe of culture contributes to the affirmation of the European identity in all its diversity and to the flourishing of the arts and languages from which its richness is derived.

3.  Europe of culture ensures absolute freedom of creation across all its elements and events.

4.  Europe of culture promotes access for all, without distinction in terms of gender, age, origin, health or social status, to intellectual works, expressions of art, and the tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

5.  Europe of culture protects the legitimate right of creators and authors to fair remuneration and guarantees this by means of all appropriate meaures against the threats of piracy, fraud, theft and abusive use to which they might be exposed.

6.  Europe of culture encourages the circulation and exhibition of works both within the EU and beyond its borders, and ensures the legal and financial compliance of the actions of the various cultural contributors who organise and promote this.

7. Europe of culture establishes good rules of economic governance for the art and cultural industries market, within a spirit of complete transparency. It takes part in the development of innovations which interest the public authorities and private initiatives, in order to guarantee their harmonious development protected from any commercial monopoly.

8.  Europe of culture addresses the technological, financial and legal challenges brought about by the digital revolution fro the gathering and transmission of works and for the flourishing of new forms of artistic expression.

9. Europe of culture lobbies for the reinforcement of school curricula, teaching methods and procedures for artistic education and the training of creative artists.

10.  By emphasising that creation, art and beauty constitute a fundamental investment in the future which creates not only individual but also collective well-being in the form of employment, Europe of culture commits the European Union to consolidation of the budgets for culture and media programmes in order to meet the needs and aspirations of Europeans.

 

Signed by the Culture  Ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.  And the French-speaking community of Belgium, the UK Business Ministry and the EC’s Commissioner for Culture, Media, Education , Youth and Sport.