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?”