The art in camaraderie

April 5th, 2014 | Posted by admin in cultural diplomacy | Europe | news - (Comments Off on The art in camaraderie)

high on a hill sat a... - Version 2It is good to see a cultural diplomacy event without ‘soft power’ in the title and a relief to see a focus on transnational strategy, not just national impact.   Is the EU at last waking up to the importance of culture to its political agenda?

The ’Culture in EU External Relations’  initiative lays out a formidable agenda of principles, methods and recommendations that reflect the paucity of effort to date.  Forged from a year of international inquiry the picture is unsurprisingly a ‘variegated’ one, so gradualism, flexibility and strategy are the order of the day.  Even if the vision is far from incremental: a ’global cultural citizenship’ of rights and responsibilities.

The report is at heart a pitch for resources and instruments.  But it is refreshing to see the spotlight hover on key issues such as: the negative aspects of stringent visa restrictions; the need to engage young people in cultural relations; and the place-shaping potential of international links for both cities and towns.  The idea of working through local NGO’s and public bodies will, no doubt, have a mixed reception, although NGO voices outweigh practitioners at the international level.  The paper also appears to be coy when it comes to the purposes of cultural diplomacy. After all the Creative Europe programme is already in pursuit of the intercultural and transnational co-operation agenda.

A family of pilot projects is proposed.  They are in the right ‘territory’ but may need more thought.  For example, a ‘city-to-city’ cooperation programme excludes the towns and areas now in most need of the benefits of international markets and collaboration.  The EU Film Festival Scheme probably needs to be less prescriptive to allow niche festivals to flourish.

But, this initiative is overdue.  Perhaps culture’s contribution to political stability and trade will now be taken less for granted.  The conference discussion paper can be found here: http://cultureinexternalrelations.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Conference-Discussion-Paper-01042014.pdf

Distant Voices

November 10th, 2013 | Posted by admin in cultural policy | Europe - (Comments Off on Distant Voices)

The European project is first and foremost about a stable Europe.   The embedding of human rights in this endeavour seems to me a worthwhile enterprise, reinforced in a recent visit to Warsaw to discuss the relationship of the right to culture to current and future European human rights legislation. This is uppermost in the minds of those working towards Warsaw’s Capital of Culture in 2016.

Our relationship to culture is, however, not just about accessing it, but also how we make it, and how we make it work for our relationships with other people both where we live, and where we don’t.    Culture is partly  ‘anti-propaganda’, stripping away the myths and histories used to subsume us in national or commercial interests.

The day after my return, in a post screening discussion of Chinese cinema, the speaker stated ‘heritage cinema always rewrites history’, causing me to rewind the various filmic encounters of the previous days: Wajda’s eulogising ‘Walesa, Man of Hope’; Warsaw Uprising Museum’s 3D flypast of 1944 devastation; and the ‘poster boy’ linking of WW1 remembrance and C21st military adventurism on the Heathrow Express television.   The Chinese cinema debate emphasised that culture needs plurality in both production and consumption.  The Polish debate emphasised the work needed to achieve it.  (Image: Warsaw under construction)

Softly Does It

June 27th, 2013 | Posted by admin in cultural diplomacy | Europe - (Comments Off on Softly Does It)

What does cultural diplomacy look like in a small nation with a big identity?  This was the question of the day at the Danish Cultural Institute as the RSA contemplated a future Scottish Centre for Cultural Relations.  The British Council’s recent reflections on soft power can, after all,  seem irrelevant in a country with the population of a medium sized city and modest presence on the European stage.

But cultural diplomacy does matter.  We heard about how a change of tone in Portugal was supporting links with Brazil and Angola, where a shared language is providing competitive edge.  But the Portuguese ‘trade boat’ contribution to the  Venice Biannale mirrors our own failure to understand that UK cultural influence arises from the quality of our artists and the success of a mixed cultural economy.   Independent or not, Scotland should work harder at being an international and internationally connected culture.

Image: Thorbjorn Lausten at Edinburgh’s Lux Europae festival, celebrating hosting the 1992 European Summit

Permits for the possible

March 3rd, 2013 | Posted by admin in creative industries | cultural diplomacy | cultural policy | Europe - (Comments Off on Permits for the possible)

Bismarck’s homily about politics being the art of the possible popped up in a presentation last week at roughly the same time that John Kerry praised Germany’s ‘exemplary leadership’ in Europe.  Contrast this with the general despair at  the lack of political leadership amongst European colleagues.

To be sure we had Jimmy Deenihan, Ireland’s Minister for things cultural making a commitment to the Creative Europe programme at a Bozars event to mark the Irish presidency of the EU.  But the feeling was more of a European Union that has been rendered more impotent to articulate the possible and to do something about it.

The optimism around integrated cultural and creative industries investment stimulating jobs and opportunities risks being overtaken by a ‘less of the same’ fatalism.  More than ever we need to show how both the creative economy and cultural co-operation can set the pace for economic recovery and political harmony.

Image: Orla Barry’s ‘Mountain’ at Bozars

2012 highlights

December 20th, 2012 | Posted by admin in arts & science | Europe | news - (Comments Off on 2012 highlights)

It’s been a great year and a real pleasure to work with new clients.  Strategic planning work in Northamptonshire early in the year preceded other Midlands work with Arts Gateway MK and OPUN Architecture Centre.  Projects in Shetland and Orkney introduced us to some magical places and projects.  Successful feasibility saw the launch of both Ayr Gaiety Theatre and the NN contemporary art space.  Our Director contributed to the development of a cultural evaluation framework for Europe as well as putting evaluation into practice for the European Commission.  2013 is shaping up well with new and interesting  projects kicking off in January including a new Drew Wylie strand of work with science engagement projects.  Exciting times ahead.