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Beyond the Obvious 2017: Europe, quo vadis?

Beyond the Obvious: Distillation

Members, partners and friends of Culture Action Europe gathered in Budapest this January to collectively tackle a crucial question "Quo vadis, Europe?" This broad interrogation is prompted by the widespread intuition that the social, political, economic, environmental and cultural certainties are disappearing. Commissioner Navracsics opened the conference by stating that for a politician, ‘Beyond the Obvious’ is the new normal.

“Culture? Cultures? What is/are Culture(s)?”
Cultural Policies in Uncertain Times
Plenary Prelude: Conversation with Tibor Navracsics (EC), Corina Șuteu (Former Minister of Culture, Romania) and Robert Manchin (CAE) 

Europe is, ultimately, a cultural project and as such, culture should become a strategic element of the EU and its future. For the EC, Culture has a role to play in fostering economic development, contributing to external relations and building a ‘community of communities’ that harmonises past and present to give birth to the future. European identity cannot be defined, yet it seems to exist in a common imaginarium. It is a struggle to convince decision-makers of the importance of culture as often the cultural sector ‘lives in la la land when it’s Trump land out there’. 


Vox populi: “How should we handle bureaucracy so that it doesn’t stop or affect the realisation of promising and mutually beneficial cultural projects?”
Download Audio: Commissioner Navracsics, in conversation with Corina Șuteu, former Cultural Minister of Romania and Robert Manchin, President of Culture Action Europe explored cultural policies in uncertain times. (Audio credits: IG Kultur Österreich).

Vox populi: “If Trump is a leader of the world, where is the EU?" 

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After the opening provocations, Beyond the Obvious explored these complex processes from three complementary perspectives. First, the strand Polyphonic Europe unfolded the multiplicity of identities across Europe and their contribution to both the European project and rising nationalism and fragmentation. Second, in the Creative Chaos strand participants looked at how socio-political and environmental crises interact and how culture can contribute to alleviating or overcoming them. Third, how to tackle these systemic dissonances from a local perspective was approached in the strand, Thriving Cities: placing culture(s) in sustainable urban development. 

Polyphonic Europe: Bridging a Composite Europe through Cultural Leadership

The idea of one, single European identity is long gone. Instead, there is a recognition that European cultures and identities must be conceived and celebrated in their plurality. However, in times of strain such a composite culture might see fault lines emerge hat drive processes of disengagement, such as the departure of the UK from the EU. Can cultural leadership act as a bridge across different cultural imaginariums?



Vox populi: “Is the national my only identity?" 
Video credits: IG Kultur Österreich

 

IDEAS ROOM 

CAE takeaway

The European project is a cultural project, based on complex and multiple identities. Often identities are defined in opposition to others, something that national populists are exploiting and using for identity politics. In this sense, these political movements do seem to show cultural leadership. Humans are moved to action through stories, and culture plays a fundamental role in crafting those narratives. The cultural sector tends to offer a nuanced view of the world. Complexity is beautiful but it is only powerful when channeled in an organised manner and celebrated by an open mindset.
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STORIES ROOM 

CAE takeaway

When working with refugees and migrants we need to be careful to develop non-exploitative relations and place the development of connected communities at the centre of the design. Payment is recognition. Culture can endow citizens and foreigners alike with hope and pride; fostering social cohesion. This hinders negative dynamics such as the frustration of not having a voice or the lack of opportunities that are at the root of the rise of far-right political movements. Connecting communities is a task that requires stepping out of traditional places of practice, as ‘People are not stupid and they sense that art spaces are not for them’. 
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SCENARIOS ROOM 

CAE takeaway

In a join effort, the group looked ahead at possible futures for our societies. Many participants drew up a model in which things would first experience decline before getting better. Be this due to lack of information/understanding on core issues (or lack of trust in this information), a lack of diversity: a general feeling that our societies were experiencing difficult challenges was voiced. It was felt that differences were more a ‘cacophony’ than a symphony at the present moment. A narrative would need to be found, creating unity, renewing engagement and ‘composing’ a new music for our diverse societies. For this, a passage of ‘reflection’ and ‘enlightenment’ might be necessary. While the importance of culture as a soft power to construct our peaceful societies was underlined, the possible role of hard power was pondered.

 

Vox populi: “If we keep thinking of our identity, can we imagine our future?" 
Thriving Cities: Placing Culture(s) in Sustainable Urban Development


If we envisage a sustainable future for our cities, it is clear that old cultural policies based on top-down interventions and ostentatious cultural centres cannot be continued. Yet, as we advocate for more participatory, citizen-centred, cultural processes we cannot ignore the challenges of the long-term governance and sustainability of such practices and spaces. An integrated top-down/bottom-up approach can restore citizen’s trust and offer sustainable structures. Regions and medium and small cities are often side-lined in mainstream cultural policy debates when, in fact, they should be at the centre of our strategies. 

Vox populi: “Culture as public space. Social justice. At local level." 

 

STORIES ROOM 

CAE takeaway

The imbalance of funding is translated into an imbalance of power, which in turn lead to different, even opposing, directions of cultural policy development. Communities will be an ally only if they perceive that culture contributes to their lives in a tangible way. Participatory, people-centred strategies remain the best option for democratic regeneration. However, these processes are risky as failing to deliver further erodes the hope in administrations and political elites. An overarching concept across all stories shared was that of transversal sustainability, that is, political, social and economic. 
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SCENARIOS ROOM 

CAE takeaway

Participation in the construction of institutional arrangements that can sustain themselves in time is needed, entering into conflict with the perceived risk of ‘institutionalisation’ voiced in the opening plenary. There is much to learn regarding how the composite nature of culture can promote sustainability at a local level. Institutions have started to develop this work, but it's a mid-term, cumulative learning process. Fairness is the cornerstone of a sustainable future, alternatively more crises will arise. 
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IDEAS ROOM 

CAE takeaway

Projecting and imagining sustainable communities in small and medium cities is possible by a combination of bottom-up and top-down processes. There will be initial reticences by those cultural operators that feel threatened or instrumentalised. Engaging with them sincerely and showing their contribution to a common project that is greater than themselves is the most effective way forward. Even those that do not initially contribute to a shared vision, often re-engage after seeing positive results. For culture to have a transversal place in urban development, city officials had to step out of their comfort zones.
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Vox populi: “State of being or state of place?" 

Creative Chaos: Enlightening the Socio-Political and Environmental Crises
Special thanks to Nicholas Anastasopoulos in helping us pulling threads of this strand

In order to get a grip on a complex situation such as current social, political, economic, and environmental crises we often need to distance ourselves from them. Sustainability discourse requires such an understanding of the world and of reality today. Systems thinking affords us a better understanding of mechanisms and why things happen the way they do, allowing us to go beyond mere symptoms, so as to begin perceiving the true causes of events. We need to summon chaos and complexity theories, and we also need to begin actively imagining the future. In chaos theory scale becomes irrelevant, meaning that in the great scheme of things something small can trigger something enormous. So changing scales from a miniscule, or local to a national or universal concern - as well as levels or disciplinary approaches, from a cultural point of view to a scientific one - can potentially become a beneficial process.







Vox populi: “Nature and culture, but not in Europe?”
 

 

IDEAS ROOM 

CAE takeaway

Three distinct views of sustainability: sustainable economy, local government, sustainability and cultural strategies, as well as sustainable resources, social behavior and education were discussed. Panelists argued that cooperatives offer a sustainable model of economy and have turned out to be more resilient. Local governments discussed governance and cultural policies and highlighted the challenge that relatively new Cultural Strategy Frameworks struggle to become meaningful, real and tangible. What cultural and educational strategies can be used to addressing natural resources, the environment and people’s active engagement towards a more sustainable culture.
 
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SCENARIOS ROOM 

CAE takeaway

The forward looking technique, streaming thoughts in three direction: Information, People & Things, encouraged collective visualization and unleashed the participants’ active imagination in producing some very interesting remarks which provided both hope and anxiety. Concepts for the future clustered around the Internet of things, archaeology, contextuality, the working together of biology and other disciplines. Putting together an idea of new taxonomies of life were suggested, as well as combining things and objects, looking back on our scenario and looking at patterns.
   
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STORIES ROOM 

CAE takeaway

The social, political and environmental aspect of all stories revealed the intertwining and multiple facets between culture and science in real life and the need to address them consciously so as to develop appropriate strategies in order to effectively address current crises.

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Quo vadis, Europa?
A Polyphonic Plenary with Catherine Cullen, Former Deputy Mayor for Culture of the City of Lille (FR), Botond Feledy, Senior fellow of CEID (HU) and Gergely Prohle, former State Secretary and current director of Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum (HU). Moderated by Luca Bergamo, Vice Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Culture of the City of Rome (IT)

Vox populi: “Quo vadis Europa or quo vadis TOGETHER, Europa?" 

Very different cultural and political understandings of what Europe’s composite identity means emerged in Saturday’s plenary. This plenary was all the more interesting in that we usually are confined to our own bubbles of like-minded friends and social-media contacts, acting as an echo-chamber of our own ideas and beliefs. In this case, different opinions collided, making us all reflect on our thoughts on European identities and historical narratives. Proehle argued that although European identity is multiple, he sees it as based on a Judeo-Christian tradition and the values of Enlightement, that, together with the human rights consist what he defined the basis of European culture. He argued that the translation of Bible to national languages contributed to the development of national languages and  cultures -- that could still share across the same values despite the differences across the continent and beyond.  In his view, the fundamental differences in values and culture precludes Muslim integration and for this reason migrants flows from Muslim countries should be limited. This assertion became the most commented idea of the conference. What are our identities based upon? Julie Ward MEP (UK) offered an articulated response by reminding us of important contributions of Moorish culture in Spain and wider Europe as well as the sometimes striking lack of "values’" amongst those adhering to Christian traditions. Catherine Cullen who was on the panel went as far as stating that it was a Christian power who wiped out the Jews from Europe, while others questioned the whole concept of European culture and values.  However, it was felt that, collectively, we lacked the capacity to formulate a clear response. Is this due to the fact that we rarely encounter such views? That our historical knowledge is inadequate? Are we prepared to engage with those who hold diverse understandings of what European identity is?

Vox populi: “Should Europe grow up?" 

Inspirational Talk: Be Worried but Don't Panic
Daniel Brooks Zoologist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, moved us out of our comfort zones (again) when he asserted that climate change is unavoidable and will have social and human costs. ‘Be worried, but don’t panic’ he (half) reassured us. From his perspective, channelling resources from the the cultural sector to tackle climate change is a mistake because what we will need in the future is to ensure civilizations’ survival, that is, the socio-cultural and technical infrastructure that defines civilisation.
Culture Action Europe thanks the European Commission for the support. This communication reflects the views of Culture Action Europe and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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