Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural Forum, Oct 20 / 21, 2011 - presentations + comments

EU Cultural Policy - Cultural Forum 2011


On Oct. 20 - 21 the Cultural Forum was organised by the European Commission in Brussels and held in the Flagey building at Place Sainte Croix.


See official website for more information:


The Cultural Forum depicts a new need to evaluate EU Cultural Policy.  The latter is guided very much by the EU 2020 vision and the new Regio  Policy orientation. Nevertheless in light of especially the crisis in  Greece, the policy making in Brussels appears to be based unfortunately  on assumptions far removed from reality. Most interesting is the finding  by Secco from Milano that in countries like Greece and other  Mediterranean ones cultural participation appears to be very low and  therefore not a high level of innovation can be achieved.


EU Cultural Policy in the making is an ongoing process and reflects the European agenda on culture. There is a need to inform and to discuss policy measures proposed by the European Commission. For this purpose, the European Commission organizes every year the Cultural Forum to make explicit its views on cultural policy and related matters. It does so prior to taking these proposals to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, in order to hear first of all voices from the relevant sector. That means after this the days of hard negotiation are ahead of the European Commission.

Since many interesting impulses can be derived from presentations, responses and questions asked during the discussion period, the following comments are interwoven with own recordings of what was said. These comments should inform first of all those who could not attend, and secondly, show what issues were touched upon e.g. besides what a digital world entails for culture and the cultural sector, what outstanding issues need further focus. Fore mostly these coments should facilitate further reflections about EU Cultural Policy in the making.

In 2011 it  became evident by subsequent questions posed and discussions which followed both during the session and more importantly afterwards during coffee breaks, that above all the international implications are crucial as to what the EU adopts as its official cultural policy. Interestingly enough the discussion during the Fourth Panel made evident that a critical reflection of recent European history has yet to be tackled.

Since the European debate on culture is being formed by its chief protagonists, experts, culturally interested ones etc., it should not come as a surprise that those connected to the campaign by Culture Action Europe about wishing to gain more for culture both in terms of financial support and recognition dominated in the entire forum. They did an action with balloons outside the building as much as they wore T-shirts to make visible their slogan. Also three crucial representatives of this action were heard on the panels: Isabelle Schwarz, Ilona Kish and Chris Torch. And in Session III there was as well Sabine Frank as Secretary General of the Platform for Intercultural Europe.

There were naturally present many people, among them especially PhD students and researchers all dealing in one way or another with culture related issues and with various experiences in the cultural fields. It is said about 800 people were present to hear the position the European Commission was taking with regards to culture in Europe. Peter Inkei made an evaluation of their expectations and has already drawn some conclusions out of various feedbacks he has received in the meantime. (The latter can be obtained from Budapest Observatory and directly from the official website of the European Commission.)

There attended above all well known experts like Simon Mundy, Geoffrey Brown, Peter Inkei, Isabelle Schwarz, Ilona Kish, Chris Torch, Sabine Frank...just to name a few of the ones known due to their long standing linkage to Culture Action Europe (formerly EFAH - European Foundation for the Arts and Heritage), the European Cultural Foundation, the UK Cultural Contact Point, the Budapest Observatory, and to which could be added the numerous people working for the European Commission DG Culture and Education.

To revive memories of what took place on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 20 and 21st in Brussels is also to stress right away one crucial factor left out in the entire discussion about culture in the digital age, namely memory itself. There comes to mind what Wittgenstein said: philosophy is but a special way of remembering something. Memories can be linked to the famous memory track described by Sigmund Freud. And memories flow once stories are told. The narrative is itself a collection and recollection of memories as to what took place during that day. Always something can be observed when this speaker presents to the audience viewpoints about use of multi media. This was the case with Jan Willem Sieburgh, former director of the Rijksmuseum who talked about the use of websites to bring into the museum new audiences.

The Cultural Forum takes place every year in Brussels. It is meant to allow for a review EU Cultural Policy, and this with regards to a specific theme or subject area. In 2011 the focus was on the so-called digital world and all the consequences it has for culture and society in Europe.

What follows are notes of what was said and what comments can be made to what this can mean in terms of a cohesive and consistent cultural policy for the future.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 4.11.2011


Source of the papers is the official website: http://culture-forum-2011.ec.europa.eu/index.jsp

Beforehand there were made available relevant issue papers prepared by experts from a network managed by Interarts and Culture Action Europe.



Opening speeches, Presentations, Responses at the Cultural Forum in Brussels, on Thursday, Oct. 20th 2011

Source of the presentations:http://culture-forum-2011.ec.europa.eu/documentation.jsp

Opening Speeches

Androula Vassilikou, Commissioner for Education, Multilingualism and Youth, European Commission

She made in her opening remark a direct link to globalisation meaning precisely 'global art'. This she identified with a kind of collective hope that people share around the globe. The best expression for that is 'art without borders'. As this is linked to digitalisation, it becomes important on how to understand how art is produced and consumed.

Yes, she used those terms. It reminds of the Marxist debates but also it indicates a failure in recognizing the arts cannot be consumed like a cheese pie or a Hamburger. For the receptivity of the arts requires a predisposition to listen and to appreciate. It means also to enter a painting in a way that it becomes an understandable poem. Always the world needs artists, my mother would say, but artists need people who can listen. That is why the creation of audiences is such a vital and crucial linkage between artistic and cultural programs as designed by European Capitals of Culture and the methods by which these programs are made visible (Palmer, 2004).

She went on to pose the question how political authorities within the European Union resolve the task of deciding how to use EU resources to further culture? She cited as an example the promotion of industrial heritage and referred to the recent conversion the Ruhr region in Germany as result of this policy application. She is of the opinion that Ruhr 2010 as one of the three European Capitals of Culture during that year has been a huge success. It has managed to convert a former industrial region into a 'creative region' and created subsequently many new jobs.

When such political claims are made as to what policy works and brings about a measurable success, one has to ask if this can be validated in reality? It can be already a valuable research hypothesis. Her political claims are based on three aspects:

Altogether this has led according to findings she bases her claim upon to an improvement in the overall 'quality of life'. Yet this concept needs to be put into doubt. For example, the descriptions by the writer Ernst Käbisch indicates a transformation of various kinds. He travels throughout the Ruhr in search of new monuments or landmarks, and in the process he sees what innovative things have reshaped the region, what is there to discover like a channel making it all the way into the Rhine and where sitting in a street car you do not really realize when crossing the border between one and the next city.

To make just one remark: Ruhr 2010 attempted to unify 53 cities but this imaginary orientation point vanished once Ruhr 2010 closed office immediately once the year was over. Also gentrification has been set loose in the region. Expensive housing units are being build as a result of the region having become more attractive, but while those with a high income move in, those without financial means still continue to exist at local level but outside the range of society where participation is linked not only to having one of the newer jobs, but also the social and cultural skills which allows for avoidance of over exposure to new unknowns. Any cultural transition is not that easy as envisioned, for instance, by Bernd Fesel, one of the key architects of the new cultural industries in the Ruhr region.  And if German statistical reports indicate over 15% are at risk to sink below poverty line, then something is afoot despite all claims of German efficiency and economic success in recent years. Pertaining to the Ruhr region holds the general warning that no imitation of Silicon Valley as hub of high tech innovation is never easy, if ever successful. In short, the risk of the EU policy to promote cultural and industrial heritage not through its cultural program but by means of the structural fund is that it risks bringing about inclusive types of developments which exclude many of the people unable or unwilling to adapt to the new requirements, and that then altogether no sustainable economic development can be attained. 'Quality of life' improves then only for a portion of the population and this often only on short-lived economic bursts of energy as money is around to promote certain things and projects like the European Capital of Culture holding for just one year.

Interesting is that Commissioner Vassilikou emphasized that "Europe has been a cultural project since the beginning". She wishes to say Europe is not a coalition of states, but that "we are the people of Europe".

Amazing but certainly to be welcomed was her citation of Jürgen Habermas with regards to his concept of 'publicness'. She spoke out in favor of strengthening the European public sphere, and added that it would be a 'cultural task' to find out what is European, in order to give substance to the claim but 'we are all Europeans'.

In terms of culture being crucial for the EU foreign policy, she iterated the plain fact that culture supports democracy and upholds Human Rights. Both are linked to 'freedom of speech' and the 'protection of minority rights'.


Bogdan Zdrojewski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Poland

Due to Poland holding currently the EU Presidency, it was the a part of official protocol that the Minister of Culture would follow the Commissioner A. Vassilikou. Since he had just recently an accident which impaired his walking greatly, and left his staff anxious whether or not he could walk again, it was encouraging to see him walk up to the podium all by himself, mind you slowly, but still independently and upright.

In his short speech he made a reference to the recent Congress of Culture which took place during September in Wroclaw, the newly designated European Capital of Culture for 2016. As he comes himself from that city, it is to be expected that he has a strong affinity to an unusual city, and which its mayor explained in greater detail the next morning at the Cultural Forum. And what came across in his speech may be called the very specific view on culture by Polish politicians, artists and common people.

1) Culture has to do with competence. It was made explicit at the Wroclaw conference. Consequently cultural and artistic education must conjoin in order to overcome incompetences which prevent people from participating in life. Culture in this sense must be used to fight exclusion.

2) Importance must be given to the quality and level of the academic debate. That is of great importance as the differences between cultures should be understood. Cultural diversity must be preserved and promoted. The European Union must defend cultural differences.

3) Digitalisation in today's world means a special development posing the question how culture should be made available. There is as much a chance as a threat in this opportunity to provide everyone access to culture by means of the new communication technology. Two sides of the same coin must be attended to, namely how interaction is shaped by both the greater public and by culture itself.

4) There is a need to respond to changes and more so to the current crisis. The best answer to the crisis is to increase the financing of culture. That should be the key to smart growth.

As a conclusion he drew a lesson from his recent accident insofar as the doctors told him they can do only certain things to fix his legs but the rest is up to him if he is to walk again. Translated into the European context of today, one can fix only so much the economy, but the rest is really up to culture.

Panel 1: Digitisation - How to fully exploit opportunities?

Carte blanche

Jan Willem Sieburgh, former director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

He started with a simple observation as to what should be the role of a museum, namely to enhance public engagement in matters of culture. Immediately he wished to correct a potential misunderstanding. For him the task to democratize culture is not the same as popularization.

To start out with, the Reijkmuseum like any other museum has a collection of objects. How to create out of this a public data base which is easy to be accessed? When looking at the potential of the Internet, it means to him not to simply increase the number of objects, but rather how to find the right information architecture which does allow the audiences to interact with the museum?

A museum is a conversation - with three dimensions: people, object, knowledge.

Here he would make the distinction between real and virtual people so as to ascertain who are the customers of a museum. The task here he calls 'relationship management'.

Any knowledge transmitted by a museum as to be approved by the museum, but everything is subject to interpretation by the three parties mentioned above.

To sustain interest in the museum, and to evoke some fun, there was created with the highest possible level of pixels a puzzle out of one of the most famous Rembrandt paintings. People could engage themselves in finding and adding puzzle pieces. The winner did get a considerable prize, namely an etching of the original painting. What it does require is the creation of such a tool box that people begin to engage themselves  in order to discover and to share this newly acquired knowledge.

Moreover, a part of the strategy was to engage as well the creative industry. Strategic partners can be found in the retail business who would advertise the museum on their products.

He would emphasize that success is based on taking the audience serious.

An example for this kind of public engagement through both an exhibit in the museum and a corresponding website is the skull-piece by Damien Hirst. It can be seen on the following website:


Both the interactions and the comments leave one with the impression of a well articulated audience capable of taking quite different viewpoints and capable of bringing across differentiated and well founded viewpoints.

Panel Discussion

Her presentation underlined the fact that a museum like the Louvre is very complicated especially in the age of the Internet. She has a brilliant, indeed sharp mind.

There comes to mind the recent effort by the Louvre to create a new website together with ARTE. As a public institution, there are so many limitations put upon people working there. The need to break free is almost a given law for anyone wishing to become creative. At the same time, there is a huge pressure upon all cultural institutions in France to make money. The use of the huge name like the Louvre plays a decisive role in how things are instigated, even though this would be but one part of an analysis how this museum fares in an age of the internet. Another is what people experience when walking through the countless halls and rooms till they reach Mona Lisa.

Tobias Golodnoff explained what guiding principles the Danish Broadcasting Corporation used when it sought to unlock its archive made up of endless corridors of materials, tapes, recordings etc. It was obvious to them that they would not be able to handle everything nor find an adequate selection principle, if they would not resort to some helping hand. This came in the form of public engagement in order to decipher what material should be digitalised as it was considered to be still in use if asked for. Four aspects made up the guiding principles:

  1. use is value
  2. transparent boxes
  3. open source collective
  4. flexible resources

They went ahead with unlocking the archive by creating a value chain and sought to compare different materials in the way they were uploaded.

They organized a kind of BONANZA by which they forstered user interaction to ascertain the user value according to ten different categories.

It turned out to be a most successful digitalisation effort of their archive.

In his presentation he posed the interesting question, but how to make jokes about technically induced success stories which tell something as to what happens in the 'gadget society'? The latter relies on a tool box but there is nothing to repair, only to share!

Indeed, people have developed a habit to pass on things which say something and nothing.

That then touches upon a collective consciousness which bases its communication on symbols which have both positive and negative meanings. If symbols reflect needs, then the condition for their use is not made explicit but becomes known through evocative terms or by means of entertainment.


Ignasi Guardans, European Platform on the Potential of Cultural and Creative Industries

He underlined the fact that creativity cannot be seperated from creators who form a source of energy which like oil underground needs to be transformed and made available. That then is the role of cultural industries.

How this transition can be shaped, that depends on the legal framework i.e. copy rights. It does touch upon the entire discussion about intellectual property rights. He thinks this can be compared to people buying art works and yet which other users would like to see and to appreciate.

This then brings the discussion to how to facilitate access to culture. Certainly one way to do so would be for the EU Commission to ease credits for cultural industries in the form of loans, not subsidies, but such a task should not be left to the strongest player in the market. Here the media program may provide some alternative funding strategy.

Certainly movie theatres face this new challenge of digitalisation.

Altogether an adequate response to the new situation would require a policy to enhance new business models suitable to a digital culture.

Robert Madelin, Director General, DG Information Society and Media, European Commission

He believes the concept of culture has to be broadened in order to find out what user want. For any corporation the unsuspected user is equally a creator in the digital age.

To ease adaptation, he proposes Private Public Partnerships to make it easier for all stakeholders to adapt to digitalisation. There may be needed as well some unusual conversations while strategic alliances of the cultural industry can help to advance the interests of this sector.


Even the remarkable website of the Reijkmuseum is showing but one side of the picture. It does not indicate how important is the communication within the museum, amongst the staff and experts. The only reference made to their existence was that they had to validate the information which can alter inputs to the data bank of the museum.

The success of the showing of a skull by using multi-media techniques to improve interaction may be misleading. It may work for such a high profile topic such as death. It can even reflect current times. Yet at a more problematic level, necrophil like tendencies or 'the love of the dead' have been analysed in the post-Fascism times especially by psychoanalytical scholars. It is something else if an important but for many a remote theme needs to be tackled in order to seek clarity in art historical terms.

Also there is this impression of everything being merged in a world relying only on digitalization. As a matter of fact, the philosopher Bart Verschaffel has remarked that increasingly at university the uniformity of text is becoming a dominant feature. This is due to everything being based on internet communication and on a new norm for all academic publications. By all publications taking on the same format, it means that different texts - notes, hand written letters, sketches, research reports etc. - cannot be distinguished so easily anymore. Hence the giving a different value to different texts makes way instead for a feeling of loss of value. In this sense lack of differentiation needed in order to know at what stage is right now the thought process alters altogether the concept of knowledge. Naturally one can indicate this to be but a draft yet there is a memory loss being incurred by overuse of the internet. The latter is like saying the invisible leaves no traces behind. Rather everything disappears in the endless corridor of virtual reality. Things come and go, are easily deleted and never found again if the key word under which the file was stored goes missing. With so many more endless trails and links leading to nowhere conclusive, while there are still more sources of information out there, the result is confusion.

Also digital literarcy was not referred to, as if it is presupposed not to make a difference in participation once the digital world becomes all inclusive as much as exclusive. This is like clinging to the illusion all are equal in use of these new communication and learning tools.

The discussion did not touch upon the need for an overall cultural adaptation by society to technical terms defining the new organisational principles and therefore as well success. Another shortcoming is not to be critical of entertainment as but a shorter version of culture. A much wider extension of cultural actions is to comprehend them in terms of being further going aspirations especially when inspired by something truly ethical and a part of the human vision of things to be shared with others. While sharing was stressed very much in terms of common practices by users of digital tools, it differs greatly if culture is understood as a search for truth in order to then share what has been discovered, heard and felt, in short experienced. That there is a risk not to see the other side of the coin of the EU 2020 vision when speaking about an 'economy of experience' set on using technology to enrich the making of experiences, namely to produce in reality a 'poverty of experience', that became evident throughout the various presentations and responses.

For instance, one shortcoming in such an approach to culture is not to really understand an art work. The former director of the Rijkmuseum showed an impressive video of self portraits Rembrandt made over the span of his life in but sixty seconds, but how can the various stages of the painters be understood at a flash of a second when nothing is said about the kind of decisions which went into each of these self portraits? The highly impressive video of sixty seconds is maybe an indication that the time span of interest for something has become much shorter than needed in order to understand a creative process behind a painting. A creative process over a whole life time is something like following the morality of creativity, as stated by Andre Breton when exempting Picasso from the need to follow the Surrealist manifest. A digital world allows only for an interative process as described best by Cornerlius Castoriadis who added this would not allow a thinking in terms of contradictions.

Also a technically induced culture reflects something else to which Cornelius Castoriadis drew attention to. In the digital world it becomes obvious that technology is no longer just a tool, but has become a theory of society and therefore dictates how this society is organized i.e. allocates resources, frames information and therefore allows only for certain interpretations. It is natural to resort to symbols whose meanings are most evasive, if not at all clear as to what ramifications they have for a culture no longer in dialogue, but increasingly impoverished by a false understanding as to what it takes to govern life. This is made explicit when culture and public sphere no longer can go together as private business through the power of this technology claims public space or more so replaces it by transforming both the private and the public spaces into a neutral one equally accessible at home, in the hotel or at school. The spread of the 'screen' as form of interaction leaves one wondering very often when is still attention being paid to the one sitting beside one when once more the mobile phone rings. The immediate becomes a part of a virtual mediation of something supposingly more immediate than the real person sitting beside one but only in an illusionary world this digital technology can evoke and intensify not as an impression but as a habit.

Culture is about the power of pictures whereas the digital world seeks and has empowered images as selfs without soul. Thus the task is to go beyond this virtual immediate by not repeating the images as form of mediation with reality. That leaves open the question what kind of philosophy no longer follows the transcendental logic of the nineteenth century into a confrontation with the structural contradictions prevailing at that time, but seeks its own terms of references? That seems to depend on how deep an experience of the arts and culture makes possible the questioning of the power of images. And in terms of practical discourse, it may be possible to take still some cues from Michel Foucault's 'les mots et les choses' or 'the order of things' as long as the representative logic holds and the interpretation of the picture does not overlook the shift in power with regards to who replaces the central figure in the foreground? It may mean that the central role of the artist is surpassed by the new invisible hand of the system as a creator of images and sounds, and that such a system complexity is based on various models of interactions their outcome depending upon interventions of different orders and kinds.


Panel 2: Which skills for culture in a globalised and digitised world?

Carte blanche

Anamaria O'Hara Wills, Chief Executive CIDA Co, The Creativity and Innovation Company


Panel Discussion


He started with one slide showing the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. An immediate flash of association to the current crisis hitting home in Greece as birthplace of Western Civilization and today in dire need of money to face off a default. Gerlad Bast made then an important linkage to the present by showing a variety of important buildings all copying the Greek style with its pillars. When he ended the slide show with a picture of Wall Street, he underlined that this reference to classical architecture meant always a claim of being serious like a temple, yet one open for doing business. That reminds in turn of the biblical story about Jesus driving out of the temple those doing business or just gambling. A place of worship should not have anything to do with money or those worldly things - a kind of securalization in reverse.





^ Top

« Culture in motion Feb. 15/16 2011 | Opening Speeches, Panels 1 and 2 »