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Cultural Civil Society Development as a Source of Socio-Economic Growth

Submitted by on 12 Jul 2012 – 11:30

European Cultural FoundationBy Katherine Watson & Philipp Dietachmair, European Cultural Foundation

The European Cultural Foundation and its support of European ‘change-makers’ in culture

Promoting pan-European collaboration in the arts in order to achieve a deeper social, cultural and political integration of the wider Europe has been the mission of the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) since its founding by Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont in 1954. ECF programmes and grants have benefitted artists and cultural NGOs but also public art institutions across all EU countries and the bordering neighbour countries. Today the predominantly lottery-funded actions of the only independent pan-European foundation in the field of culture are carried out in co-operation with a large number of local partners and international donor programmes such as the EU Culture Programme and other internationally active foundations. The effectiveness and sustainability of public-private partnerships cannot be underestimated. ECF acts as a strong independent voice in European cultural policy development. Its role as a representative of cultural civil society however is firmly based on long-term co-operation with the EU institutions (especially DG EaC, DG Enlargement, EU Parliament) as well as national and local governments inside and outside the EU.


Europe is more than the European Union. This has been our conviction since the beginning. Arts and culture do not just stop influencing each other at the political borders of the EU. Cultural practice with an ambition for operating within and not isolated from ongoing social and political transformation processes always deals with imagining how things could be (different and better) in the future. For socially and politically motivated cultural operators and contemporary art forms as supported by ECF, a new vision for Europe cannot take shape without the historical, cultural, economic, political and human ties we share with our neighbours. A new ‘narrative’ for Europe needs to include their stories and perspectives. This is indispensable in referring back to shared, if divergent, histories fuelling today’s realities. But it is even more valid in today’s times of crisis when Europe searches for new sources to kick-start economic recovery and there is a growing need to find alternative answers for re-appearing social challenges. Innovative practices of cultural communities across the EU and its neighbouring countries can inspire joint visions for a common future in this wider European space. They also contribute to tangible socio-economic development on the ground. One of our recent projects in this field for example has resulted in new income opportunities for a remote village in Moldova by linking local embroiderers to Berlin Fashion Week.


An informal ‘common-cause movement’ of cultural ‘change-makers’, a loose network of civil society actors, connecting cultural organisations firmly with other sectors could be the organisational structure to carry such a process. This is the long-term goal of ECF programmes involving cultural innovators both from the EU and the EU Neighbourhood: By attracting a growing number of culture professionals this ‘community of practice’ could serve as a civic ‘backbone’ for integrating often unheard or misinterpreted local voices in a new European discourse. The goal is to provide some alternative answers next to the mere economic arguments on how to solve the prevailing crisis. Cultural operators from outside the EU need to join their colleagues inside the EU on equal footing. They are already linked by their shared interest and engagement in artistic innovation and cultural transformation processes. This also leads to improvements in their wider social and political working environment as such. The establishment of such a community of practice (certainly digitally supported) is an endeavour for many years to come. Nevertheless, the many social and political movements across Europe and its neighbourhood which have made revolutionary news over the past year already paint a picture of the context in which such a movement of cultural change-makers would operate.


Skilled cultural managers establish strong and independent cultural organisations which form powerful communities of cultural change-makers in turbulent societies. This is the key assumption for ECF programmes operating in the EU Neighbourhood. Over the past two years socio-economic turbulence and the search for alternative answers by exploring new cultural community practices also became an increasingly valid factor for the foundation’s work across Europe.

The ongoing ECF EU Neighbourhood Programme operates in the context of the EU Neighbourhood Policies and is currently active in Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Turkey and 8 Arab countries of the Euromed. It is designed to enable cultural workers in these countries to position themselves as a force of cultural and artistic innovation in their working environment. Gradually this shall allow programme participants to achieve a stronger say in local and later on also national cultural policy reform debates. The programme predominantly involves local NGOs and independent activists and therefore also represents an alternative and complementary approach to the EU’s overall civil society development and democratisation efforts in the EU Neighbourhood. ECF project experience especially in the Eastern Partnership countries shows that local economic development and maintaining social cohesion often starts with proactive local cultural community workers. Further facilitation of such self-empowerment and linking these cultural communities across the EU Neighbourhood shall assist their firmer integration in collaboration and policy development processes also on EU level. Local cultural community practice across Europe could feed even more directly into the development of future EU cultural programmes (such as ‘Creative Europe’) and EU foreign policy instruments (such as the ENPIs) than is the case now.


Pan-European cultural collaboration must be two-way, recognising that across the EU and its neighbouring regions we are dealing with an inequality of resources and infrastructure, but not of human capacity or motivation for cultural expression. In this respect, ECF seeks to be a facilitator (through its project grants) and a catalyst (through its arts management training and community development workshops). By applying these methods ECF particularly wants to find ways to bring the experiences from the EU neighbourhood into the EU, both on a people to people level and ensuring that practice is firmly connected to policy development on the level of EU institutions and EU governments.


The new placement scheme called ‘Tandem’ that ECF has initiated aims to further deepen this people-to-people interaction: This programme provides cultural managers from both inside and outside the EU with an opportunity to get to know each others’ working realities by realising a working placement in the partner organisation. Next to a set of training workshops in intercultural management, international co-production and European cultural policy development, Tandem also supports realising a joint artistic project. At the moment the scheme, which is co-funded by the EU Culture Programme with contributions from other European foundations (notably the Mercator Stiftung and the Robert Bosch Stiftung), supports more than 90 cultural managers to develop long-term partnerships between cultural organizations from the EU neighbourhood (currently Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey, several Arab Euromed countries) and their EU counterparts (all 27 EU member states). Tandem activities also include linking these collaboration duos with relevant policymaking institutions in the EU Commission. Together with the Tandem programme partners and participants ECF thereby aims to encourage, inform and participate in the further development of a cultural component to the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood Policy.