Culture as Smart Investment – A Shift in Focus for EU Cultural Policy?

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Culture: a smart investment in times of austerity

The 3 key points of Commissioner  Vassiliou‘s speech & their meaning for  the future focus of EU cultural policy.

During her speech on 1 October in Vilnius, Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, focussed on three points:

  1. culture has both a social and an economic dimension
  2. cultural stakeholders – private, public and governmental – must ensure that both are fostered
  3. the European Commission tries to do just that in its new funding programme ‘Creative Europe’ and through other funds.

This short speech gives a good indication of the future focus of EU cultural policy, cultural development and funding. Below is a summary of the main points, and the attempt of an interpretation.


The Commissioner’s Speech in 3 Points

1) The Double Dimension of Culture

Economic Potential & Shared Values
Culture has a “double dimension” – both as a set of shared values and a sector of economic activity. Speaking about culture’s economic role in no way undermines its intrinsic, non-quantifiable value.  Culture, while being “a public value in itself”, also has a big potential for growth and jobs. Highlighting this double dimension is an important aspect of  European level discussions on culture.

EU Capitals of Culture as Best Practice Examples
Becoming a European Capital of Culture can not just change a city’s image but can also lead to economic and social benefits that are felt for many years. This often includes a rise in tourism, regeneration and urban development. In addition, there are spill-over effects on other sectors of the local economy. In addition, European Capitals of Culture can create more cohesion and intercultural dialogue, reaching out to new audiences.

Need for Both Dimensions of Culture in Times of Crisis
It is in times of crisis that culture is most needed. On the one hand, culture contributes to societal development, encourages social inclusion and discourages extremist tendencies. On the other hand, culture  contributes to economic growth and job creation. “Investing in culture therefore is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”

2) An Integrated Approach to Cultural Policy

In order to tackle challenges such as digitisation and globalisation more efficiently, we need an integrated and coordinated approach between the key players and at the different levels of governance:

Policy makers need

  1. to work more closely together at all levels to
  2. to create a  framework that encourages investment and fosters digitisation
  3. to increase the financing of activities which bring not only social but also  economic development.

Creative businesses need to develop new business models that don’t just depend on earnings and public subsidies

Financial institutions need to better understand the cultural and creative sector in order to provide appropriate financial products and services

3) How the EU is Addressing these Challenges

Creative Europe
The new funding programme – Creative Europe – aims to to promote Europe’s cultural richness, competitiveness and social cohesion. It will serve both the cultural and creative industries, with sub-programmes for cultural and audiovisual operators. In addition a new ‘Cultural and Creative Sector Guarantee Facility’ aims to give cultural and creative operators easier access to bank credits.

Other Programmes
Other EU funding programmes will support creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe:

  • Erasmus+ for education and vocational training
  • COSME for industries and enterprises
  • Horizon 2020 for research and innovation
  • Structural Funds – the EU Member States are encouraged to treat investments in culture and creativity in a strategic manner and as part of local integrated development strategies.

What Does it Mean for EU Cultural Policy?

Culture Becomes a Part of Europe 2020

The speech clearly reflects the fact that EU Cultural Policy has been integrated more closely in the overall EU strategy – Europe 2020. Entitled a “growth strategy for Europe“, Europe 2020 focusses on employment, productivity and social cohesion and aims to make the EU  a “smart, sustainable and inclusive economy“. While the ‘intrinsic value of culture’ is still acknowledged – its ‘potential for growth and jobs’ is gaining in importance.

Creative Economy instead of the Cultural and Media Sector

References to ‘the cultural sector’ are rarely found in current EU speeches on cultural policy. The target group of its efforts has been re-baptised (or redefined) as “the cultural and creative industries” or simply ‘the creative economy’. This is also reflected in the name change of the new funding programme: after two funding cycles with programmes called ‘Culture‘ and ‘Media‘, we’re now entering the phase of ‘Creative Europe‘. This will also have an impact on the way that the value of culture – or now ‘creativity’ – is perceived and evaluated.

More Funding for ‘Creatives’ from Other Programmes?

Recent comments suggest that the importance of culture and creativity has also been discovered by other Directorate Generals. Industries & Enterprises and Research are even explicitly mentioned in Vassiliou’s speech as potential sources of funding. Whoever believes that Horizon 2020 will start funding opera will of course be deeply disappointed. Again, it’s the sector’s potential for creating jobs, fostering economic growth and supporting innovation that is of interest here.

Conclusion: A Transition Between Dimensions

It’s important to stress that culture and media are neither just entertainment nor just an intrinsic moral good. Understanding that culture has another dimension – contributing significantly to the political, social and economic development of a society – is important and raises its status. However, it seems like the balance is shifting – and we’re in danger of focussing almost exclusively on the economic potential of the ‘creative industries’. If this is the case, creativity just becomes the latest buzz word – just as innovation did before.

EU Cultural policy originates from a strong tradition of seeing our cultural heritage and artistic expression as a sort of ‘social engine’ of European Integration (No doubt, everyone is familiar with the saying incorrectly attributed to Jean Monnet: ‘if we had to begin (the EU) all over again, we would start with culture’). Funding ‘high art’ EU Cultural Ambassadors that appeal to a rather small cultural elite may have been taking this idea a bit far. Now, the European Commission is in danger of rocking the boat too far to the other side: seeing culture as nothing more than a ‘growth programme’ may not be doing it justice either.

Androulla Vassiliou held her speech on 1 October in Vilnius during the ‘Ready for Tomorrow? Culture as an Agent for Social and Economic Transformation‘ Conference. The full text can be found at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-771_en.htm

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