A few thoughts by Robert Palmer (Council of Europe)
The Council of Europe, among its many functions, collects information and monitors developments in 50 European countries. All of our work in culture and heritage is related in some way to the theme of the right to culture framed as a human right. "Cultural rights" include, but are not limited to: rights to access to culture, participation in culture, and the right to freedom of expression. Particular attention is paid to the rights of minorities, and to approaches linked to the management of increasingly diverse communities in European societies.
Using the 'Compendium' and a great many other means of gathering information, we are trying to examine è˜macro-trends' that affect culture in Europe. To this effect, we have formed a special platform called è˜CultureWatch Europe' (see more under www.coe.int/culture).
From my perspective, the landscape for cultural policy in Europe is now very challenging. The focus seems to be on re-invention, re-engineering, reform - almost everywhere. These are positive words in abstract - but my concern reflects as well a few worrying signs and their implications in terms of implementation.
Let me mention a few of these:
I am aware of a growing resurgence of nationalism in cultural policies in Europe. Much debate is focusing on national identities, but also on the ways in which the cultures of minorities - migrants in particular - should be managed.
In many countries, priority appears to be given to revitalizing the national dimension of cultural policy - preoccupied in some cases with the protection of national heritage, often at the expense of contemporary creation. There is a clear prominence given to the export of national cultural products and an increased emphasis on cultural tourism and 'creative industries' as a means of promoting a nationally centered profile of a country.
There are clear and worrying threats posed by nationalistic tendencies in many states, especially when cultural policy is used as a basis for identity policy. We must watch particularly carefully the impact of these tendencies on the fragile cultures of our minority and migrant communities and, at the same time, continue with our efforts to promote the processes of a true intercultural dialogue.
We have been monitoring carefully the impact of a re-structuring of economies in Europe and the effects of the debt crisis and cuts to public expenditure. It is still too early to determine the full impact of a potential re-shaping of public financing of culture, even if alarm bells are ringing everywhere.
It seems impossible to see the real picture only from the figures we are gathering. In fact, we cannot get many governments to provide those facts and figures we really need to evaluate and analyze the current position accurately and forecast likely future impacts. Therefore, much of the evidence gathered remains anecdotal. It may be useful to focus on and begin to measure the impacts of change directly and indirectly caused by the changes of approaches to state financing of culture in further observations and research.
Going beyond facts and finance, the re-shaping of cultural policies as we know them are being significantly influenced by shifts in values and new processes of cultural production and dissemination: influences that are behavioural, environmental and digital.
Boundaries and barriers between forms and types of culture are eroding. The latest video games create new cultural experiences which may prove to be more powerful than the traditional means of involvement in culture.
Conventional ideas about distinctions between the work and value of cultural “professionalsè and “amateursè are becoming increasingly meaningless.
The economics of music and other artistic disciplines have been transformed. The notions of è˜cultural meaning' are being re-examined.
There seems to be an increasing emphasis on the 'mainstreaming of culture' - a term used regularly now by the European Union. Culture is linked to well-being and health; culture is used to address social cohesion and inclusion; culture has become a means of provoking the urban revitalization of cities and regions, and culture is now profoundly linked to processes of development.
Since this trend is connected to our societies as a whole, it would be illusionary to delegate their implementation mainly to artists and intellectuals - and even less to cultural policymakers. However, this mainstreaming is a powerful influence, which now makes conventional arguments about the “instrumentalisationè of culture redundant and reductive.
A final trend I want to mention is one that is associated with fundamental changes that are taking place as regards the models of governance in culture. This calls for a profound re-examination of the role of civil society in the management of culture. There is a break-down of state authority in many sectors and dimensions; this may, and should indeed, lead to a growing involvement of non-state actors. Which includes of course commercial interests in cultural industries. Such changes are leading to a turning point in how culture is controlled and managed, and which is provoking a profound debate about the reduced role of the state in developing and implementing cultural policy, and the impact of regulatory mechanisms of the state that influence the management of cultural goods and services and the protection of standards and rights.
Robert Palmer is the Director for Democratic Governance, Culture and Diversity of the Council of Europe. The text is largely based on his opening address to the International Congress on 'Active Cultural Participation in Europe', held 8th-10th June 2011 in Ghent on the occasion of the annual assemblies of the experts of the Council of Europe/ERICarts 'Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe' and the AMATEO network for active participation in cultural activities.
Added: Sunday, 05 February, 2012 11:21 GMT+2
Thank you. Very interesting and useful analysis. Have you written more on these issues? Any publication or article I could find?
Anna Celsing, Brussels
Added: Friday, 16 December, 2011 0:50 GMT+2
Great. Thanks. Need more of this. Good analysis. Sharp.
Added: Tuesday, 29 November, 2011 14:43 GMT+2
Really insightful article. Thanks. Must have more of this kind of thoughtful questioning. And the evidence, which he said is lacking should be gathered, but by whom? Not by governmemts themselves if we want the full truth.
Peter Duxley, UK
Added: Tuesday, 29 November, 2011 14:19 GMT+2
I couldn't agree more on all the issues above. However, No.4 leads my thoughts towards the need to include culture(arts) as a cross-cutting issue into a number of policies, rather then separate them through "mainstreaming" process. There is a certain trend regarding the broad meaning of culture (diversity, organizational culture etc), but those are in my opinion just taking the discussion into a wrong direction - out of the interest of arts and artists.
Nenad Bogdanovic, Limassol/Cyprus
Added: Friday, 11 November, 2011 1:28 GMT+2
Dear Robert, thanks!! Do you have a more comprehensive report on the findings you have listed above? i am interested to know more about "Mainstreaming Culture" also about nationalism in cultural policy. thanks
Chaymaa Ramz, Alexandria/ Egypt