29 Jun 2012

FERA held its annual General Assembly in Copenhagen on 8 – 10 June.

This meeting provided us with the opportunity to get a comprehensive overview of what is happening in all FERA member countries across Europe – and this year the gap between those who are in a rather priviledged situation and those who really struggle seems bigger than ever.

Three days before, on 6 June, I attended an event in Brussels hosted by the Danish Minister of Culture Uffe Elbæk in connection with the Danish EU Presidency.

In February Minister Elbæk launched his initiative Team Culture, inviting   11 prominent cultural practitioners from across Europe to answer by  way of example the question of what culture can contribute with in a time  of crisis.

In a joint op-ed in The Guardian, EU Culture Commissioner Vassiliou and Minister Elbæk wrote ”…artists and creative innovators…need to once again step into the arena as the central players in society’s own story about itself”.

The 6 June event was about presenting Team Culture’sfindings and provided a platform for dialogue between politicians and the cultural sector.

I was invited to represent the audiovisual sector on a reflection panel after the 11 presentations alongside Minister Elbæk, the Croatian Culture Minister Andrea Zlatar Violic and Vladimir Sucha, who is Director for Culture and Media in the European Commission (DG Education and Culture).

In my remarks I pointed out that at a time when Europe is facing  a youth unemployment rate of 22,4% (up 50% since 2008) many politicians express fuzzy warm feelings about the role of culture and creativity and wax poetic that Europe’s future depends on cultivating those skills. Yet they not only fail to invest what it takes to nurture talent and create more jobs in our sector, but in some cases slash budgets to the point  of almost wiping out an entire national industry.

Mr. Sucha called for the culture sector to engage more in political activism à la Green Peace, even if he does not always agree with their methods.

The Access to Culture Platform that consists of European networks of cultural organisations (where FERA is a member), has in fact decided to take on a similar role in Brussels. We want to mobilize more solidarity across all the diciplines in the cultural sector so that when for example our Portugese and Slovenian members organize protests, FERA can rally the wider European cultural community to support the cause. This would create what in Brussels  is known as a ”multiplier effect”.

A few years ago the former Norwegian Culture Minister rather cynically stated that ”we politicians are like Pavlovian dogs, we need electric shocks to react. But in the field of culture we get no electric shocks from the stakeholders, even if we fail to honour our elections promises.”

Politicians’ actions speak louder  than their words, and as artists and activists we must hold them accountable – both on the national and European levels – and scrutinize what is now done in the name of austerity – which to some has become a pretext for implementing very dubious policies.

Especially in a time of crisis perhaps the most important contribution of culture can be what (then) Vice President of the European Parliament Stavros Lambrindinis said about the Parliament’s Lux Prize in a meeting in Cannes last year: ”These films make us lawmakers feel the human consequences of our decisions”.

Elisabeth O. Sjaastad