Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Report on the plenary sessions by Hatto Fischer



The purpose of the conference was to give to local and regional authorities a way to reflect their own ways of doing things or 'politismos' *, and this not necessarily in complementarity to the EU 2020 vision but which can create framework conditions more in accordance with their specific needs and possibilities.

Already at the Cultural Forum in October 2011, Pascal Brunet stated:

"Since the 1980s, the European Union has strongly supported a regional logic, by proposing strategic guidelines which provide a framework for structural policies that are aimed at strengthening economic and social cohesion (Single European Act, 1986) as well as territorial cohesion (Treaty of Lisbon, 2007). In applying a solidarity principle, the EU considers the local level a fundamental space to build cohesion across Europe."

However, it can be questioned whether this solidarity principle across the board still holds. Since 1999 the re-nationalization of EU programmes set in and left Europe by 2010 at the latest in crisis. There is a lack of culture based on solidarity if many different kinds of inequalities are aggrevated by a constant lack of accessibility to resources. It impedes development when lack thereof hinders communication and more important the sharing of values.

Thus the crucial question is whether the 'local space' can be still identified as the neighborhood and the cultural quarter? Given the fact that cities tend to regionalize their cultural policies, they will have quite a different notion of public space for culture when deliberating future investments. Insofar as cities have to follow and come to terms with expanding, equally changing human settlements with mega-polis being created at the same time that other cities are 'shrinking', cultural cohesion and political governance need to be brought in liaison with what is economically possible.

The trend towards cities addressing cultural priorities in terms of being as well a place with a much wider, indeed regional influence became evident in the European Capital of Culture project. First Lille in 2005, then Ruhr 2010 set a trend in terms of dealing with culture at regional level. It marks also an increasing interest in co-operation between various cities. The aim is bring about a more viable cohesion within the region best done by linking and incorporating various localities into a single and therefore larger domain.

The shift in focus has left many localities in the shade of a futuristic development towards the Cultural and Creative Industries while altering not only political representation, but also identification with a larger unit than the city itself. Here the experiment of Ruhr 2010 is of interest to follow up for the aim was to overcome the competition between 54 cities all located within the Ruhr and therefore former industrial area, thereby aiming to capitalize on the relative ease by which people can travel from one city to the next even by street car.


The main thesis

Criticism of instrumentalization of culture was articulated at this conference held on the grounds of Cite Internationale in Paris.


EU 2020 vision

Since this vision determines current budgetary discussions, while Europe is going through a huge crisis, a crucial question is whether such a vision is sufficient for the European Commission to apply its administrative practice and succeeds in convincing both Council and European Parliament along with all 27 member states to agree on a new plan for the time period 2014 - 2020.


Creative Europe - Programme

Creative Europe Programme has three strands with a key question being how will the method of furthering culture in Europe stand up in comparison to the media programme designed to promote primarily European film and to the third strand, itself a kind of interwoveness with the banking system and how loans are to be facilitated for projects seeking this kind of funding under such auspices. Especially the latter takes up an old idea, namely to select projects without giving them any money (subsidy), but to let them use this designation by the European Commission to obtain cheaper loans from the banks, in order to finance (and invest) their planned activities. Interestingly enough the key impetus for this may come from how the crisis is meant to be overcome, insofar as the cultural sector is asked to get to know better the banking sector. Becoming creative within such a money line stipulates then quite other needs and prerequisites in need to be fulfilled before anything else can take shape. It is thought that this third strand will favour above all the Creative and Cultural Industries. The latter have been identified as successful economic agents. It includes fashion and interior design and links culture to functional art but starts at the very basis of commercial activities and not what would give artists, architects and designers the freedom to invent and to experiment things independent from valorization needs. Rather it is assumed that at this vital nodal points between culture and economy creativity and productivity go already so well together, that only further going encouragement is needed. The language the EU Commission uses in this case is indicative of the intention, namely 'to harness the creative potential of these new types of industries' and to solicit them for a new round of economic development.

Vision for Europe

Before anything else, visions were articulated in Ancient Greece. Aristotles made this dependent upon the wish - proheisis - becoming a powerful imagination allowing to see into the future. This was done in two complementary ways.

  1. One relied on anticipation of events to come especially if certain decisions like the going to war would be taken and not take into account 'the voice of reason'. The fate of those who would not listen was well described by Homer who visited former battle fields insofar as he described Achilles when sinking to the ground mortally wounded that only then did he smell the grass. This realization of life outside this infatuation caused by war just for the sake of making for oneself a name comes usually too late. That is why philosophy has this attribute of giving condolences and helping to mourn the losses, but is itself at a loss of words on how to face this foolishness of man seeking over and again glory in war.
  2. The other vision into the future relates to 'practical wisdom' which allows people to judge consequences of actions even if their outcome would become only reality in two hundred or more years. From Kant to Adorno practical wisdom is considered to be something of vital importance but it cannot be taught.


Consequently it is said one of the greatest failures of contemporary culture is not to be able to anticipate what shall happen in future, and therefore responses if at all in the coming will be too late to alter the course of events.

All this refutes naturally man's illusion as being able to steer his own destiny. But a more practical reason for this shortcoming is precisely the fixation upon immediate and visible outcomes as practiced by the European Union. There is no time given to consider what shall lie two hundreds from now. Short term thinking and interests prevail with the usual explanation given being that politicians do not think beyond their next re-election bid.

It can be altered as is the case with recently re-elected Barack Obama as President of the United States. He has four years ahead of him as of January 2013 and knows he cannot stand for another re-election. That leaves him freer not to think so much about his re-election bid as was the case during the first four years, but now he can focus on long term perspectives and also what shall be the legacy of his presidency.

Yet to return to the visions poets, philosophers, theatre writers articulated in Ancient Greece prompted Herbert Distel, artist and creator of the smallest museum in the world, namely 'the Museum of Drawers' (to be found in the Museum for Modern Art in Zürich) when asked if he wished to join an international jury to select art works which would be designated to go into the newly build Metro-stations of Attica Metro in Athens, to pose just one condition before saying 'yes': if it is about developing a vision similar to those of Ancient Greece and therefore applicable equally for the next 2000 years. This would be a true measure of true cultural achievements. But to be great, greatness has to be understood in how Nelson Mandela took it to mean, namely the ability to free the others from your own fear of greatness. With greatness comes a greater responsibility and it relates to what became a controversy during the Friday debate, namely what is Elitism to be opposed as denying others equal access to culture and emphasis upon if not 'greatness', then 'excellence' since the arts and therefore cultural development do require hard work if anything is to be achieved. Therefore, the relationship of means and ends can be summed up as artists and people going through phases of development with each phase helping or not the next one to prepare itself for such a vision into the future of mankind.


* Culture or 'Politismos': the way of doing things

The culture of the European Union has become a way of doing things based on projects. Often what permeates daily is not perceived as such. As a matter of fact the entire discussion about culture appears as a huge attempt to distract from the hard reality making up Europe in towns, regions and entire territories of member states. This distraction takes place at various levels and leaves real encounters suspended for the time being. There is no longer any universal acclaimed and therefore recognizable truth. The compass of the inner being is a hybrid kind of phenomenon which allows interactions of individuals within certain system logics disposed to transfer people from one place to another or to function as a whole in a certain way.

The best way to show this reality on this side of deception may be to perceive it as another way to safeguard a majority of people from possible mistakes committed by those who seek to exist on the other side as entering power games is then more desirable than having a real chance at recognizing oneself in life as a human being breathing hard after running down the street.

While European cultures were reflected in the past in terms of international cultural reflections, this has been replaced increasingly so by reference to a local society being linked to a global world. How this has changed not only daily language but affected as well the art of dialogues on which have been based the

International culture – / local-global society

Getting to know other cultures / predicament of culture with otherness gone

Cultural diversity / cultural and creative industries

Local and regional authorities are undergoing constant changes, one of the most telling one is the need to adapt to the expansion of the city. Too often administrative boundaries no longer correspond with reality, or as the saying goes, culture is wider than the administrative set up. Like everything in life this is only true in reference to how things were governed in the past. But any mayor will know a community held together by a cultural bondage is stronger as it displays a constant vitality in how people interact and encounter difficulties as they go along, when compared to those allowing top down investments to drive out entire neighbourhoods just for the sake of rebuilding something on a grand scale. The latter entails the risk of artificiality since nothing can replace lively neighbourhoods and active cultural hubs. Yet in a global age another more overarching frame of reference seems to distort the perception of local needs and local identities. Again cultural heritage may be organized in an official way to remind about the history of the city and what gives shape to its current value dispositions, a harbour city definitely different from a town which has become inland a railway juncture. At different times and socio-economic movements they would gain in importance on very different scales. Sometimes towns strive simply on the significance that Columbus set sail or else a famous battle took place to give meaning to the name. This becomes the story of cities seeking to exploit tourism on the basis of such an intangible meaning. It may be reflected in some historical buildings or even more so specifically in a museum set up for the purpose to preserve this story but precisely the key decision as to what visitors look for and what local inhabitants wish to reveal is a typical misunderstanding when it comes to investments and communication of that particular city. Life goes on, is the usual saying, but no one seems to notice how a local place or region is being governed, even though in the past any traveller when passing through would know the difference between liberal stakeholders or those who tend to rob anyone coming along the way. Culture could well be the angle taken when telling these stories in view of what is happening today.

At the level of member states, along with Council, Commission and European Parliament a peculiar culture unfolds. It is governed itself by a Euro language based on a mechanism which neutralizes any potential conflict. Many reports, Green Papers, directives are written in such a language that the intention of governing is underlined by one strong wish, namely not to offend anyone. It is an administrative culture which has grown out of taking many factors into consideration when formulating a proposal. Such a legislative act does not intend to be a strict law in the end, but rather it is working out a proposal on a legal base in order to allow the funding of specific actions. That means what kind of feedback, if any, can be expected from reality, if the latter is more or less perceived as being out of touch with reality. It could come down to trusting no one but oneself as reference point for the political reality perceived even though that is masked by referring to treaties and recent Council decisions. Definitely it is never a decision by the people of Europe and thus cannot be localized or even perceived in reference to a specific region even if that is precisely the intention of the Catalonians when voting on a referendum seeking independence from Spain. It is a thrust of pain transformed into a complaint of not having sufficient sovereignty over own funds while in reality deeply in debt. Articulation differs from just political attempts to salvage some sort of independent power base as if it is not possible to be equal with the others due to the structures of governance.

draft (29.11.2012)

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