Jonathan Fryer

Culture and Crisis (EU-style)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd February, 2012

How can culture help Europeans take a more optimistic view of the current state of affairs, despite the eurozone crisis and other economic woes? Uffe Elbaek, Minister of Culture of Denmark (which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency) and the EU Commissioner for culture, Androulla Vassiliou, offer the following view:

While it is impossible to deny the severity of the present crisis, it is also clear that Europe has many reasons for optimism and hope. As Europeans we should start looking at our cultural sector as a reservoir of hope, ideas and new economic growth that can lead us out of the crisis.

The Europe of tomorrow is only going to be as successful and liveable as the ideas we have to make it grow. We all need to be better at what the artists are already good at – making more with less, finding fresh new perspectives and exciting new combinations. Art is not only a pleasurable icing on the cake. It is also a way of thinking and a practice of working innovatively with reality that can inspire us all to do better.

Furthermore, while the crisis is economic and political – it certainly isn’t cultural.

European cities are right now among the most creative and vibrant in the world. Cities like London, Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen are not only major metropolises, but also major creative centres with hundreds of thousands employed in the creative industries, like film, music and art but also computer games, design and fashion. By including culture on a much broader level in city planning, social policy and business development we can create much more economically sustainable, attractive and liveable cities.

In Copenhagen, a recent survey by the Danish think-tank FORA shows that the creative industry is the city’s most important, with about 70 000 employed either directly in creative job positions or in businesses like fashion retail that benefit from the innovations of the creative industry. In 2008, 21 percent of Denmark’s new start-ups focused on creative value creation. In the European Union the creative industry accounts for at least 3.3 pct of the economy – up to 4.5 pct based on measurement methods. Employment in the creative industry also grows more rapidly than in other industries: 3.5 pct a year compared to a 1 pct growth in employment as a whole.

The European Commission’s proposal for a new support programme – “Creative Europe” – precisely aims at supporting artists and professionals in the creative sectors across Europe. We encourage all politicians to work for initiatives that can get art out of its silos and make art, creation and cultural activity part of society at large. There are really two tasks here: On the one hand, we have to encourage society to learn from the artists and creative innovators, and on the other hand we should make it easier for artists to learn from entrepreneurial practices in spreading their work and ideas.

We have to create real, lasting relationships between the artistic community, the creative industries and other sectors like education, business, production and research, but also our foreign policy and development work. There is a lot to gain simply by stimulating new relationships, and this strategy can create immense growth without a need for big financial investments.

For their part, the artists and creative innovators need to realize their own potential and take back their authority. They need to once again step into the arena as the central players in society’s own story about itself. We politicians need to be better at listening to the artists and learn their language, but they also have to be a lot better at reaching out to the rest of society.

 We are not trying to coax the artists into sacrificing artistic integrity on the altar of growth. On the contrary we need them to do exactly what they are already doing – as artists, they are uniquely qualified to look at the chaos of the world and create a sense of perspective and hope.

 While we all have to accept the crisis as it is, we have to see what it also can be: a great opportunity to realign our European community and reinvent ourselves in a new and better way. We have already seen how young artists played a major role in the Arab Spring of 2011. The next generation of European artists has both a great responsibility and a major opportunity – they should accept it and be courageous! To paraphrase Hillary Clinton:  “Never waste a crisis – even if it is not a good one.”

Note: On February 27-28 the Danish Minister for Culture, in Denmark’s capacity as chair of the EU Presidency, will launch a European “taskforce” called Team Culture 2012. Twelve creative thinkers and thinking creators will draft a manifesto on the role of art and culture in a time of crisis and then journey out into Europe to find dynamic cultural examples that will be presented at a big follow-up conference bringing European decision makers together in Brussels in June.

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