By Sandra Coumans (edited by Nicole McNeilly)
Please find here an op-ed about our collaborator’s participation in the Culture4Future Colloquium organised by the DG DEVCO on the 16th and 17th June 2019.
Mid-June a high level conference took place in Brussels that sought to address sustainable and inclusive development through the cultural and creative industries in the Global South. A number of collaborators of Culture Solutions, among which me, were selected to participate in this ‘International Colloquium’ as it was described by the organisers, DG DEVCO (the department for international cooperation and development of the European Commission).
It was motivating to see that it was a truly global and cross-sector event, gathering around 500 professionals from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe cutting across the cultural field, creative industries, academia, financial institutions and the development policy field, with both international and local actors, from young to old. Most of them joined by personal invitation from the organisers, which added to the event’s inclusiveness.
An important objective was the formulation of the ‘Manifesto – Culture for the Future’, which will contain recommendations from the sector (in this case, the participants) and will serve as the basis for future EU cultural development policy. The two days were therefore set up around interactive sessions that addressed key topics like the creation of satisfactory jobs and inclusiveness, financing mechanisms, access to markets and artists’ mobility and the impact and opportunities of the digital revolution.
Given my work experience in digital technology for education, Serious Games and interactive digital technology, I was part of the latter session on the digital revolution. This is a very broad topic that implies multiple policy fields (such as education, digital inclusion, social cohesion or economic growth) and we were a very diverse group, with each participant speaking from their specific national, continent and professional context. While this resulted in a rich and wide discussion, at times it was not completely clear what the actual common thread was.
Nevertheless, such a process works if given enough time. The two days proved to be sufficient for us to draw up a concise set of recommendations with regards to society and digital tech that take into account both its opportunities as well as its challenges. Importantly, we considered how to encourage actors in local circumstances in the Global South to recourse to cultural means both as an outcome and a dialogue and research instrument in the pursuit of digital growth and innovation.
However, a question kept nagging me throughout the event: how participatory was the process exactly? It turned out the Manifesto was already largely written before the start of the conference. What was left for us to do was to fill out certain gaps in the text. It is of course a sign of good preparatory work to have a skeleton ready, but then it was not even possible to add an additional bullet point anymore. The larger part of our recommendations went into the annex. To be frank, its status in relation to the Manifesto and thus the DEVCO cultural policy is still not completely clear to me. Sadly, the downside here is that it leaves cultural practitioners with a sense of disappointment and ever-growing scepticism towards policy (in culture and more general), as became clear from conversations during breaks.
Since the conference DG DEVCO has instigated an online process to finalise the annexes through the newly launched cultural global exchange platform cultureXchange.
This online tool was launched during the Colloquium after undoubtedly a long development process and with a significant budget. It is to be a global knowledge and skills sharing platform for the cultural and creative sector. There are many organisations in Europe and worldwide that professionally facilitate networking and capacity building among their stakeholders, they are known as (European) cultural networks. I wonder if they were consulted in the development process of cultureXchange. I know that a number of them initiated such online platforms some years ago, but also quite quickly gave up again. Also speaking from personal experience (at some point in my career I was involved in maintaining an online exchange platform): In terms of human resources, they demand a huge effort in trying to breathe some life in them, in order to actually have a vibrant community. Achieving this on a global scale is even a much bigger challenge: professionals will only keep going back there if it is relevant to them. The filters of the platform will need to work extremely well (to be both open as well as exclusive enough) in order to generate this relevance.
I therefore allow myself a tip to DG DEVCO: focus on mapping communities instead of trying to bring individuals together. We live in an extremely complex world, everyone is part of multiple complex systems where what counts is the interrelatedness of stakeholders: how one relates to the other. Sustainable change is not achieved individually, but in cooperation, especially in a field such as culture and creative industries and development. Having insight into systems and thus possibilities for cooperation is extremely valuable. DG DEVCO has the resources to do this and should normally have the knowledge to do this. The cultural field is pro-active enough to then use that mapping effectively.
Last but not least, and coming back to the role of policy makers, one final question: how exactly does the EU see culture and the creative industries? First of all, despite all the paid lip service, policy budgets remain low, no matter its planned increase in the next legislative period. Specifically, where development cooperation is concerned, culture has only been seriously put on the agenda in the past couple of years or so. Secondly, EU policy makers across the board do not give the impression of having a clear idea of the full scope of culture. Do they predominantly see it as an instrument for jobs and growth? Does it include Netflix, an experimental theatre maker, a hobby painter? What about the social dimension of art or its intrinsic value? Or the relationships between culture and identity movements? Do they know what the daily reality of a maker’s space in Virtual Reality in Nairobi looks like and how development cooperation should position itself in relation to him/her? The delivered keynote speeches during the colloquium unfortunately did not show how they were considering questions like these.
What did help were the closing statements by Sylvie Duran, Minister of Culture of Costa Rica, Stojan Pelko, Head of Cabinet of the Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Étienne Minoungou, Burkinabe playwright. They showed clear engagement for culture: acknowledging the important role it has and can have as an instrument of imagination, development and dialogue. Imagine how they might have inspired the colloquium participants had they delivered the opening statements.
Views expressed in this post are strictly personal. They are not to be considered as the official position of culture Solutions.
Photo Credit : @culture4future2019