This blog post is part of a series on the European Commission’s “New European Bauhaus” (NEB) initiative. This entry intends to present its main aims, underlying challenges and the various debates it has sparked. It then identifies what NEB could mean for EU and European international cultural relations.
Why New Bauhaus? Sustainability, inclusiveness and aesthetics
The Staatliches Bauhaus refers to the avant-garde design Gesamtkunstwerk, which was shaped by a handful of modernist designers, artists, and architects in the turmoil of the WWI’s aftermath. The Weimar-based school gathered prominent international artists in a short-lived interdisciplinary attempt to combine aesthetics and functionality. In 2020, amidst and perhaps in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission’s president envisioned to awaken the Bauhaus’ spirit. Framed with audacity in her State of the Union address, Ursula Von der Leyen, called on a Europe citizenry bound by a shared belief in the promises of the Green Deal.
The NEB was announced as a “human-centred, positive, and tangible” “cultural project for Europe. It strives to create new “European spaces” of dialogue spanning over disciplines, culture, and generations to create and innovate bottom-up solutions to complex societal problems. Bridge “between the world of science and technology and the world of art and culture” the NEB ultimately correlates the EU’s willingness to deliver the Green New Deal’s targets. Although the Commission’s initiative fed some concerns or criticism in the cultural and creative sectors (some underlined its eurocentrism), it has been enthusiastically welcomed and commented by partners who sought an opportunity to gear up their pan-European collaborations, and reinforce the cultural dimensions of sustainable development.
Beyond bureaucracies, managing NEB governance risks
In an effort to build trust relationships and lead human-centric projects, the NEB team (coordinated by the Commission Joint Research Center) will have to ingeniously answer underlying controversies and address several hurdles: lack of proper human and financial resources, inclusiveness, accusations of bureaucratic character and Eurocentrism. Although prominent artistic names have kindly accepted to contribute to its launch through a High Level Round Table, NEB’s trademark is still standing on thin ice and its announced collaborative approach, beyond institutional strategic communications, will be closely monitored by civil society and cultural professionals. Transparent communication about the complex NEB policy-making architecture will be key to its success. United in sustainability. Stronger in diversity.
Is the term Bauhaus fit for global post-Covid challenges?
The Green Deal’s targets now stand at the core of EU policies at least until 2050. As a cornerstone of this strategy, the NEB would benefit from being mainstreamed across EU existing cultural actions, and flagship initiatives. Yet is Bauhaus an appropriate reference for today’s world?
Bauhaus has been part and parcel of a certain modern and serial industrialisation in the early twentieth century, coupled with the belief that it could meet post-War social needs. Is it possible to be loyal to certain modern (yet ageing or outdated) values while the world is going through a new industrial revolution and discovering new paradigms? Are post-War needs similar to post-Covid social needs?
From “Chicago, Tel Aviv, Ascona, Dessau, Kaliningrad”, Bauhaus swiftly became much more than an innovative early-twenty century German arts school. It embodies nowadays a global symbol of creativity connected with society, a mindset focused on constantly pushing the boundaries of design and the reinvention of the modes of living. Some aspects of the 1920s Bauhaus are now obsolete (from an ecological viewpoint) or inconvenient (males primacy) but what remains central to its heirs is its experimental character as well as its minimalistic style.
Today, Bauhaus is a global symbol of creativity connected with society.
The term itself might not be ideal and, if it had to “go global”, would probably benefit from some creative rebranding, as the curators of the 100th Bauhaus anniversary exhibition did, with the title “Bauhaus Imaginista”. Alexandra Mitsotaki also questioned the relevance of the NEB branding at the NEB conference on 22 April 2021.
The NEB: integrating international dimensions from the outset
Against this background, the NEB is investing in its democratic roots, offering stakeholders and citizens to “co-design” through bottom-up “conversations”. The intention of such a community empowerment process is to foster the participation of communities and a growing understanding and trust in the NEB. Thereby, the Commission ambitions to gather insights and recommendations to nurture the next steps of the New Bauhaus project. In a similar fashion (and reminding to some extent the New Narrative for Europe initative), it has garnered the vision of advanced thinkers and practitioners, who come together as a NEB community of engaged ambassadors in High-level roundtables. Lastly a consortium of preeminent European organisations from the engineering, design and creative fields came together, establishing the New European Bauhaus Collective (NEBC).
For the New European Bauhaus to complement EU green diplomacy on the global stage, its intercultural dimension needs to be more emphasised.
The compilation of 30+ cross-sectorial projects and the NEB Ambassadors community’s vision along the collective’s contributions will hopefully enable the NEB team to transcend its project’s contested genealogy and instil the NEB’s spirit among the convened sectors, scaling this project over Europe and bridging elites-citizens gaps. The “co-design” phase is being shored up by regular seminars aiming at engaging citizens and growing momentum of the movement. On April 23rd, the Commission launched the “New European Bauhaus Prize” while the pilots projects and the announced financial support through ad-hoc calls of proposals will be defined through a co-created process later in 2021.
Deepening the New Bauhaus within Europe is an encouraging move complementing EU climate diplomacy, towards a European global culture and climate change initiative. For the NEB to then effectively develop and be welcomed globally, the significance of its international and intercultural dimensions, through cultural relations, will have to be thoroughly stated from the outset as one of its essential components. That’s what our second NEB blog post will be about.
List of references:
Bauhaus Imaginista, “bauhaus imaginista concept”, Bauhaus Imaginista website, . Available at: http://www.bauhaus-imaginista.org/concept. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Bauhaus Imaginista, “In memory of Marion von Osten (1963–2020)”, Bauhaus Imaginista website, . Available at: http://www.bauhaus-imaginista.org/inmemoriam. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Bason, C., Conway, R., Hill, D. and Mazzucato, M., “A New Bauhaus for a Green Deal”, UCL London Website . Available at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/public-purpose/publications/2021/jan/new-bauhaus-green-deal. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Culture Action Europe, “New European Bauhaus: a promising intention and a much-needed open debate”, Culture Action Europe website . Available online at: https://cultureactioneurope.org/news/new-european-bauhaus-a-promising-intention-and-a-much-needed-open-debate/. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Commission, “New European Bauhaus: Commission launches design phase”, European Commission website  Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_111. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Commission, “The New European Bauhaus”, European Commission website . Available at: https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/index_en. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Commission, “The New European Bauhaus explained”, European Commission website  Available at: https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/system/files/2021-01/New-European-Bauhaus-Explained.pdf. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Commission, “High-level roundtable visions”, European Commission website  Available at: https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/high-level-roundtable-visions_en. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Commission “State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary”, European Commission website . Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_20_1655. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Cultural Foundation, “ECF and the New European Bauhaus: The Spirit of Renewal”, European Cultural Foundation website  Available at: https://culturalfoundation.eu/stories/ecf-and-the-new-european-bauhaus. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
European Parliament, “Question for written answer E-000703/2021 Subject: Funding the New European Bauhaus project”, European Parliament Website . Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-000703_EN.html. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Impakter, “The New European Bauhaus: Combining Art and Science to a Sustainable End”, Impakter website  Available at: https://impakter.com/the-new-european-bauhaus-combining-art-and-science-to-a-sustainable-end/. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
International Union of Property Owners, “The New European Bauhaus: an idealistic or realistic initiative?”, UIPI Website . Available at: https://www.uipi.com/the-new-european-bauhaus-an-idealistic-or-realistic-initiative/. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Institute of Design, “The New Bauhaus”, European Parliament Website. Available at: https://id.iit.edu/new-bauhaus/. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Kaiser, Wolfram, Clash of Cultures: Two Milieus in the European Union’s ‘A New Narrative for Europe’ Project, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, Volume 23, 2015 – Issue 3: Transnational Memory Politics in Europe: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14782804.2015.1018876. [Accessed on May 06, 2021]
L’école du Design, “Staatliche bauhaus cent pour cent 1919-2019 », L’école du design website . Available online at: https://www.lecolededesign.com/actualites/staatliche-bauhaus-cent-pour-cent-1919-2019-3337. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
Medium, “Thoughts on a New European Bauhaus”, Medium website . Available at: https://medium.com/dark-matter-and-trojan-horses/thoughts-on-a-new-european-bauhaus-3aaeccbe9bea. [Accessed on April 17, 2021].
The views expressed in this article are personal and are not the official position of culture Solutions as an organisation.
Photo credits: European Commission