EUNIC Siena Cultural Relations Forum


by Johanna Suo and Virgine Wyart


Between 26-29 June 2019 we attended the EUNIC Siena Cultural Relations Forum. This was the last part of the CreW Cultural Relations at Work project, intending to foster discussion and reflection on cultural diplomacy between policy-makers, practitioners and academics.

There are many rich take-aways from this forum where people from practice and academia discussed with policy makers.



The first key message from the Forum was the need for a united and clear communication from the EU on what it wants to achieve with external cultural relations. Several attendees highlighted that the content of the EU external relations agenda was unclear.

Our thought is that the main EU objectives should primarily be about building a clearly motivated definition of the role of culture in society (supported by all different EU institutions) as well as the EU’s role acting in and through the cultural field. This would also suggest that these questions need constant clarifications, combined with an appropriate EU narrative and effective communication tools.


Is there space for questioning how we are perceived and how to be active listeners with the objective of understanding others?


Other related questions emerged at the event. Are external relations only about branding or about following a political agenda? Or are these external cultural relations about cultural diplomacy (and what kind of cultural diplomacy in this case)? Is it about development and empowering initiatives built on mutuality and active listening?

Is it even possible to reconcile politically-motivated image-building on the one hand with empowerment initiatives based on mutual exchange and active listening on the other? Is there space for questioning how we are perceived and how to be active listeners with the objective of understanding others?  How is the legacy of colonialism being considered in that context?

Whatever the case, it seems crucial to build up inclusive policies and frameworks together with cultural and creative industries inside and outside Europe.



The second strand of thought discussed in Siena touched upon what impacts effective cultural relations.

Current EU external cultural relations are impacted by the attitudes of European citizens, by chosen messages in external relations and by the ways these messages are conveyed. Participants reminded themselves that cultural relations are about people and that their human dimension is key. In other words, people involved in external cultural relations need the right training and awareness of how they personally can impact people and relations through their ways of being. Hands on understanding of interculturality (in all its dimensions) is thus important and this is also a point that echoes culture Solutions’ goals.

People in charge of cultural relations sometimes need intercultural training to improve their practice, to encourage changing perceptions and attitudes and to ensure the clarity of their messages and the ways that these messages are conveyed to their audiences.


Artists could play a crucial role in the formulation and delivery of external cultural policies


We can often see that artists are absent from policy making. In Siena especially practitioners/managers from art sectors expressed the absence of artists in policy formulation. In that regard artists could play a crucial role in the formulation and delivery of external cultural policies; artists could be more involved as trainers in producing guidelines and advice; they could be included in the actual policy-making and help, as creative experts, break down communication barriers and obstacles between diverse partners.

Another message circulated in Siena :  mutuality and meaningful collaboration are still missing: more co-creation is necessary. There are gaps in perspective and we lack inputs from the grass roots cultural sector. There is lack of real dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, especially at the local level. In the forum, it was suggested that we lack the right tools and approaches to start and maintain this dialogue. Frameworks of engagement are sometimes irrelevant and focus too much on project logic and not enough on long term approaches.



Participants in Siena recognised missing opportunities for evaluation. There is often a lack of assessment of real situations on the ground and therefore a lack of adjustment to local contexts: projects are sometimes not rooted in local realities. Consequently, there are too few context-sensitive impact measurement and lessons learned exercises. More measurement is probably needed, but this should be done while mitigating the bureaucratic/formal approach of evaluation. How to design programmes that are best for all? How can we boost evaluation processes, helping us to build programmes and projects to improve people’s lives?


The central idea is to make evaluation a joint learning process


The central idea is to make evaluation more meaningful and more impactful than traditional approaches, using it first and foremost as a joint learning process. Evaluations should be designed together by subsidy donors, project initiators, benefactors and the surrounding communities. A point in Siena was also made about the importance of  the communication of the results of evaluations, that it has to reach all above mentioned actors. This brings us back to the first point of this blog…


Seeing culture in a new daylight

We took stock of new EU messages about culture, for example, the references to cultural diplomacy in the 2016 Global Strategy for EU Foreign and Security Policy. How can we see culture in a new daylight as a part of development, as a part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a channel for the SDGs – or as both?

There was a breakthrough with  the first discussion of EU leaders on culture in Gothenburg 2017 and the EC Communication on  “Strengthening European identity through Education and Culture”, which stated that we should “harness the untapped potential of culture”. Following the May 2018 New Agenda for Culture, the Strategic Agenda (2019-2024) published in June 2019 mentions “We will invest in culture and in our cultural heritage which are at the heart of our European identity”. The funding programme Creative Europe becomes more international and there are projects put into place, for example, European Houses of Culture (though there is an ongoing discussion whether the title of the project should be “spaces” of culture instead of “houses” in order to give a more open image). There is an expectation of this project to help deliver the EU’s approach to international cultural relations and to test and implement innovative collaboration models between EU and non-EU actors. It remains to be seen if this will contribute to collaboration and co-creation of policy in a jointly top down and bottom up manner.

Will all these new EU initiatives, revised funding programmes and messages on culture developed internally in Europe have a spillover effect and be manifest in relationships with external countries? Can we set up cultural instruments and programmes that strengthen development outside Europe but that remain independent from a political EU agenda?

It was clear among the delegates in Siena that the definitions of politics, communications and culture are in themselves important. Are politics and communication not part of culture in the broad sense of the term? How can we ensure consistency between culture, communication and politics so they actually appear as one?



These views are personal and do not represent the views of culture Solutions as an organisation.

photo credits: @culturesolutions @crewproject