Ref. :  000024927
Date :  2006-09-28
Language :  English
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Arts networks and "Europeanness"

This paper was prepared for the Interregional Conference
"Regions and cultural diversity: European and global dynamics"
(Lyon, 28th and 29th of september 2006)

Author :  Mary Ann De Vlieg

The concept I support is that a certain “European-ness” exists and is rapidly developing in the cultural sector. It is based on a model of collaboration, co-production and mobility in the arts. But first I will briefly introduce IETM, the network I represent, in order to share the experiences upon which these reflections are based. I will make 5 observations and propose 3 solutions.

IETM (international network for contemporary performing arts), created in 1981, is large and was probably the first “cultural network” as such to be formed in Europe. It’s very diverse membership includes 400 organisations (festivals, arts centres and theatres, performing companies, programmers, producers, and public authorities on all levels: city, regional, national and international) from 45 countries, the majority of which are in Europe. Above all, IETM is a pragmatic association. When it sees a need, it creates a response.

Thus over the years, we published the first comprehensive guides to EU funding for culture (Le Vade-mecum des aides culturelles en Europe – 5 editions in 3 languages from 1990 - 1994); in 1996 we created the Roberto Cimetta Fund for Mobility of Artists and Cultural Operators in the Mediterranean, (the only arts mobility fund in the Med, it gives around 200 travel bursaries per year); in 2002 we created, a web portal with a database of 1800 links and a newsletter giving 40 – 60 concrete opportunities for arts mobility each month to nearly 10,000 subscribers. We have contributed much research and thinking to the evaluation of cultural networks in Europe and in the world, and this year, 2006, the EU Year of Workers Mobility, we have a year-long action research project with several partners to propose feasible solutions to the remaining obstacles to arts mobility.

Whilst profoundly “European” by our background, raison d’être and foundations, since 2000 we have become ‘global’. Following the interests of our members and the contemporary performing arts sector as a whole, we have opened up to the rest of the world. In fact, IETM was active in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe since 1989, and in the Arab world (Euro-Mediterranean) since 1994. We still have the Balkans and the Euro-Med as geographical priorities, but for the last three years we have also had collaborative projects in Africa, Asia, Central Asia and latin America as well. What have we learned?

Some Observations:

1.The contemporary performing arts sector in Europe has changed considerably in the last decade. The model of collaboration, co-production and touring, as well as the model of cultural networks are two profoundly European phenomena. Both have been institutionalised in the EU cultural programmes, which in turn elicit responses in terms of matched funding and policy frameworks from city, regional and national funders. In 1994, the only contemporary performing arts organisations to receive subsidies from the EU culture programmes were IETM members. They knew how to network and to cooperate. Now, this model is widespread.

2. The arts sector has also changed by its engagement in the real world: with developing countries, in politics, the environment, security issues, migration and nomadism, ….in short by artists’ interests to meet and work with ‘the other’ : whether inside our of outside of her/his country. Artists have been political before… and will be again, but this re-engagement with society and its issues is based on a feeling of urgency and necessity. New alliances are crucial to address our problems.

3. Coinciding with this, new art forms have emerged, mixing arts disciplines, new organisational forms have developed based on teamwork and networking, new forms of presentation in new types of locations are made to new publics. Other strong influences include the rise of women as arts managers as well as the new focus on arts processes rather than on products. In other words, there is a much more holistic approach to contemporary art creation, production, presentation and diffusion.

In all this, artists’ motivations remain strongly personal: it is the arts managers who look for policies and programmes which can help. If they don’t find them, they make demands to funders, and eventually policies evolve following the trends of the sector. Therefore, a healthy and continuous dialogue between artists and policy makers is essential.

4. Where is our Europeanness in this? For the contemporary performing arts, (which now includes emerging forms, new technology, visual + performative art), if we can speak of Europeanness, it is based less on territorial belongingness, based less on notions of shared history, and much more based on this collaborative mentality. For young European artists and cultural operators, territorially based policies and practices are ‘givens’ (aquis) and are taken for granted. Collaborative practices, however are fundamental; contemporary art works and experiences are today the fruit of joint discussion, co-conception of projects, shared visions ; participative, interrogative, and integrative ways of working. In our experience, this is NOT necessarily shared by arts professionals in other world regions; it also reflects Europe’s political preferences.

5. This preference for collaboration makes Europeans creatively competitive, but of course it also has risks. On the one hand, has it become a post-colonial ideology? Do we now impose this way of behaving on all others? Are we perhaps sometimes threatened by our own inability to see that not everyone can work in this way? For developing countries whose culture professionals have always been marginalised, perhaps the pressure by foreign foundations to ‘network’ is premature?

In addition, as Milena Dragicevic-Sesic and Sanjin Dragocevic have observed (1), Europe has successfully replaced its divisive nationalistic and ethnic discourses with inclusive “territorially driven cultural policies” : we speak of European culture, whether we can really define it or not. But in using this inclusive logic to bond those in the EU, are we effectively excluding others who on the periphery of the EU? For example, countries such as the Balkans or Turkey – are we relegating them to the outside, leaving them to the risks of their continuing ethnic and nationalistic logics?

What can help?

1. Support for mobility and networking. Not as an end in itself, but as a means to greater potential for intercultural collaboration and understanding. Mobility of persons, processes and products is a prerequisite for greater mutual understanding, not to mention an efficient use of resources: why invest in a cultural project which has a limited life in one city or region? Why not support artists or their works to travel across borders and be appreciated by other publics? In terms of networking, we need to create, as Manuel Castells (2) has said, much more intersectorial networking: putting culture, politics, social affairs, industry together to make progress on the issues we all face.

2. Multilateral projects and policies in place of bilateralism. Working with a group of partners from different cultures is practice in intercultural competence. It is not reciprocal but rather encompassing. It demands accommodation, negotiation and compromise. It creates synergy (added value) It is dislocating, disturbing, it creates a space for personal and professional growth. It is practice for living in a global society, in the world we inhabit today.

3. Support for the younger generations in the cultural sector. Closed out of existing structures, and living in a time – unlike when I was young – when the economy is not growing, when there is less and less public subsidy, and more competition for the public’s entertainment and free time, the young are forced by desperation to be creative in their solutions. We – the older generation - need to open doors for them, realise that they are inventing new ways of achieving their goals and support their struggles.


(1) « Imagined of Real divides ? » , article by M. Dragicevic-Sesic (Univ. of Belgrade) and S. Dragocevic (Univ. of Zagreb)
(2) « Network Logic » , publication of a collection of articles with an afterword by M. Castells, Demos, UK

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