3rd OMC expert group meeting - Accessible and inclusive culture (Phase I)

22/23rd November 2011,
Brussels, Belgium

Organiser: European Council

Logo European Council“Can access to culture be broadened in times of severe public funding cuts?” “Do the differences in the public funding systems for culture across the EU prevent useful recommendations on increasing participation in culture through policy measures?” These were some of the questions which experts from 16 EU countries raised at their third meeting to exchange examples of initiatives to increase participation in culture or access to culture.

Presentations featured the work of the national network of Audience Development Agencies in the UK ‘Audiences UK’, the efforts of Theatre des Bernardines in Marseille, the educational initiatives of the Amsterdam Concertbouw, the cooperation of the education services of the Irish Council of national cultural institutions, several initiatives of the German federal and regional levels, as well Belgian literacy initiatives, and initiatives for education to culture from Slovenia.

With only two more formal meetings of the group planned, work on a good practice manual has begun. The manual will argue why access to culture matters and refer to authoritative political documents. Several members pointed out that access to culture should be presented as a democratically and socially legitimate objective – any self-justification of culture should be avoided. The manual will distinguish between target groups and outline consecutive action possibilities: removing barriers (physical, economic, attitudinal, educational) then reaching out (educational initiatives, ‘out from the institutions into society’, cooperation with NGOs, digital outreach). Questions about implementation and evaluation methods will also be raised. Practice examples presented by the members of the group will be inserted in the manual.

“What can be achieved with the manual?” is obviously exercising the participants of the working group. Some already fear “We won’t be strong enough to make political demands.” How the manual will be distributed, what the EU Cultural Affairs Council and the Member governments will make of it, whether it will even be translated – lots of questions are still open, but the experts nevertheless work out of a deep personal conviction that it is nothing less than ‘civilisation’ at stake.

The groups is due to turn to the topics “cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue” probably in the autumn of 2012 (possibly with a changed composition). Some examples of how public cultural institutions relate to minorities and people with a migration background did already appear in the general discussion on access to culture:

  • “Maximise” – new ways to engage minorities/migrants (Audiences UK)
  • Curve Theatre, Leicester (UK) – built an audience which is now majority non-white
  • “Community Ambassador Tours” Chester Beatty Library (Ireland) – representatives of ethnic communities work as guides for their own communities
  • Jewish Museum in Berlin – tackles the topics of contemporary migration and integration on the back of work on German-Jewish history
  • “Home in the Head” – mobile theatres going to schools and creating performances with pupils of Turkish origins who have mostly never been to a theatre (Lower Saxony, Germany). The project began during the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and continues.

Presenters already offered some important conclusions from the initiatives they presented, which might be the basis for recommendations:

  • Ownership of initiatives: When initiatives come from funding bodies (e.g. arts councils) or public authorities, they nevertheless need to be ‘owned’ by the arts institutions that implement them.
  • Longevity: Single projects don’t change institutions.
  • Motivation for change: Some cultural institutions are content with their elite audiences.
  • Authenticity: Artists do not need to betray their practice by reaching out. But that they see people as ‘actors of cultural production’ rather than as spectators/consumers is necessary.

The 4th meeting of the OMC expert group is due to take place on 5/6th March 2012.

Written by Sabine Frank on behalf of Platform for Intercultural Europe
January 2012

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