Why culture and the arts can show us a way out of the crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Despite the current gloom and doom, Europe has many reason for optimism and the cultural sector is a reservoir of hope, ideas and new economic growth, write Uffe Elbæk, Danish Minister for Culture, and Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

The following commentary was authored by Uffe Elbæk, Danish Minister for Culture, and Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

"While it is impossible to deny the severity of the present crisis, it is also clear that Europe has many reasons for optimism and hope. What we are proposing – as European politicians and individuals with a passion for art and culture – is that we start looking at our cultural sector as a reservoir of hope, ideas and new economic growth that can lead us out of the crisis.

The crisis is first and foremost a crisis of confidence, not only among investors, politicians or voters, but a crisis among all of us. Even if at all levels political leaders and institutions are fighting for the right solutions, we, as a society, still need to rediscover the best in ourselves to move on. We need to find new ways to foster both human and economic growth. It is time we start paying closer attention to the mass of talent and innovation in our artistic communities and creative industries.

Art is not only a pleasurable icing on the cake – although it can certainly also be enriching in that way – but it is also a way of thinking and a practice of working innovatively with reality. The Europe of tomorrow is only going to be as successful and liveable as the ideas we have to make it grow. We all need to be better at what the artists are already good at – making more with less, finding fresh new perspectives and exciting new combinations. To give flesh and form to ideas that were before unthinkable.

All individuals and groups have a capacity for innovation and creating new ideas, but artists have made it their profession. Furthermore, while the crisis is economic and political – it certainly is not cultural. The cultural sector, both the fine arts and the creative industry, is in fact as vibrant and alive as ever, and the creative industry is one of the few growth industries in Europe at the moment.

More specifically, we address our message to three audiences:

Firstly, to 'political Europe', meaning politicians and the European citizens. Political obstructions must be removed to allow creative innovation to flourish and the European framework for creative industries must be further expanded. We need to create cities that will attract and stimulate the right people, both from Europe and abroad. We will all need to be courageous, take wise decisions and make bold priorities.

Secondly, we encourage artists, institutions and the creative industries to accept the responsibility that comes with the possibility of playing a major part in Europe’s future. We urge you to both realise and accept the role you will be able to play in a Europe looking for new ideas and new inspiration, and we encourage you to engage with the rest of society with your ability to see our reality from fresh, critical and creative perspectives. In return, we promise that we will invite you inside and listen carefully to what you have to say.

Finally, we address this to the next generation of artists and creative innovators. It is time to raise your heads and be proud of who you are. You are the future and you will be vital in showing all of us a hopeful light at the end of the present darkness.

What can the politicians do?

European cities are right now among the most creative and vibrant in the world. Cities like London, Milan, Paris, Madrid, Warsaw, Munich, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen are not only major metropolises, but also major creative centres with hundreds of thousands employed in the creative industries. These include not only innovators like the artists, filmmakers, actors, directors, sculptors, architects, designers, writers, musicians and composers we usually associate with the arts, but also the video game designers, fashion designers, producers, admen, ‘mad men’ and the free thinkers of every industry out there. They not only add to the city’s economy, but also to the city’s life and culture.

Cities with a rich and diverse cultural life continue to attract creative and innovative talents who in turn contribute to the city’s economic well-being and overall liveability. This is true in big cities but more and more in a lot of European medium size and smaller cities.

Furthermore, not only the number, but also the concentration of creative workers continues to impress. In Copenhagen, a recent survey by the Danish think-tank FORA shows that the creative industry is the city’s most important, with about 70 000 employed either directly in creative job positions or in businesses like fashion retail that benefit from the innovations of the creative industry. In 2008, the creative industry contributed 12% towards growth in Denmark, eight times more than agriculture, gardening and forestry combined. Some 21% of Denmark’s new start-ups focused on the creative area. In the European Union the creative industry accounts for at least 3.3% of the economy – up to 4.5% based on measurement methods.  Employment in the creative industry grows more rapidly than in other industries: 3.5% a year compared to a 1% in employment as a whole. In other industries, the companies with the highest ratio of creatively trained workers also have the highest output.

And the growth continues. Globally, creative industries are expanding as the cooperation between artistic skills and technology continues to create new advances in architecture, design, film, and so many other places where creativity, innovation and artistic intuition continues to play a larger and larger role. The United Nations now define the creative sector as one of the world’s most dynamic industries, and the sector had an average world-wide yearly growth of 14% during 2002-2008.

'Creative Europe' programme

The European Commission’s proposal for a new support programme – “Creative Europe” – precisely aims at supporting artists and professionals in the creative sectors across Europe. We encourage all politicians to work for initiatives that can get art out of its silos and make art, creation and cultural activity part of society at large. Artists and creativity could be even better integrated into our elementary schools, and they can become a dynamic part of the innovative process in the workplace. We need to get art off the walls and into the mind of the worker.

Furthermore, a vibrant cultural life creates liveable cities that in turn attract even more creative workers. Regions that are affected by de-population and the flight of young talent can find new vibrancy through culture. European cities have a gigantic potential through our rich historical heritage and our stimulating mix of diverse cultures and languages. By including culture on a much broader level in city planning, city design and business development we can create much more sustainable, liveable and attractive cities.

We also see a great potential for mobilising culture creatively in our foreign policy and development work. Using artists and creative workers as a part of strengthening the developing world’s cultural institutions and infrastructure could be one idea. Culture is at the heart of our strategic partnership with China; at the EU-China Summit this month (14-15 February) we marked a new stage in our cooperation with the launch of the 'EU-China High-Level People-to-People Dialogue'. The EU has also stepped up its cultural partnership with Brazil. Art and culture are already a big part of Europe’s face to the world, and we know that our continent has unique strengths in this area.

The challenge will be to take ideas out of boardroom meetings and political debates and make them part of reality. We have to create real, lasting relationships between the artistic community, the creative industries and other sectors like education, production and research. There is a lot to gain simply by stimulating new relationships, and this strategy can create immense growth without a need for big financial investments.

The change is first and foremost a question of mentality, communication and putting the right people together in the right place. We need to invest in culture, not by spending new money but by making the right priorities, facilitating the right partnerships and creating the right regulatory framework for creativity. This agenda has broad support across the political spectrum. For example, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has also expressed interest in putting more focus on the cultural field.

One of the tools to raise the level of the debate will the “Team Culture 2012” initiative by the Danish Minister for Culture, starting in Copenhagen on 27-28 February. Here, twelve European cultural notabilities will draft a manifesto describing what the role can be for culture and the arts in a time of crisis. The aim is to kick start a European debate on the subject and the manifesto will be the subject of a follow up conference bringing European decision makers to Brussels in June.

What can the artists do?

You – the artist – need to realise your own potential and take back your authority. Live up to the responsibility of your talent. Artists and the artistic institutions need to once again step into the arena as the central players in society’s own story about itself. You have a lot to offer and we have a lot to gain from you. We need to be better at listening to you and learning your language, but you also have to be a lot better to see our needs and reach out to us.

This is an invitation, not an order. We are not trying to coax you into sacrificing your artistic integrity on the altar of growth and enterprise. On the contrary we need you to do exactly what you are already doing – but to better reach out to the rest of society. Let us create new relationships. As artists, you are uniquely qualified to create meaning out of the apparently meaningless and to look at the chaos of the world and create a sense of perspective and hope. You really have something to contribute.

What can the next generation do?

To the students and the next generations of artists and creative innovators: Or, to the future: You’re it!

While we have to accept the crisis as it is, we have to see what it also can be: a great opportunity to realign our European community and reinvent ourselves in a new and better way. Testing times give us the opportunity to reassess our lives and our political structure, and to revisit our most basic values.

We have already seen how young artists played a major role in the Arab Spring of 2011. The next generation of artists of Europe has both a great responsibility and a major opportunity – accept it and be courageous! Don’t let fear, despair or naysayers hold you back. Don’t let the past kidnap the future. Or, in the words of Hillary Clinton: 'Never waste a crisis – even if it is not a good one.'"

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