Are cultural projects a “nice to have” or a must? – Interview

Culture is an underestimated tool for creating improved life conditions and boost development. Although culture does contribute remarkably to economic growth, too, cultural projects are regularly struggling with scarce financial funds. We spoke with Luciano GLOOR, Team Leader of the supporting unit RMCBU of the Programme, about the achievements so far.  

Luciano GLOOR, the Team Leader of Regional Monitoring and Capacity Building Unit (RMCBU)

The Eastern Partnership Culture Programme of the EU seeks to support the capacity building and the professionalization of cultural actors in all subsectors (museums, heritage crafts, publishing, film, etc.) in the region.

–          You are working with the Eastern Partnership  (EaP) region for some time already. In your opinion, what are the main cultural needs of the region?

This is a huge and very open question. To answer it would go far beyond the scope of this interview. But fortunately, our task is pretty well defined: in addition to supporting the 15 projects that got awarded grants under the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme, we are in charge of providing capacity building assistance related to cultural laws and policies to authorities and other cultural organisations in the Eastern Partnership countries and to promote cultural policy reforms.

In this regard, the RMCBU, together with the support of external experts, developed an “Analytical Baseline Report on the Cultural Sector and Policies” for each of the six partner countries plus a “Regional Research Report on Cultural Policies and Trends of the Eastern Partnership Countries”. Based on the findings and recommendations of these reports, we implemented the first of three sets of workshops in 2013 and we will run a second workshop cycle in 2014 under the title “Culture Policy Exchange Workshops”. While the six countries have very diverse cultural needs, when it comes to requirements for cultural policy reforms, there are a number of common needs that we try to address through our workshops.

–          What are these needs for EaP countries?

These needs include once and for all overcome the persistent quasi-soviet understanding of culture by redefining the notion of culture and the role and tasks of the Ministries of Culture. These bodies should see themselves more like ministries “for culture” instead of ministries “of culture.” On the other hand, civil society and independent cultural actors must be supported and strengthened to allow them to fulfil their role. Another challenge is that the administrative and legal frameworks of all six countries are far from being culture-friendly. Their reform should create a context that is supportive of a strong and dynamic culture sector that contributes to the sustainable social, human and economic development of society.

Considering all the above-mentioned needs, we have identified a particular need with regard to capacity building: in light of the envisioned cultural policy reforms, it is important to strengthen the analytical skills of culture stakeholders and their knowledge and ability related to strategic policy development and implementation. However, this is not just a question of skills and knowledge. Reforms and improvements are as much connected to the general cultural setting and the overall political situation. The culture sectors of the EaP countries are in the midst of a complex transformation and this requires new skills as well as new democratic, inclusive and participatory decision-making processes that will lead to the elaboration of new strategies and policies.

–          Is EuroEast Culture a temporary programme? What is the EU trying to change in the region with its help?

The EC created the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme with the aim of boosting the role of culture in the region. Culture is to become a driver of social and human development as well as of economic growth. At the same time, the Programme promotes inter- and intra-regional cooperation among public institutions, civil society, and cultural and academic organisations from the Eastern Partnership countries and the European Union. Culture is not neutral. Culture, as we understand it, is connected to the values that Europe represents and defends. In this sense, by strengthening the role of culture and by enabling cross-border and cross-sectorial cooperation we are also supporting democratic processes, intercultural dialogue and social cohesion, thus contributing to Europe-wide integration and conflict prevention.

I do hope that the EC did not envision this as a temporary programme. The Programme started its activities in 2011 and is intended to run until March 2015. The needs are evident and the interest in the Programme and the expectations created by it are huge. These needs cannot be met with a one-off programme. The EC has already announced a new phase that will run from 2015 to 2017. This next phase will focus on capacity building and will not include a call for projects. I do hope that after 2017 a third phase of the Programme will again offer grants to regional culture projects.

In its approach, the RMCBU attempts to contribute to long term developments and offers tool that support the culture sector of the ENP countries beyond the lifespan of the actual Programme. For instance, within their Analytical Baseline Reports, the RMCBU has included a baseline assessment tool that allows stakeholders to assess future developments and trends of the culture sector at any point in time.

Creative Workshop in Skadovsk organized by a mini-project funded under the Project “Cultural Development is the Source for Prosperity of Community
Creative Workshop in Skadovsk organized by a mini-project funded under the Project “Cultural Development is the Source for Prosperity of Community

–          How many projects are you supporting in the region and in Ukraine in particular? Which projects in Ukraine has EuroEast Culture already supported?  According to what criteria were they chosen?

In February 2012, the EC announced the grant winners: 15 projects with a total budget of €8.2 million selected through a call for proposals that for the first time specifically targeted the culture sector of the Eastern Partnership countries. The objective of this call for proposals was to identify projects that contribute to strengthening the role of culture as a driving force for the sustainable economic, social and human development of the ENP countries, promote cross-regional cooperation in the cultural sphere with the EU and support mutual appreciation of cultural diversity and other activities leading to tolerance, democracy and peace.

The Programme is achieving these goals through numerous activities that address in different ways the main goals of strengthening the decisive capacity of the culture sector. These activities include organisational and professional development, further support in culture management and networking skills, cultural leadership, and cooperation with national and local authorities in the development or modernisation of culture policies. As I mentioned earlier, the main prerequisite for success is cooperation among project partners from different countries of the Eastern Partnership. This was also a key condition within the call for proposals.

What makes this Programme really unique is the much-needed support it is rendering through its 15 grant projects to cultural initiatives of local communities and that often comprise citizens of diverse nationalities. At this local level, our projects are promoting the role of culture in society by developing and deepening networks between cultural actors, culture-related civil society organisations, public institutions, and authorities.

Ukrainian organisations participate in 10 out of these 15 projects and are leading four of the projects:

  • “Cultural Development is the Source for Community Prosperity” (dealing with capacity development of cultural institutions – Ukraine and Georgia)
  • “Equal Opportunities for National Minorities and Disadvantaged Groups in Realising Cultural Rights” (supporting the culture of minority groups by strengthening the capacities of local authorities and communities – Ukraine and Armenia)
  • “New Breath of Culture: Fill Heritage with Life of Arts” (sharing good practices of using art for promotion of culture and heritage in southern Ukraine through cooperation between NGOs and museums – Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia)
  • “Sustainable Development of Local Communities Through the Development of Cultural Heritage” (strengthening the culture sectors of Ukraine and Belarus through the restoration and preservation of the ethno-cultural heritage of the Polissya region (including Chernobyl-affected areas) – Ukraine and Belarus)

In addition, six other projects have part of their activities in different regions of Ukraine. These six projects deal with various aspects of the culture sector and topics including film, book publishing, photography, cultural heritage, local development etc.

–          Could you name some projects that EuroEast Culture has supported so far – in Ukraine and in the region?

I will give just a couple of examples of what our projects are doing in Ukraine and other ENP countries. Last year, one of our projects called SPACES organised a public event called “Architecture of Common” at the site of the former Soviet sewing factory, “Yunist,” in the historic part of Kyiv, which is to become a cultural centre in the coming years.  The public programme reached about 2,500 people and focused on how cultural coexistence can develop in the city.  Through these public events (events also occurred in Tbilisi, Yerevan, and Chisinau), participants had a chance to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with citizens re-appropriating often-neglected Soviet-era public spaces .

The New Breath of Culture Project worked with museums that are open to new ideas and aspire to expand their work and involve new audiences. For example, last summer the Project organised an event in the Feodosia Museum of Antiquities, where creative youth from Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia had 10 days to study the museum collection and the city itself. They suggest new ways to connect Feodosia’s rich heritage to the present. Armed with new technologies and a creative vision, artists, architects, and photographers took ancient artifacts out of their historical context and immersed them in art discourse, making them real in the here and now – actually creating a bridge between the past and future.

Some of our projects also work with sub-granting. For instance, mini grants are provided to local communities in all EaP countries to promote their cultural assets, search for innovative ways of presenting and popularising traditional cultural/historical heritage. For example, the “Cultural Development is the Source for Community Prosperity” project announced its second call for proposals this year for local communities in Ukraine (Donetsk and Kherson oblasts) and western Georgia with a budget of €13,000.  The purpose of this action is to support local initiatives promoting the development of the cultural sector in small towns and rural areas, to increase the attractiveness of cultural institutions to local residents, and to increase cooperation between cultural institutions and community organisations.  There is still a chance to submit a proposal until February 14 2014, so please check our website for more details.

 –          Cultural projects are usually non-profit. Your Program aims in particular at building the capacities of cultural organisations. Does this include improving their fundraising skills? What is the best tool for this?

Many of the projects are targeted at creating or reinforcing the capacities of cultural organisations with regards to attracting local and national public or private funding during the Programme and after it ends. This ties in with one of the Programme’s most important expected outcomes: creating local ownership of the projects and ensuring the sustainability of their results upon completion.

Fundraising skills are connected to professionalism and communication skills, networking, organisational management, and cultural leadership. Many of the 15 projects include training components targeting these skills for filmmakers, cultural journalists, architects, theatre and museum workers, photographers, publishers, teachers, etc. But a number of projects also work raising the awareness on the role of culture for economic growth.

To be more specific, let me mention the following figures: over 500 film professionals and journalists were trained through the workshops organised by the projects, “Directors Across Borders,” and “Let’s Talk About Films in South Caucasus (CAUCADOC).” To respond to the needs of different professions in the book sector, the project “The Book Platform” organised a number of training sessions for over 150 publishers, representatives of professional associations and reading promoters in Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine. Furthermore, more than 100 youth from border areas between Armenia and Georgia and their leaders and teachers received training in communication and cultural leadership.

 The Eastern Partnership Culture Programme is made up of two components. The first component consists of the 15 regional projects that have been selected by the European Commission (EC) in 2011 for grants covering up to 80% of their cost and that run for between two and three years. All these projects concentrate on capacity building and on the professionalization of cultural subsectors (museum reform, heritage crafts, publishing, film, etc.), with some also including research and cultural policy development elements.

The Programme’s second component is the Regional Monitoring and Capacity Building Unit (RMCBU). The RMCBU team is based in Kiev and supports the 15 grant projects with project management and the implementation of their activities. In addition, the RMCBU undertakes its own capacity building activities that complement the subsector-specific capacity building activities of the grant projects. The RMCBU works with national and local authorities, ministries, municipalities, as well as civil society and independent actors in the cultural sector.