|Art and culture: an active space for building European citizenship|
Published in Ways of reflection n°1, ‘Which role for culture within a political Europe’, Relais Culture Europe, July 2009 – Download the publication
Culture Action Europe was set up 15 years ago by the cultural sector as a platform to make the voice of artists and cultural professionals heard in Europe; as a space of both thinking and action which would open up new political perspectives for European cultural players. Citizenship, a concept that articulates concerns both relevant to arts practice and to the role of civil society as an inclusive, participatory actor in European public space, has therefore been a central issue for Culture Action Europe and its members for many years.
Culture Action Europe believes that Europe will be a citizens’ Europe - or nothing. And yet the concept of European citizenship is one of the most difficult contemporary political ideas to define and to work with. A sort of UFO for most Europeans, this citizenship, whatever one may think of it, is an issue of great importance, both for the success of European integration, and for the new civic relationships which are developing today in our local, national and global
How might European citizenship make manifest a new model of citizenship, one that goes beyond the traditional relationship between citizen and State? Above and beyond the minimalist conception of citizenship laid out in the European treaties (a citizenship of rights and obligations, linked to the possession of a member state nationality and by its nature excluding numerous European residents), the concept of European citizenship challenges our traditional models, and demand we take on board new definitions of our identities, definitions that recognise the impact of the social, cultural and political changes which have marked European society over the last period. What tools does the Union need to get these new ‘identities’ working? How to set up the public fora that would be open and innovative enough, both as regards their nature and the diversity of the actors who take part?
Although the arts and cultural sector cannot be reduced to a mere ‘animator’ of public space (and accepting that they are not the only group to ask questions about European citizenship), they have nevertheless an essential role to play. Through questioning difference and otherness, by playing out relationships of power or of rupture, by stimulating imagination and invention, and permitting new hybrid processes of identity development, the arts open up new spaces where each and every individual is enabled to interrogate his/her relationship to the world and society. The arts are a privileged space for thought and debate about our identities, both individual and collective. Artistic processes continually redefine our stories and our myths, and call for active engagement by interrogating emotions and language. Whether or not they are accompanied by an explicit civic engagement, whether or not they are openly exploited as a tool for dialogue, artistic projects animate exchange and thinking on our collective and individual role in society, challenging our social, economic and political choices.
Thus not just artists, but also the spaces which welcome and present them, have an important contribution to make in animating the public, civic space at the European level. It therefore seems an essential task to recognise and integrate art and artistic activity into the overarching objectives of the European political strategy, and in the different programmes and activities undertaken by the Union in the areas of citizenship development. And these political principles should be developed in partnership with that same cultural civil society which is now coming into being.
The European Agenda for Culture adopted in 2007 puts forward some new working concepts, which turn us back to the aims (and imbalances) of the Union: dealing with diversity and European interculturality, developing our individual and collective creativity, considering the role of culture in international relations. It also offers civil society a role in the implementation of this agenda. Although we welcome this initiative we also have to point out some of its limitations. The agenda proposed moving away from a European identity based only on our common heritage – itself often controversial since somewhat static and not always open to the ever changing nature of our identities – towards a realisation of what is at stake in contemporary Europe in terms of diversity and interculturality. Although the leap is important, constituting a real change in the conceptual and political approach, it also needs a proper debate, a debate that reflects and takes into account the participatory and civic dimensions of culture, especially as regards intercultural dialogue. In the Agenda, the importance and role of the arts in European society seem to have been forgotten, as well as in the ‘Culture and Europe for Citizens’ programmes.
At a moment when the European Cultural Forum is about to evaluate the first phase of the European Agenda for Culture and with the negotiations on the next generation of European programmes about to start, everything seems to be calling for and at the same time limiting the thinking of European decision makers and civil society. We should not tie ourselves down to a single functional vision of the arts and culture. On the contrary, we should open our questioning up to much larger horizons: that of the political project of the European Union itself. This is the place where the arts and culture have to assert themselves. It is also the place where we are called upon to set up the necessary relationships between a policy of support for artistic creation and a policy of supporting culture at the European level. The debate is necessary, in our view even urgent. It is even feasible, given the fulfillment of certain conditions. Everything depends on our will.
The Union and the Member States must get over their discomfort at a full recognition of the role of the arts in the development of the European project. This political project will not be achieved only by institutional developments, but above all through redefining what it is we think that unites us. Every day, actors and artists confront, in their own ways, this marriage of rights (equality and solidarity) and of our endless cultural diversity. Is the ‘political sphere’ capable of shifting its viewpoint in the way necessary to redefine the European project, especially in a moment of crisis? We think that it can - if we put the European political project at the heart of the debate, if we understand intercultural dialogue as an expression of our desire for openness, and arts and culture as a building block of the kind of society we want in Europe.
The cultural sector must take a firm hold of the European question. It must get together as a civil society movement in order to assume its role fully in the European project. It must even become the driving force of this civil society movement for culture. That means we have to widen our field of action, and think more deeply about our role and contribution to European integration. The sector must continue to constitute itself on the democratic and civic principles, which lie at the heart of the European Union’s project. The sector needs to be more than just a group of professional representatives, and become genuine interlocutors in favour of a political Europe.
We stand at the beginning of a new period for the Union. The web of tensions is complex, calling into play different forces and numerous actors. Without over-dramatising, what is at stake is the future of the Union. We think that one of the ways out of these tensions is by examining the role of culture in the European project. Of course we are in favour of a fully developed European cultural policy, backed up by sufficient means and tending towards the autonomy and independence of the cultural sector. But we also want to see some real debate, democratic and long term, on our European values and on the political European project, where culture is as much a building block as a solution. That calls for citizenship; it is over to us, the cultural sector, to make that our approach.
Daphné Tepper (Policy analyst, Culture Action Europe) and Pascal Brunet (Director, Relais Culture Europe and vice-President, Culture Action Europe)