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Europe Commission proposes €1.8bn boost for culture

The 37% increase in funding would include loans for small creative industries, as well as restoration projects

By Emily Sharpe. Web only, The Artnewspaper.
Published online: 02 July 2012

Europe’s cultural heritage is to get a major boost from the European Commission. According to Androulla Vassiliou, the commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, the committee has proposed that the European Union earmark €1.8bn for culture, including restoration projects, over the next seven years, beginning in 2014. This is a 37% increase from the funds currently allotted. Approximately 70 of the 300 projects to receive funding from the EU in 2011 were related to conservation. Vassiliou made the announcement at a press conference in Lisbon this month. She was in town for the European Heritage Conference and the presentation of the annual Europa Nostra/European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage awards held at the picturesque Jerónimos monastery, a World Heritage Site.

Part of the “Creative Europe” plan, the proposed increase in funding includes new provisions for loans for small creative industries. “Credit is one of the biggest issues for small industries,” Vassiliou said, adding that 4.5% of the EU’s GDP comes from the cultural sector. “Cultural heritage is an essential part of our history—our shared history,” said Vassiliou. “It belongs to all of us and we have a duty to our children and our grandchildren to protect it.” She also stressed the importance of economic tourism: “Around 40% of international tourism is related to culture—it’s what makes Europe a top tourist destination.”

The president of Europa Nostra, the renowned Spanish tenor and conductor Plácido Domingo, echoed Vassiliou’s views on tourism. “Tourism is important in our economy and therefore, it is fully justified for the EU to invest funds [in it]. Culture is by no means second, even during an economic crisis,” he said. He added that while €1.8bn may sound like a considerable amount, “when you see what needs to be done, it’s actually not that much”.

The Grand Prize winners

As well as the 28 winners of the Europa Nostra/European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage awards, six grand prize winners were announced at the ceremony at the Jerónimos monastery, which was attended by Vassiliou and Domingo as well as leading dignitaries including the president of the Republic of Portugal, H.E. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and the heir to the Spanish throne, the Prince of Asturias, Felipe, and his wife, Princess Letizia. The Prince applauded the winners and stressed the importance of culture heritage in “contributing to a peaceful and democratic society… and that is what we are striving for”.

Three of the six grand prize laureates were recognised for projects related to conservation. The Greek architect Spyros Raftopoulos from the National Technical University of Athens accepted the award for a project to conserve an 1860s, neo-classical building on the school’s campus. The jury applauded the school’s decision to use traditional materials and respect the original design. “This award justifies our efforts to restore this historic building ourselves,” Raftopoulos said. A project to restore a 1920s steel blast furnace—a relic of the iron industry—in Sagunto, Spain, was also singled out, as was the restoration of Poundstock Gildhouse, a 500-year-old, Grade I-listed church house in the Cornish town of Bude in the southwest of England. Sandra Dingle, a member of the house’s management committee, said she was “flabbergasted” at being one of the grand prize winners. “It’s a very tiny project, but dear to our hearts.” Other grand prize winning projects are: the interpretation of the elaborate botanical code on the Ara Pacis, a first-century Augustan monument in Rome; a project led by the Norwegian Heritage Foundation in which children adopt heritage sites; and a Romanian teacher’s 40-year quest to preserve the folk art in the town of Satu Mare. The public choice award went to a project to restore Pamplona’s walls, built between the 16th and 18th century.

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