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An interview with Androulla Vassilou : how to justify a 37% increase in the culture budget

The EU Commissioner for culture, Androulla Vassiliou, is making a bold move in asking for a 37% increase in the culture budget at a time of austerity across the continent. We interviewed her to hear why she has made such a strong case for putting culture at the heart of European policy.

She tells us how the Commission thinks regions should integrate culture into smart specialisation policies, the value of partnerships and the European Capitals of Culture programme, and takes on the idea of “autonomous art”.

Callum Lee: In some Member States economic and planning ministries are surprised by the EU demands to integrate culture in smart strategies in all policy fields. What actions are you planning to promote the new alliances of culture? Are they really threatening the old functions of economic and urban policies?

Androulla Vassilou: The cultural and creative sectors have significant spill-over effects to other economic sectors, such as skills development, urban regeneration or innovation. An example is the added value of design to products and services of traditional manufacturing industries. New alliances on culture are not aimed at « threatening » traditional economic policies, but at increasing potential for growth in our cities and regions.

In its communication, the Commission invites local and regional authorities to integrate the cultural and creative sectors into their smart specialisation strategies. It is crucial that the cultural community together with the national, regional and local authorities make the most of all opportunities available at EU level, in particular those of the Cohesion Policy Funds, to support strategic investment in culture.

The cultural and creative sectors have already made an important contribution to local and regional development and we will continue to build on that. We also know that culture can be crucial for urban development, as demonstrated by initiatives such as « European Capitals of Culture » and « Intercultural City programme ».

The main responsibility for culture lies in the hands of Member States and sometimes in the hands of the regions. We also know that regions and cities – Marseille is a perfect illustration – invest heavily in culture. This is because of the intrinsic value of culture, but also because they see culture and cultural industries as drivers of socio-economic development and innovation.

Culture can also be a provider of high-quality and inspiring jobs, especially for young people. I hope that Member States, at all territorial levels, will make the most of the many opportunities offered by the instruments of the EU Cohesion Policy to support cultural investment.

I would like to highlight two initiatives that offer support at the European level. Firstly, in 2011 we supported the production of a policy handbook written by experts from Member States. This handbook outlines the strategic use of EU support programmes by the cultural and creative sectors. This will support national and regional innovation strategies for smart specialisation.

Secondly, we also established the smart specialisation platform (S³ Platform) in 2011. Through this platform Member States and regions can access professional advice for their strategies for smart specialisation in the context of the creative and cultural sectors.

In an article for The Guardian earlier this year (with Uffe Elbæk) you make a powerful point saying « artists and creative innovators need to realise their own potential and take back their authority. They need to once again step into the arena as the central players in society’s own story about itself. » Could you tell us about anywhere you have seen this happening across Europe?

In the article published in The Guardian last February, I referred to the idea of real partnerships between the artistic communities, the creative industries and other sectors like education, business, production and research, but also our foreign policy and development work.

I believe that there is a lot to gain from partnerships between the artistic communities, cultural and creative enterprises and policy-makers. Building integrated strategies based on partnerships can increasing understanding, build trust between stakeholders and generate growth without big financial investments.

Across Europe, we see many regions and cities which build up such integrated strategies, considering culture as an essential asset for their economic competitiveness and attractiveness. Just look at the way European Capitals of Culture such as Lille, Liverpool or Essen have invested in culture to create jobs, heal their social fabric and transform their image.

The Communication on Culture (Promoting cultural and creative sectors for growth and jobs in the EU) got good reviews from policy analysts, although we were disappointed that it didn’t get more media coverage. What are you aiming to change with it?

I am convinced that this Communication, addressed to Member States and their regions, is a milestone for understanding the importance of the cultural and creative sectors for growth and jobs. Stakeholders and Member States have been very supportive and enthusiastic. I would also not underestimate the media interest for this initiative.

This communication aims to raise awareness and inspire all actors to focus on the five policy drivers, including developing skills; improving access to finance; promoting new business models and enlarging audiences; facilitating cooperation with other sectors and policies; and expanding international reach.

But it is also an invitation to the cultural community to make use of the wide range of EU programmes and instruments that can cover some of their needs in terms of capacity building, skills development or presence on foreign markets. There is no budget attached to the Communication – it is an overview of all policy initiatives and funding programmes that contribute to an EU strategy for the cultural and creative sectors.

At the same time, the Commission will support and complement Member State initiatives by promoting a modern regulatory environment. We will facilitate exchanges of good practices and peer learning across the EU. And we will mobilise a wide range of EU financial instruments focusing on the key policy drivers.

Creative Europe has some bold and innovative proposals – such as the new loan scheme – and the sector has reacted well to it. It’s part of a push you have talked about to integrate culture into the rest of the creative industries and into the wider economy. Not all culture institutions welcome the idea to leave the tradition of the « autonomous art » behind. Is Creative Europe a hidden revolution in our concept of culture?

Today’s world is characterised by the challenges of digitisation and globalisation and this makes it difficult to speak about « autonomous » art. Artists do not operate in a vacuum; instead they face market fragmentation, which is recognised as a major obstacle to creativity and innovation.

For the 2014-2020, the Commission has proposed an increase of 37% in the budget for the cultural and creative sectors. The new Creative Europe programme, which would encompass the current MEDIA and Culture Programmes, envisages a significant increase in funding for artists, cultural activities and European cinema. If adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the programme would allocate €1.8 billion for the sectors between 2014 and 2020.

300,000 artists and cultural professionals and their work would receive funding under Creative Europe which would enable them to reach new audiences and strengthen their capacity to work internationally. Thanks to the new programme, more than 5,500 books and other literary works would receive support for translation allowing readers to enjoy them in their mother tongue.

In addition to the traditional grant focused support, the Commission has also proposed a cultural and creative sector loan guarantee facility. Its objective is to facilitate access to bank credits for cultural and creative operators. It does this by providing guarantees to banks making loans to cultural and audiovisual projects, companies or organisations in these sectors. The mechanism proposed would include a scheme for the bankers to acquire the expertise for analysing risks associated with the sector. Thanks to the leverage effect, this instrument is expected to raise bank loans totalling €1 billion during its seven year operational period. This would plug an important part of the financial gap faced by cultural and creative operators (up to around 30%).


Photo (Teaser): dottorpeni (Flickr)

Filed under: Analyses, Gouvernances, Politiques culturelles, , ,

One Response

  1. jean michel Lucas dit :

    Philippe, il est temps de s’attaquer à plus fort que soi.. c’est fait, grace à l’adami qui m’a invité à causer mondialisation, numérisation et diversité culturelle. Du coup ça fait des pages aussi pour la commission lescure et qui implicitement répondent à la commissaire européenne … tu trouveras sur le site de l’adami la composition du panel de discussion.. c’était très intéressant de mettre les points sur les i avec des représentants de l’union , de l’omc et de la sacd!!!

    si ça te dit de le diffuser, c’est avec plaisir et toujours sans copyright !

    Amicalement JMlucas .

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