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A Recap of Beyond the Obvious 2024 and #BtO2025 Announcement

Last week in Malmö, Sweden, Culture Action Europe held their annual Beyond the Obvious conference, themed “Beyond the Obvious | United by Future Places.” Beyond the Obvious 2024 was a co-production of Culture Action Europe and the City of Malmö, in collaboration with Malmö University, Region Skåne, European Cultural Foundation and the French Ministry of Culture.

Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest and youngest city, recently hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2024. With a diverse community of over 350,000 people representing 189 nationalities and 50% of the population under 35, Malmö is known for its innovative practices in urban sustainable development and grassroots creative movements. It provided a unique setting for the 2024 Beyond the Obvious gathering.

This year’s conference theme explored how the European cultural sector can propose new narratives and visions for sustainable futures, anchored in principles of public and democratic spaces, social and climate justice, and cultural citizenship.

Re-connecting with CAE Members

We opened and closed the conference by welcoming CAE members to Malmö for our annual Members’ Forums. During these sessions, we discussed CAE strategy and its relation to broader EU-level priorities, alongside insightful exchanges among CAE regional hubs. There were also parallel workshops on how culture intertwines with current challenges posed by AI and global conflicts. The Forum also hosted the presentation of candidates for future CAE Board Members, as the conference preceded CAE Members’ Annual General Assembly (AGA), which will be held online on June 20, 2024, from 10:00 to 12:30 CEST.

Unpacking #BtO2024

Following an opening dinner hosted by Malmö’s Mayor, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, at Malmö’s Historical Town Hall, we had a series of discussions over the next days addressing this edition’s themes.

In a conversation moderated by Lars Ebert (Secretary General at Culture Action Europe), Elke Kaschl Mohni (Goethe-Institut Brussels), David Ek (Counsellor – Culture, Audiovisual and Sport at the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the European Union), and Stephanie Bonnici (European Cultural Foundation) discussed the Politics of Culture. They examined how culture can contribute to resilient societies that defend democracy and pluralistic values in a Europe experiencing a political shift to the far right amidst volatile geopolitical developments.

“There is strength in bringing our collective, intergenerational voices together, and I trust and believe that the cultural sector has the capacity — and dare I say, the responsibility — to set the example here. But that can only happen if we all — young and old(er) — are willing to come together, to hope, and also to act in the radical ways that our urgent times demand of all of us.”

(Stephanie Bonnici during her intervention in Politics of Culture)

On the third day, we hosted the conference Reclaiming the City, featuring Barbara Van Lindt (Kaaitheatre), Maryam Missawi (Work-in-Progress Festival), Valeriya Urbanovich (Club Silencio), Fjorida Cenaj (Culterra, Pop the Vote! Changemaker), and Anna Wahlstedt & Rena Baledi (The Whole City is a Monument). This panel revolved around the transformative power of cultural projects within urban landscapes across Europe. Through case studies and firsthand experiences, it explored strategies for broadening cultural offerings and amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups.

The gathering also featured the session Cultivating the Future, with participatory discussions addressing topicsof sustainability, social and climate justice, community activism, and interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle current crises. The discussion was moderated by Mark Isitt and included participants José Rodriguez (CrAFt), Nicolas Keller (Växtvärket/Trans Europe Halles), Maxime Ollivier (Le bruit qui Court, Pop the Vote! Changemaker), Ruben Ritzen (University of Lund), and Fruzsina Dézsi (ProProgressione).

Other moments of peer exchange and synergy creation took place during the parallel sessions of Project Pitches and Future Labs, facilitated by Pop the Vote Changemaker Stefano Dimoulas and longtime CAE collaborator Lucrezia Ponzano. These sessions offered selected CAE members and Pop the Vote! Changemakers an international platform to showcase existing projects and project ideas focused on the role of culture in shaping equal societies and fostering democratic, participatory, and environmentally sustainable public spaces.

Happy 30 years to CAE

With our members present in Malmö, we celebrated 30 years of Culture Action Europe! The network was established 3 decades ago and since then has been a leading voice of the European cultural ecosystem, the first port of call for informed opinion and debate about arts and cultural policies. But above all, CAE is a close-knit community based on values of care, equality, democracy and participation. 

Our members made it a point to wish us a special birthday greeting:

Announcing Beyond the Obvious 2025

The final moments of the programme featured a special performance from CAE member Cirkus Syd and an exciting hand-off from Annika Cedhagen, Head of the Cultural Department of Malmö City Council, to Luisella Carnelli and Alessandra Gariboldi from Fitzcarraldo, and Valeriya Urbanovich from Club Silencio, who will co-host Culture Action Europe’s 2025 Beyond the Obvious conference in Turin, Italy.

Footage and Recaps

Our photographers have documented these four days beautifully. Please check out the Beyond the Obvious website for pictures—you’ll surely find yourself there! Remember to credit the photographer when posting pictures publicly. Videos will be available soon on Culture Action Europe’s YouTube page. You can also share your own pics and see what other participants have shared throughout the conference across our social media!