“We have a vision of cultural learning from cradle to grave,
not only for artists, but for all citizens.”
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN A CHANGING EUROPE? LARS EBERT HIGHLIGHTS THE CURRENT TRENDS AND DELIVERS A CLEAR MESSAGE: EUROPEAN ENTHUSIASM FOR CULTURAL EDUCATION AND PARTICIPATION IS GATHERING MOMENTUM
In his role as Programme Director at Castrum Peregrini, Lars Ebert has been a driving force behind a host of European projects. He is also an independent advisor for the European League of Institutions of Arts (ELIA) and member of the board of Culture Action Europe (CAE).
Is the EU receptive to cultural education and participation?
‘I’d say it’s an area that’s definitely gaining ground. European cultural policy is still based on the traditional paradigm of art as an autonomous field. But it’s also important to respond to the needs of artists who work in a social context. As part of the European Academy of Participation project, for example, we explored the possibility of setting up a Europe-wide Master’s programme in Participation with art in context as a full-blown specialization.’
Is that where the future lies?
‘It’s one aspect of the future. There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence and robotization will do away with the need for human labour in all kinds of areas. In a world of algorithms, creativity is one of the few qualities that allows us to retain our humanity. In that context, cultural participation and education are becoming increasingly important. Throughout society, there is a need for art in order to retain the human aspect alongside the machine.’
Is your message being heard in Brussels?
‘Europe has reached a tipping point. These days you only have to utter the words “Brexit”, “refugee crisis” or “right-wing extremism” to conjure up an image of Europe in crisis. This shift has thrown Brussels into a bit of a panic. You can work on the currency and the economy all you like, but at the end of the day nobody identifies with Europe. In November 2017, Europe’s head of government therefore decided that a joint area for culture and education should be realized by 2025. At ELIA and CAE we immediately recognized the momentum this generates and the opportunities it provides. At long last, culture and education are being brought together. European policymakers still have a tendency to think in boxes, but we will be lobbying for a new culture agenda that embraces education and participation. We have a vision of cultural learning from cradle to grave, not only for artists, but for all citizens. Culture enables you to grow as a person, to widen your horizons your whole life long.’
What’s the first step?
‘In my view, there needs to be a European qualification framework for lifelong cultural learning. What capacities does an artist need in order to contribute to such a framework? What needs to happen formally, informally and non-formally? Let’s create an international group to build that framework. It’s an option that will meet with great interest in Brussels and will probably attract funding if we apply for it.’
That sounds like a matter of paperwork. What do you hope to achieve?
‘I realize it sounds bureaucratic. But I am convinced that this is an approach that can really influence policy. When you formulate your plans with great precision, you set a standard and clarify the potential of art and culture for policy makers. Cultural learning isn’t simply confined to arts academies. It’s also happening in the community centre around the corner. And artists have a role to play in all this. That’s something we must continue to state very clearly at European policy level and to describe in a qualification framework.’
How can people connect with your efforts?
‘At CAE we have set up a Cultural Education working group and we are closely monitoring what’s going on in Europe. We also want to open up a broad discussion with professionals in the sector. So this is an open invitation to institutions and policy staff to join us in discussing the role of cultural education in Europe. What should policy in this area look like? What should we be lobbying for? What’s already working? What needs improving? What best practices exist and what international exchanges are already in place?’
Many people think: the EU… yikes… I wouldn’t know where to start. Do you have any tips?
‘Yes, that used to be my response, too. But it’s the wrong attitude. The paperwork is not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. When you apply for national funding, you have to justify your spending and submit receipts as well. And the EU really does offer plenty of subsidies that too few people make use of. The Erasmus+ programme is a prime example. The Capacity Building programme line is very worthwhile if you want to work with others to develop a certain skill set. And the Strategic Partnerships line is ideally suited to the joint development of policy instruments, methods or standard benchmarks. We also need to keep a close eye on the Creative Europe Programme over the next two years: they sometimes publish interesting new calls unexpectedly, such as the recent calls for a European Year of Cultural Heritage. And of course, the 2025 joint cultural area is bound to present considerable opportunities. The fact that it’s still quite a nebulous concept gives us the chance to come up with our own ideas and make our voices heard. But most of all I’d say, talk to one another, get involved in networks, collaborate. Bring those voices together and channel them into convincing statements that may eventually unleash all kinds of potential in Europe.’
This interview by Bea Ros was first published at Sharing Arts & Heritage