For the past ten years, the STEP Beyond Travel Grant programme has enabled a diversity of young artists, cultural workers and researchers to travel, to transcend and make connections across geographic, cultural and discipline borders. Mobility and exchange are core to much of ECF’s work — a small investment that, as we have seen though the history of STEP Beyond, can have an incredible impact on the development of an individual’s perspective and on their creative output. STEP is first and foremost about people, about personal experiences, personal narratives. It is through these experiences and these narratives that ECF can learn about the issues, the urgencies, the challenges that people — the STEP Beyonders — are compelled to address and the ideas that they have to address them. This learning fuels ECF’s determination to change and adapt, where and when we can, in order to respond and support cultural workers and actions in new and alternative ways.
STEP Beyond experience and stories fed our previous themes of Diversity (2005–2008) and New Narratives for Europe (2009–2013) and have influenced the 2013-2016 strategic focus on Culture, Communities and Democracy. Key to this strategic focus is ECF’s interest in culture as a recognised and active cross-sectoral innovator. To date, STEP Beyond has supported travel based on geographic parameters — supporting travel to and from the EU and within EU neighbouring regions. While this continues to be an interest, moving forward we will also consider the value of leaping across discipline borders. We should support travel that is more thematically driven - for instance, cultural innovators or activists connecting and working with non-cultural sectors that are reclaiming public space or addressing environmental and social issues. As a result we would be able to support travel from all corners of the EU, criss-crossing the EU and of course travelling beyond and into the wider Europe.
In addition to the historic review of STEP Beyond, we have taken the opportunity to investigate the thorny issue of environmental sustainability — how can we make an intrinsically polluting programme more green? And we are not the only ones to consider this, so there were several good examples to draw on. In the survey we also looked to our STEP Beyonders to get their ideas and thoughts. Our investigation has shed light on several aspects of green travel and how ECF might encourage more environmentally friendly ways of travelling.
Most of the funded journeys are made by air and by providing financial support for air travel, ECF is contributing to our growing carbon footprint. Survey results showed that most grantees make a pragmatic decision between air transport and travel over land, based on costs and journey time. The majority also believes that green travelling is a luxury that is only accessible to a privileged few with financial means. Nevertheless, while it may be difficult to cut back on air travel, we should look at ways to encourage and support shorter distance travel and travel by more time-consuming and often costly means of transport.
If ECF opened up the geographical scope of STEP Beyond and travels within the EU fall within the scope of support, the number of potentially short distance trips would grow significantly and, with that, travelling over land could be a realistic alternative. However, it would also mean that the number of incoming applications would increase exponentially and the success rate would very likely go down, unless we can grow the fund. The entire grants scheme would need to be significantly scaled-up and to realise this we would need new funding partners. Given our keen commitment to mobility, ECF will not shy away from ensuring that growing the fund is a priority in the future.
Currently, projects in which the travel is part of the project, not only as a means to get from A to B, are rarely supported. However, “slow travel”, which typically involves low-impact travel styles (over land), allows travellers to engage more with communities along their route. Investigating ways to support slow travel and compensate for increased efforts with respect to greener travel could be other possible methods for cutting back air travel.
“In addition to supporting more sustainable approaches to the travel itself, ECF should be tracking the sustainable outcomes of STEP Beyond. A pitfall of mobility funders is that immediate results are more tangible and easier to follow-up and evaluate. But these immediate, more tangible outcomes are often short-lived. We should look beyond the immediate travel into sustainable impact over the longer term and we will do so by committing to knowledge management across our organisation and to sharing this knowledge as widely as possible. An ideal vehicle for this is the STEP Beyond Lab.
The survey showed that grantees seek assistance and support in order to embed environmental awareness and decision-making in their activities. ECF Labs can provide an excellent, easily accessible tool for raising awareness and sharing information on environmentally sustainable project planning and travelling.
There is no doubt that the greening of STEP Beyond would be a rather monumental task but small initial steps and forging strategic partnerships and collaborations could accelerate ECF’s efforts towards contributing to transformative changes on a broader scale. We will investigate strategic partnerships with organisations like Julie’s Bicycle and also cross-sectoral partnerships within the private, public and social sector such as rail and bus companies, environmental groups, municipalities or youth organisations.
As we worry that Europe is becoming more and more politically divided, we hope that the STEP Beyond Travel Grant programme will continue to bring young artists closer together and help to bridge the widening gaps between north and south, east and west, within and beyond the EU. We hope to nurture the seeds of change that take root across the continent – seeds of a better future, and seeds of a more sustainable future too.
Special thanks goes to the Open Society Foundations, our partner for STEP Beyond travels for the Southern Caucasus and Turkey, for co-funding this publication.
You have just read the introduction to the 10 years of STEP Beyond Travel Grants eBook. You can read the full eBook by downloading the ePub or read each section from our Library or each individual section from our Library (see the list below).