Creating Art and Enabling Access for All - a report from Tibor Navracsics’s visit to ECF

Tibor Navracsics, EU commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport has visited the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) on Tuesday 10 November as part of his tour in the Netherlands, where he also met with Mr Jet Bussemaker, Minister for Education, Culture and Science of The Netherlands. ECF has facilitated a meeting with Mr Navracsics and stakeholders from the Dutch arts and culture sector, including representatives from the Concertgebouw, the Prins Bernhards Cultuurfonds, the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, the Prince Claus Fund, the Holland Festival, Europa Nostra, de Balie, Stadsschouwburg, Meervaart Theatre, the Erasmus Prize, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Jewish Historical Museums, World Press Photo, De Nieuwe Kerk/Hermitage, Culture and Participation Fund, Dutch Culture and EYE.  

Tibor Navracsics and Katherine Watson with the stakeholders from the Dutch arts and culture sector. Photo by Xander Remkes.

Tibor Navracsics and Katherine Watson with the stakeholders from the Dutch arts and culture sector. Photo by Xander Remkes.

The meeting started with a roundtable of presentations from each organisation. From showcasing the best of Europe, to supporting young talents, offering opportunities for exchanges and building connections between the arts and communities, many also called attention to issues around heritage, access to culture and copyright policies, which have proved to be high on the Commission’s agenda as well.

Debating the role of culture in democracy, mainstreaming heritage and giving opportunities to artists across Europe are at the core of many institutions’ work. Next to the Concertgebouw’s mission to showcase the best of Europe is their participation as part of their membership in ECHO (European Concert Hall Organisation) in the Rising Stars programme which helps shaping young musicians international careers. The Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK) stimulates exchange of European and international talent among others through their 3Package Deal programme offering studio and living space to artists for a year. One recent resident of the 3Package Deal, theatre maker Daria Bukvić, has been doing a project about refugees, showing the importance of local impact on wider European issues. Another example is Europa Nostra which has been rewarding the best of cultural heritage achievements each year, enabling its mainstreaming and inclusion into the New Narrative for Europe initiative.

Another key concern that was raised by the meeting participants was related to copyright laws: the EYE Film institute has education at the heart of its mission, emphasizing the importance of media literacy for children going hand-in-hand with digitization of European heritage, both areas that could potentially lead to revisions of European copyright laws. The necessity for this change has also been mentioned by the representative of the World Press Photo, whose main awards for photo journalism has worldwide shows attracting more than 4 million viewers. World Press Photo concentrates on the importance of freedom of speech, while thriving to find a balance between supporting institutions and makers when managing copyright. The awarding of the Erasmus Prize this year to the Wikipedia community has also underlined the wider desire for broader access to culture and knowledge.

While international cooperation plays a key role in these institutions’ missions, linking arts to local communities is also at the heart of some organisations’ work, like for the Meervaart Theatre, whose mission is to tell migrant stories from different perspectives, and the Culture and Participation Fund supporting education and participation in the arts and culture, developing projects in neighborhoods and making connections between both artists and communities as well as across different communities.

ECF main funder, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, highlighted the overall need for favorable conditions for supporters of culture across Europe. Specifically, there was a plea for corporations to be encouraged to put corporate social responsibility on top of their agenda and to allow crossborder philanthropy in Europe. This request generated considerable enthusiasm and support from the participants.

ECF Director Katherine Watson and Tibor Navracsics, EU commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. Photo by Xander Remkes.

ECF Director Katherine Watson and Tibor Navracsics, EU commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and SportPhoto by Xander Remkes.

Many of the organisations around the table are also getting ready for the Dutch EU Presidency in 2016, which will see a wide range of cultural events happening across the Netherlands, including the following: launch of the project The Wall at Pakhuis de Zwijger on 7 January, a theatre festival at the Meervaart that same month, a Forum on European Culture, organised between 1 and 3 June 2016 by DutchCulture and De Balie titled “Re:Thinking Europe” where artists, thinkers and policy makers will discuss the power, impact and value of culture for Europe, a programme exploring “The Edges of Europe” at the Holland Festival on 16 June, looking for artists who are physically or metaphorically at the edge; and the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture which will take place in the Stadsschouwburg on 15 March 2016.

The European Commission’s State of Play on Cultural Diplomacy and Copyright

Tibor Navracsics has presented the two priorities on the current EU agenda: Cultural Diplomacy and Copyright.

Cultural Diplomacy

Mr Navracsics underlined important developments as regards the  introduction of cultural diplomacy into EU policy making, as for example the EU-China expert group that the European Commission and Chinese ministries created, as well as the Preparatory Action on Culture in EU External Relations, initiated by the European Parliament. ECF was part of the consortium carrying out the Preparatory Action that resulted among others in the landmark report “Engaging the World: Towards Global Cultural Citizenship” and  several country reports all available on-line. Cultural Diplomacy relates to two groups of countries: the EU neighborhood countries (direct neighborhood of the EU), which includes education, cultural exchange and intensive dialogue with those countries; and the second group focusing on countries outside of the EU, and not in its direct neighbourhood  where cultural diplomacy can act as a bridge. Culture is a very solid platform for communication with countries in South America, Asia or Africa. Mr Navracsics said “We have to find those empty rooms in the network of the external relations where we can put cultural diplomacy in.”

Mr Navracsics detailed four main objectives of EU Cultural Diplomacy:

  • Promoting intercultural dialogue: The EU aims to strengthen people-to-people dialogue through which it  brings citizens closer to Europe, and establishes closer relations between Europe and other continents The EU-China people-to-people dialogue has proven to be a successful project.
  • Preserving cultural heritage: when we talk about the refugee crisis and social integration, we talk about a mutual understanding and tolerance to other cultures. If we want to really be ready for integration, we have to be aware of our own identity. Identity of Europe will be an important topic in the coming years and cultural heritage can be a pillar of our identity.
  • Supporting culture as an engine for development: Creative industries play an important development role and Dutch creative entrepreneurs are very successful in this area, through design, etc. supporting cultural exchange and more. There is a lot of achievement to show.
  • Enhancing education cooperation: culture is not only today's culture. We have to fund tomorrow's culture as well. Interpreting art, translating cultural heritage and helping our children understand our achievements. This is also important for people coming into the EU.


“Easy access to cultural content: That's the necessity.”

In a month, the European Commission will publish its communication on copyright, which will be a road map for further debate. This is part of the EU's Digital Market strategy aiming to create a free and secure digital single market, seeking to expand the EU’s digital economy to offer consumers better services at better prices and to help businesses grow.

Mr Navracsics explained that the purpose of reviewing copyright laws is not to destroy the system that has been set up for centuries and brought a good remuneration model, but there is a need to make the process more transparent and flexible. “The keyword is portability: It is about digital access regardless of geography.”


When asked what it would take the European Commission to move away from Cultural Diplomacy to Cultural Relations, notably with regard to the planned EU Communication, Mr Narvacsics mentioned that there was indeed a shift, which is also visible in the paper where people-to-people dialogue is emphasized. He added that in order to support efforts to shift from diplomacy to relations, alternative communication platforms involving civil society need to be built and used.

To the question “Is there anything we can do for you?” Mr Navracsics responded that the stakeholders of education and culture need to convince their ministers to support more significantly culture, education and sport more.