Democracy is a creative act, engaging people in a conversation beyond the ballot box. Democracy needs imagination.
— Peter Vermeersch, quoted in “Reclaiming Public Space: Democratic Practices Reinvented?” a debate during Imagining Europe, Amsterdam, 5 October 2012

The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) was set up in Geneva in 1954.

Its founding figures included the Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont, the architect of the European Community Robert Schuman, and HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, under whose presidency ECF moved to Amsterdam in 1960. 

They all believed passionately in culture as a vital ingredient for Europe’s post-war rebuilding and healing.

HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands is currently the President of ECF and Extraordinary Member of the Board.

Until 2013, we set out to uncover new Narratives for Europe at a moment when the prevailing narratives seemed to have lost their resonance. Informed by research and reflection, this effort led to our new thematic focus for 2013-2016 ­– Culture, Creative Communities and Democracy

Our work continues to initiate and support cultural exchange and creative expression across wider Europe, to share knowledge across the cultural sector, and to campaign for the arts at all levels of political decision-making. 

By identifying, connecting, nourishing and illuminating a network of local cultural change-makers, we foster the growth of new visions of Europe that are the result of bottom-up action and creativity. 

Read this conversation with ECF Director Katherine Watson about our future projects and the key role that culture can play over the next 60 years. 


Our vision

We strive for an open, democratic and inclusive Europe within which culture is a valued and key contributor.

Our mission

We support and connect cultural change-makers whose work contributes to an ongoing cross-sectoral debate on Europe and Europe’s place in the world.

Our values

  • We imagine the future, seek creative solutions and act as a catalyst. 
  • We bridge citizens and institutions, policy-making and practice. 
  • We are reflective.
  • We explore, learn and share knowledge.


Visual and Historical Overview

For a visual overview, download our timeline (PDF). 

For a visual overview, download our timeline (PDF). 

→ For an account of more recent developments, read ECF’s latest Annual Report.

For an overview of ECF's early years, read A Brief History of ECF by Anne-Marie Autissier. 

Photos above: 2016 ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture Ceremony (Photo: Xander Remkes), the participants to the Global Cultural Leadership Programme launched in Malta in 2016 and the hubs of our Connected Action for the Commons programme (Photo: Cédric Moulard) and the ECF Board Members in 2016 (Photo: Nicola Mullenger).