Prior to the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture ceremony, the first European Cultural Challenge took place. A two-day advocacy retreat that brought together laureates, grantees, partners, researchers, foundations, media-makers and policy-makers to work on tangible cases that fuel positive change through culture.
Through this challenge the European Cultural Foundation connected European changemakers and contribute to rethinking and building Europe as an open, inclusive and democratic space.
Outcomes of the European Cultural Challenge vary from exploring cultural solutions to imagining campaigns and developing concrete advocacy proposals. The European Cultural Challenge took place at Hotel Arena, Amsterdam on 15 and 16 May. Gilane Tawadros' opening lecture is available here.
The first outcomes of the challenge were presented during the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture ceremony on 16 May, sharing central stage with the 2018 laureates. To get an idea about the event, you may search social media with the hashtag #ECFchallenge. All participants are listed in the booklet.
What are concrete topics or cases that participants worked on?
The Challenge was centered around three main thematic clusters:
Systemic Change Alternatives
Shrinking Space for Civil Society
Diversity & Equality
Each of these thematic threads were addressed through different perspectives or sub-topics, divided over tables, so participants worked in groups on a concrete case or specific set of questions, and developed a plan for action that has culture at its core.
Systemic Change Alternatives in Europe
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call to action by countries around the world to “improve the lives of people everywhere”. While the SDGs mark an important step towards more cohesive development, they do not explicitly recognise the crucial role of culture as a key driver for change and as a connecting force for good. Additionally, inequality, fragmentation, climate change and economic instability cannot be tackled as separate challenges in isolation from each other.
Instead of claiming a space for culture within the SDG’s “ultimate” framework for change and development, let us imagine a far more reaching approach. During the European Cultural Challenge, we focused on two promising systemic alternatives and the role of culture in them.
The tables ‘Municipalism and Culture’ and ‘Towards an Economy of Values’ explored these significant opportunities that have the potential to overcome top-down solutions that have been operating in their own silos until now.
Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Europe
Europe is currently facing a rise of populist politics that are deepening the fragmentation of societies and further eroding social bonds. Its apologists use a rhetoric of fear to promote the establishment of an all-powerful nation-state attentive to the cares and needs of its citizens. Yet the policies they propose to implement are translated into coercive measures aimed at silencing the voices of those who question them or plainly disagree.
As a result, the fragile interplay between civil society and the state is jeopardised, and this subsequently puts growing pressure on a democratic system. While the space for civil society is particularly shrinking in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of nationalist administrations, at the heart of the European Union a whole different challenge is taking place: the growing gap between the EU and its citizens. Ironically, some of the EU countries’ governments are deliberately contributing to limiting the space for civil society, whereas the EU institutions in Brussels want to connect to Europe’s citizens but somehow do not succeed.
At two tables – ‘The civil role of public cultural institutions’ and ‘The Challenge of Connecting Citizens to European Politics’- we considered courageous ways to counter the rise of populism: how to bridge the gap between people and institutions? How to reinforce the latter as vehicles for democratic development and consolidation?
Diversity & Equality
Diversity only has meaning and value, and the potential to become an active force in society, when it is linked to the drive for greater equality. Diversity is not an issue to address, a challenge to deal with, or something to be engineered. It does not have to be created: it is all around and in us. For many future generations, Europe will be a space shared by many different individuals, and each and every one of them is unique, different, yet equal and the same. It is thus essential that diversity and equality remain linked on a policy and political level, as well as in practice.
Actively striving to foster equality and diversity across institutions and societies throughout Europe is a significant means to make democracy inclusive to everyone. In this process, culture’s ability to imagine and enact the world differently plays a pivotal role in reconfiguring the social fabric. It may also serve as a means to achieve a richer intellectual, emotional, ethical and spiritual existence.
At the tables ‘Inclusive Media = Better Media’, ‘The Challenge of “United Diversity” in Europe in 2018 and beyond’ and ‘Europes - The Green Guide to the Perplexed’ we looked into diversity and equality through the perspectives of media, advocacy and theory: three fields of work that focus on perception. How do we see? What should we be aware of? And what is mesmerising us? It takes courage to change perceptions and we will challenge ourselves and each other in doing so.
This first European Cultural Challenge is organized in collaboration with and thanks to the support of Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind (Paris/Lausanne), and in partnership with: Open Eyes Economy Summit (Krakow), Castrum Peregrini (Amsterdam), Commons Network (Berlin), Culture Action Europe (Brussels) and Ondertussen (Amsterdam).