Perspectives for European Cultural Policy by Marjo Mäenpää

Culture needs to be defended – cultural policy is in the marginal of all societal actions. This is what I was told in a conference held in Zagreb Croatia between 17th and 19th of May. It is a very similar story that we keep telling each other also in Finland from time to time.

My two and a half days in the conference “Perspectives of national cultural policies development in the EU context: critical dialogues” organized by IRMO – Institute for Development and International Relations confirmed my fear that culture is no longer an obvious base of societal development. Has culture been a strong factor in the political and social life only in my naïve dreams? When did it happen that we started to need to find a reason to promote arts and culture, to find a reason to link culture to the existence of human kind? Was it when we started to discuss about policy? Policy is a tool to keep culture on the agenda of the state affairs. Has this tool lost its effect now when we need it and its content of action more than ever?

About the tool, the policy Corina Suteu, a former Romanian minister of culture, gave us a really interesting lecture in pre-conference session where she shed light on the lessons she had learned during her time in the ministry. Can we stand the change in political system and safeguard the status of culture? Or are we doomed to frustration about the lack of long term planning and short-sighted political decisions?

On the background of the Croatian conference was an idea of crisis of democracy, global socio-cultural inequality, social and financial instability and the struggle of cultural institutions against decreasing national budgets. So there was very little light to be seen in the horizon for cultural sector. The topics of the conference raised questions about does cultural policy matter and how to handle the crisis in EU and cultural policy.

What we need now are different perspectives, looking back and looking onward. Like professor Pier Luigi Sacco presented in his keynote, cultural policy has gone through several stages during different regimes: from ancient patronage system to the cultural transition of recent times. Arts have had several missions, sometimes to make patrons look rich and beautiful and sometimes, like now, to make us feel healthier and happier. Luckily there has always been someone who understands the power of creativity and importance of continuation of culture, the basis what makes us human.

But while we were asking why culture matters, why cultural policy matters and what will be the task of culture, people in Timisoara and Rijeka are doing great work to celebrate their local culture as European Capital of Culture 2020. It seemed to me that there would be a new fresh accent in the local cultural development.

One of my colleagues in Finland shouted recently “Occupy cultural policy!” Indeed. Third sector, creative industries, artist’s institutions, independent artists and cultural managers – also researchers of cultural policy – have to find an empowerment to do their task, regardless whether they work with applied arts or see art purely for arts’ sake. Culture matters when there is a need for soft power, and now is the time for it.

Just before I had to run to my flight I heard Professor Kate Oakley’s words about perspectives for today’s Europe: “Stop worrying about cultural policy, but immigration policies, economics, media policy…”

I had something to take home, perspectives. Thank you for the conference dear colleagues.