Chris Torch is artistic director at Intercult, a production and resource unit focused on culture, ideas and the arts. Founded in 1996, it is a publically-financed institution, based in Stockholm, Sweden. Intercult is also a designated Europe Direct office, managed within the institution’s European Resource Center for Culture since 2009. Intercult has focused to a large degree on international exchange and co-production with a special eye towards the European Neighborhood, reflected in the platform SEAS. Since 2006, SEAS has sights set on the Black and North Sea regions.
Apart from large-scale project design, Chris lectures regularly, guides workshops in strategy and currently serves as vice-president for Culture Action Europe and on the Board for culturebase.net. He is also an active member of the Steering Committee for the Platform for Intercultural Europe.
1. Black/North SEAS project is “an ongoing investigation of how artistic initiatives can lift urban re-invention and environmental issues to the forefront, through the very act of concretely confronting the contemporary city scape.” What is the uniqueness of the project? How the whole idea started?
Black/North SEAS is in fact the continuation of an initiative which began already 2003, when we focused on the Baltic and Adriatic Sea regions. In 2006 we shifted focus to the Black and North Sea regions.
The base of the idea is collaboration. How to initiate something together with artists from different disciplines and different cultural contexts? We chose to arrange “dates” between artists in a port city. We wanted the artists to be inspired by a common experience in a specific place, with specific conditions. Harbours are places of migration, post-industrial melancholy and cultural history, as well as places giving a lot of opportunities for future development and investment.
2. Who are the initiators, the people and the partners behind this project? How do they work in a collaborative mode?
SEAS is in fact a series of partnerships emanating from Intercult, the Swedish based production unit, where I work as artistic director and CEO. Significant international partners have invested greatly in the life of the project, including our Black/North SEAS agreement with Hotel Pro Forma (DK), Theatre Sfumato (BG), KIT (DK), BADco (CRO), Arts Council England (UK) and Tromsø Kommun (NO). Host cities and organisations (Odessa, Istanbul, Mangalia, Balchik, Varna, Göteborg, Helsinborg and others) have put energy and money into events together with SEAS.
As Partners, we share in one or more parts of the SEAS project life: co-producing, presenting, building capacity, documentation. Projects were presented and each SEAS event was co-curated by the local Host, choosing which SEAS artworks would finally be shown in their event.
As artistic director for SEAS, I am ultimately responsible for the curation. In fact, decisions are mostly taken in collaboration with our partners and after a strategic analysis. My colleague Adam Jeanes plays an important role as Project Director and Intercult’s assistant artistic director Corina Oprea both contributes and coordinates.
3. What are the key challenges for artists and artistic communities living in small and middle-size coastal cities today? Can you give an example(s)?
The first is to change perspective from indoor galleries, theatres and halls to public space and unconventional venues for art. There are many secret spaces where the relationship between artists and audience would be radically different and re-vitalizing.
Second, Encountering people in an informal but thoroughly professional way, where they least expect it or where they expect something totally different.
Third, Connecting cultural tourism and the arts is an important direction to explore further, especially from the point of view of sustainably and effectiveness.
Finally – it is important to stay in contact and network together with the rest of the cultural sector. We can accomplish a great deal more in coalition with others. Collaboration makes it easier and more effective.
Examples : SEAS Skegness 2009 was extremely interesting from an audience perspective and the hard work of the local council and district. SEAS Odessa 2008 definitely left imprints, new ways to “meet a city”.
4. CityScape is the forum within SEAS project to debate issues related to “public space, the role of culture and arts in the re-thinking of post-industrial urban landscapes, about the engagement of politicians and public in the debates about the future of Europe’s coastal communities, about migration issues”. Why is it important to create synergies between arts/culture and other sectors of the society? What are the benefits and for whom?
The first obvious benefit is access to resources. Other sectors in the society are financed in a different logic and methods than arts and culture usually are. Artists and cultural professionals need to tap these resources, in good collaborations and mutual result.
The second reason is that artists need and want to live within their society, express in a context, search for supporters and visitors. The themes artists deal with are collective and cut across all aspects of life. Re-linking Art to Society is beneficial for artists. They get toknow and understand more about the taxpayers who support them. Culture is – for the moment – publically financed to a large degree. All transversal initiatives strengthen the role of Art in social development and justify our work.
The third benefit is the return that a society gets when investing seriously and long-term in the cultural sector and in the arts. It generates creativity which can be put to use in other sectors. It practices methods of collaboration and exchange. The future needs Art, it’s that simple.
5. You organised many events under SEAS project in 2009, could you highlight few of them and tell us what impact they had on the local communities?
SEAS was presented – in various shapes – in 16 different cities: 5 in the Black Sea region in 2008/2009 and 9 in the North Sea region in 2009. We launched in Odessa in May 2008 under somewhat difficult conditions. SEAS artists were just finishing their works and several had premieres in Ukraine. Our technical preparation was not optimal and much support promised from the local authorities was not forthcoming. We had to find new ways of negotiating with local hosts, often incapable of managing what they had promised. We shifted our confidence to young active cultural entrepreneurs. Our respect gave them self-confidence and increased energy. And solved many problems for SEAS.
In Göteborg Sweden, in August 2009, we surely made an impact when it came to thinking about cultural spaces, where art takes place. We performed in a flea market, made art available on the streets and plazas of the city, we told our stories in the cafeteria of the Seamens Club and in the hold of an old ferry. We intervened in an already ongoing debate in Göteborg about public space. We felt in line with local needs, especially with the discussions during CityScape Göteborg. This is a how foreign impulses can contribute to existing tendencies.
6. Since January 2009 Intercult is responsible for a Europe Direct office with the purpose of spreading information about EU programmes to individuals and organisations in the Stockholm region. You also have a plan to run a European Resource Center for Culture. Could you tell us more?
Intercult has already a mission since 2008 as European Resource Center for Culture, from the Swedish Ministry of Culture. We were chosen in 2009 to also implement and manage a Europe Direct office, this time for the EU. This is a challenge because we take on an information and communication function, not only for own projects but also for others who work internationally and with a European perspective. We advise and help form a number of Swedish initiated projects, for the moment we have a long-term partners’ agreement with 6 different initiatives spread throughout Sweden.
Being a Europe Direct office makes us responsible as a base for debates, workshops and educational encounters around European and cultural themes. We do much of this in the Annex – our studio, offices and café at our center in Stockholm. It brings good people flowing through our workspace.
7. What do you think are the main qualities which a cultural professional should have in order to be successful in running cross-border international projects?
This first is managing expectations, both your own, your Partners and your Hosts. There are many different visions of the same “project” often and they must be constantly negotiated and renewed.
The second is “panic management” – to be able to deal with the communication stress that multi-lateral projects inevitably create. Many people need many different kinds of information; this adaptability is a key to a smooth-running project.
Finally – it is important to transform informal agreements to concrete ones. When working with many people in many different places it can be difficult is to keep clear responsibilities and have methods for following things up. Often problems arise when there is an unclear delegation of tasks among the partners working on a project.
Above all – the personal engagement in the project and the project’s leadership are the roots to all good energy. If the project doesn’t inspire on a deep personal level, it will eventually become too complicated or too boring to manage.
Read the interview also on LabforCulture.