Creative Europe Forum 2018, a traditional event of the Creative Europe Desk Serbia took place last week at several locations in Belgrade, Serbia.  Organised in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Belgrade, the Delegation of the EU in Serbia, EUNIC Global, the State Institute for Culture of Bulgaria on the occasion of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it was an important step on the road of cooperation at all levels-organisational, sectoral, local, national and European one. With participation of a great number of domestic and foreign experts, the Forum offered a framework for a dialogue about the past and the joint planning for a better and more responsible European future.

The Opening of the Forum

We heard very strong short speeches during the opening ceremony.  Without precise quotations, here are some of the messages which speakers shared with the audience:

  • It is important to work on projects that result from policies and vice-versa: to shape policies that listen to cultural practices.
  • There is a consensus to go further-to share our values for the sake of the future and culture is the best instrument to be sure that we are working in one direction.
  • The results of cooperation in and with WB should be visible to the people.
  • This forum is the best example of what we want to realize in Europe” putting together people from different origins and sectors. This is an occasion to share and learn together.

The Current Framework

The recent strategy for A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans” from February 2018 shows that there is a strong EU commitment to the European future of the region and the Western Balkans are not just an “EU neighbor”, but are part of the European space. The strategy confirmed that cultural heritage, culture and creative industries and the education should be given a higher priority, especially in terms of fostering greater tolerance, promoting European values and strengthening the cohesion of society. The EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia (17 May 2018) was an important step forward for the stability, connectivity and improving the infrastructure in the region, as well as the opening of the common digital market.

In the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) the emphasis is on the importance of heritage as a bridge between the past and the future and the reinforcement of the sense of belonging to a European common space.

The new European Agenda for Culture announced in May 2018 has three important objectives:

  • Harnessing the power of culture for social cohesion and well being
  • Supporting culture-based creativity in education and innovation, and for jobs and growth, especially related to creativity in education, culture in cities and regions, supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, and sustainable cultural tourism.
  • Strengthening international cultural cooperation in support of culture as an engine for sustainable social and economic development, and reinforcing cooperation in cultural heritage area.

Few Highlights from the Panels

The diverse panels covered many issues related to the new perspectives in the EU-Western Balkans cultural relations from the viewpoint of policy, cultural practices and research field. In the framework of the recent strategies for WB region, the 2018 EYCH and the new European Agenda for culture, here are a few highlights from the valuable contributions of panelists and speakers during the forum:

  • EU enlargement is about embracing new cultures. Therefore, cultural cooperation plays a crucial role in this process. WB cultural operators need to be prepared much in advance with skills and competences it takes to one day be able to manage the funds that are resulting from the EU accession process.
  • Cultural professionals have huge responsibilities in areas such as: fighting stereotypes about the region, involving migrants in the diverse programming, disseminating values of cultural diversity and intercultural understanding among communities and audiences
  • Partnership in cultural cooperation is very important and trust in the whole process is the core. It is important to listen to each other and to create spaces for learning.
  • Co-productions, co-creation and co-thinking are the ways forward.
  • It is important to consider the connections between the tangible, intangible, natural and digital heritage, and finding out the definition of the “common heritage” on the WB where there are so many differences between the countries. Museums need to be open spaces, near to people, using digital technologies.
  • Cultural policy should also be a policy for education. Fostering critical thinking in the educational system is very much needed, as we train people in skills much more than in analytical, reflective and critical thinking.
  • We should be careful for applying public-private partnership schemes as cultural heritage should not be commercialized and given into private hands.
  • Investing in local organisations and using local experts is a must. This is not easy, but is certainly a sustainable approach.

There was a clear indication during the forum that the new Creative Europe programme 2021-2027 will be more open to cultural organisations and professionals from WB region, who could also be leaders in the applying projects, and not only partners. The EC proposed on 30 May 2018 to increase the budget for the programme supporting European cultural and creative sectors (including the audiovisual industry) – Creative Europe – to €1.85 billion for the 2021-2027 period, as part of its proposal for a modern EU budget.  Its main objectives are to promote, strengthen and protect European cultural and linguistic diversity, cultural heritage and creativity, as well as to reinforce the competitiveness of the European cultural and creative sectors. 

Crossover Innovations and the “Window of Opportunity”

My contribution focused on the crossover innovations and the opened “window of opportunity in the cultural cooperation with the Western Balkans which we all working in arts and culture need to use proactively in the next years to come. It is important for cultural operators to consider how the set objectives in all recent documents related to EU-WB relations could be translated in real cooperation projects. In this context, the crossover innovations between arts and other sectors such as urban development, infrastructure, education, ITC, tourism, environment etc. are important vector for further development. They help for seeking and exploiting new opportunities, for empowering new knowledge areas, for shaping new products, services, new value chain connections. They become an inspiration for development of social enterprises and  could contribute for serving visitors & local communities better.

In the presentation, I emphasized on what we could do to strengthen cultural cooperation at organisational level and at policy level.

The cooperation on organisational level requires that cultural professionals look at the following important angles:

  • Creating mixed programming (e.g. inside-outside cultural buildings, traditional-contemporary, online-offline);
  • Seeking the hidden local resources;
  • Creating social enterprises that are in the crossing between social and business aims;
  • Developing specialised organisations & networks: incubators, accelerators, associations, artists-run centres, hubs, laboratories;
  • Strengthening the professionalism in the cultural sector through capacity building programmes.

In the education and research area we do need enhancement of critical thinking and innovation, the use of digital tools in the cultural practice, development of leadership competences together with advancing of the entrepreneurial skills, training the new generation in strategic thinking and thinking “outside of the box”, and something very important-implementing in the program curricula topical areas in the field of professional ethics and tolerance, multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue.

Policy-level actions for enhancing cultural cooperation within and with the WB region need to look at elaboration of sectoral, as well as cross-sectoral policies, carefully developed public-private partnership and innovative forms of governance that do not compromise the quality of culture and arts, opening of the common digital market and the issues relate to digital copyrights.

The Closing Panel

The panelists confirmed that we do need to bring WB on the agenda of the European Union and we all play a role in this process. WB is a European space and not just an external dimension to the EU. Culture is a mirror of humanity, one of the ways to address tensions in the region.  EU needs WB region as it is full of ideas and talents. It is important to keep the optimism for the region and take it further to complete the established goals.

We were left with strong keywords resulting from the Forum: “sharing”, “networking”, “visibility”, “reinventing”, and “capacity of people”.

There is a lot to do, but the “momentum” is NOW, and the “window of opportunity” is opened by having EU political consent for considering WB as a priority.  We do need to continue conversations and exchange at all levels to find out how to use this opportunity for the sake not only of the development of arts, culture and creative industries in the WB region, but also – for the communities, audiences, global online users, and the future generations to come.

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