– Mr. Williams, what was the background of the Culture and Creativity Programme? What preceded it? And what are the motivating factors influencing its activity today?
– This programme is certainly one of several important EU initiatives. Its emergence dates back to the period of cultural sector development when Tony Blair headed the British government, and the Cool Britannia movement arose as a way to increase tourism investment via culture. Culture and European values are kindred subjects. Perhaps, some people consider only architecture, painting, theatre, cinema, etc. to be “traditional” culture segments. However, the 20th and especially 21st century demonstrate that culture covers a number of diverse fields. We live in the information society where design and content are highly demanded. Hence, contemporary culture also includes design, radio, TV, and IT development. To some extent, even social media reflect certain social and cultural processes. The cultural sector provides the EU with over 8 million jobs today. This is a very significant number. And so we develop our programme based on culture priorities, possible dialogue between different cultures, and culture’s penetration into the social sphere (including creation of new jobs).
– Six different countries are covered by the programme. Each of them has its original authentic national culture. It is surely significant that these countries have a common post-Soviet past. Yet, it’s more important that these countries – Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, etc. – have preserved their original cultural face. Isn’t there a risk of unintentional unification of cultures and extinction of their national features under a common strategic programme?
– There is a popular word, glocal, in English. It means a combination of local and global. So, “local” does not mean alienated from the big world and detached from global or European values. For instance, let’s take IT as one of sociocultural fields. Skype was created in Estonia. Who would have thought then that Estonia, a wonderful country, would be the one to offer such a global communication means to the world? This is exactly an example of how local turns into general, while preserving its initial base, i.e. the place of origin. And there are many examples like this. One of the Culture and Creativity Programme objectives is to help Ukraine enter the European space, reveal the originality of its national culture to Europe, and build a system of effective exchange of cultural initiatives. At that, the programme also provides for tools to make these processes real. These include masterclasses, online courses, training tours, partner fairs, intensive trainings, and many other forms of cooperation. The Culture and Creativity Programme does not give any direct grants. The programme’s task is to provide knowledge and tools of participation in international cooperation projects, including Creative Europe. As is generally known, Creative Europe is the most influential European fund that finances cultural initiatives. And, Ukraine, represented by its Ministry of Culture, will soon sign an agreement with this institution. But in order to participate and to be competitive, it’s not enough to sign a document and submit an application. If you want to achieve a desired result, you must carry out preparatory work and acquire professional skills, for it’s not that easy to compete with a large number of Creative Europe partner countries (by the way, 28 EU countries have joined the Fund).
– Will 4 million euro (the programme 3-year budget) be equally split between the six post-Soviet countries covered by the programme? Or, might any one of them be given priority?
– Each of these countries has its cultural development particularities. The countries also have similar problems, especially in the field of creative cultural initiatives. And, certainly, some of their problems in culture greatly differ. However, quite naturally, there is and should be no equalization. The countries are different, and so “prices” are different, too. And the scope of work is very different. We shall have certain elements of joint projects and allow for various national factors. But, basically, like I’ve said, we don’t mean to invest in grants. The funds are first of all intended to support and develop the country’s own opportunities and professional skills, and to create conditions for development of cultural initiatives from there. For this, we distinguish 13 subsectors in the culture field. After studying the situation we decide which of these subsectors we should focus on more. It’s not like there is, say, an interesting museum that we by all means need to support… Well, a support is indeed needed. But the whole point of our programme is that we intend to maintain such conditions for culture development, say, in Ukraine, so as to eliminate the possibility of the stagnation of an outstanding museum in the country. First of all, it is necessary to understand which issues are of a high priority for Ukrainian culture, how the Ministry of Culture will build its strategies, and where the EU programme can serve both the Ministry and the nongovernmental sector in culture. Therefore, speaking of the programme mechanisms, it’s important to practically investigate the Ukrainian cultural field. Hence, it will be possible to provide policy-makers, journalists and sponsors with specific working tools. For instance, we go to a library and determine which books people read, which ones they would like to read, and what level of IT is used there. This is practical investigation of the real situation in culture and an intent to promote the field.
– You’ve mentioned that interaction with the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture is possible. On the other hand, whom is it currently better to work with on such programmes: with a government entity or independent culture bearers?
– If we take the European Union, there is a clear awareness that not just the core government entity is responsible for cultural processes. And it would be strange if they thought otherwise. The ministry of culture, ministries of labour and finance must all work for a single result, in cultural field activities as well. I’ve already said the cultural field is exactly the one to partially solve unemployment issues. In the EU, over 8 million jobs have been created in culture and creative industries only. Why do artists in Germany currently live even better than artists in France or the UK? Because the German tax system and Ministry of Finance give preferences to companies that use monumental art works in construction: their tax are lowered by 5%.
– If the expert community is to diagnose our culture (in order to cure somebody or something), how will we know such expert community is always competent and fair?
– Our objective is to attract different stakeholders to such dialogue, including both government and independent entities. As a matter of fact, different cultural sectors have their well-shaped expert communities consisting of people who actively and productively work. Therefore, we shall gather mixed expert groups involving EU representatives as well. Say, if we arrange a certain training course, and Ukraine lacks a relevant specialist, such specialist will be invited from the EU. The task is to attract such experts to Ukraine, organize their activity, and ensure that this work is efficient. Certainly, we shall involve local experts as much as possible. We shall jointly identify problem subjects, determine trends, and develop initiatives. I’m sure now is a crucial moment for Ukraine in terms of self-identification and acknowledgement of culture’s priority. This is very important, in fact. Some three years ago nobody in this country really cared about these issues. Therefore, first and foremost, it’s necessary to build a strategy, to maintain a vector of cultural movement and awareness of general values. The second critical point is training, identification of problem subjects, and development within problem areas. Another essential aspect of the programme is communications: informational activities, consultations, trainings. We see how Georgia actively cooperates with the EU in cultural issues. They invite our experts and maintain strategic projects. They have arranged as many as 150 meetings (on cultural themes specifically) around the country, whereon the Georgian Minister of Culture heard opinions and examined cultural attitudes. Later on the assistance of EU experts proved useful to Georgia. Ukraine currently has an excellent chance to develop its national culture and be interesting both for the EU and the entire world. Culture is what can bring more tourist opportunities and ensure more access to innovative technologies. Cultures and ideas of different countries are not limited by borders. And, speaking of authenticity, the winner is the one whose local creative idea is better executed, better presented and is most welcomed by different countries. Political aspects are minimized. Moreover, economy and various political phenomena closely relate to cultural values and processes as well, because culture overcomes crisis.