By Fitzcarraldo Foundation
ENCATC also gives special thanks to Francesca Vittori and Silvia Vezzoli from the Fitzcarraldo Foundation for the production of the 23rd Annual Conference report.
23rd ENCATC Annual Conference: The Ecology of Culture: Community Engagement, Co-creation and Cross Fertilization
For three days in beautiful Lecce, Italy ENCATC was joined by 185 participants from 30 countries for its 23rd Annual Conference “The Ecology of Culture: Community Engagement, Co-creation, Cross Fertilization”. Among the participants were leading academics and researchers, influential experts, experienced educators and trainers, cultural managers, policy makers, artists, and students.
Why did so many people travel from across the globe to participate in our conference? The strong participation numbers this year attest to the relevance of our theme “The Ecology of Culture”. Seeing culture as an ecology, rather than only as an economy, is helpful to stimulate discussion on the multiple values culture creates, rather than focusing only on financial or social ones. To bring us new perspectives and stimulate reflection on the topic, we were honoured to have with us in Lecce our keynote speaker, John Holden, an Associate at the think tank Demos, where he was Head of Culture for 8 years. He is also a visiting Professor at City University, London, and an Honorary Professor at the University of Hong Kong. In early 2015, John Holden published a report, The Ecology of Culture.During his research he found that culture is an organism not a mechanism, and that careers, ideas, money, product and content move around between the funded, commercial, and homemade/amateur parts of the overall cultural world in such a way that those funding categories cannot be disentangled.
Holden’s research and expertise on the ecology of culture concept helped us to see our position in relation to culture. “As with the natural ecosystem, the cultural ecosystem is not separate from us, or related to us, but rather we are embedded in it – it makes us, at the same time as we make it. Culture is always work-in-progress, and always a social process. In addition to that, an ecology is non-hierarchical: all the parts are required to make the whole, and in that sense, all the parts are equal. Treating culture as an ecology brings the qualitative into consideration as much as the quantitative, and treating culture as an ecology is also congruent with cultural value approaches that take into account a wide range of non-monetary values. By applying ecological metaphors such as emergence, interdependence, networks, and convergence to culture, we can gain new understandings about how culture works, and these understandings in turn help with policy formulation and implementation,” said professor Holden.
The list of ecological metaphors above can be expanded to include growth, evolution, systemic fragility, life cycles, and webs. These can be applied to the world of culture, and they illuminate the way that culture functions.
The cultural ecosystem metaphor was also used to shed light on new forms of cultural production, cocreation, cross-fertilization and community participation in a local context which were sub themes of our conference. Local communities are crucial places where cultural activity is rooted and exposed to different conditions for growth or death. Co-creation in terms of value creation, convergent art, co-production, cooperative learning, and collective funding is from this perspective very relevant and closely linked to different ways of community participation. Cross-fertilization implies establishing links between culture and economy, culture and society, local and global and technology as well, telling us how these links transform behaviour, fertilize knowledge, allow for creativity, etc. The use of an ecological approach by researchers and policy makers is a way of assessing multidimensional relations of different cultural actors and other sectors.
The notion of ecology and the biological analogies set up a set of questions for us to ask in Lecce such as: what conditions bring a form of culture into being? How is that form of culture then sustained? What threatens its existence? How can it be nurtured to grow to its full potential? These questions, and others like them help artists, administrators and policymakers to better understand both the state of their own specific cultural ecology (for example in a town or region, or across an art form) and what actions they could take to maximise the health of the ecosystem. It also emphasises their limited role – no-one can control an ecology, although they can affect it in benign or destructive ways.
How did we further breakdown new ways of understanding the ecology of culture? One was to think about culture in terms of a creative cycle: new cultural events and forms feeding on the past, making something new, becoming established, and then being re-worked in their turn. A second was about tracing the webs and networks of connection at a local or an art form level – this helps show how robust and productive the cultural ecology is.
In all of its complexities, how can one find his or her place in the ecology of culture? Holden’s work brought him to distinguish four essential roles that have to be undertaken within any cultural ecology. These roles are: Guardians, who look after the culture of the past; Platforms, that provide the places and spaces for the culture of the present; Connectors, who make things happen and bring together other parts of the system; and Nomads – all of us who, as artists or audiences, interact with the other three roles. In each case, these roles can be carried out by funded, commercial or unpaid amateur people or organisations. For instance Disney, the V&A, and volunteer heritage groups act as Guardians; and Connectors range from Local Authority arts officers to commercial film producers. Some organisations carry out multiple roles, but most only one.
Ecologies are dynamic, productive and complex. They have the potential to lead to new taxonomies, connections, visualizations, and a clearer picture of the proper characteristics of a particular cultural field. For these reasons and more, “The Ecology of Culture” made for a rich debate during our time together in Lecce.
Click here to access the full report of the 23rd ENCATC Annual Conference.
Fondazione Fitzcarraldo is an independent centre for planning, research, training and documentation on cultural, arts and media management, economics and policies, at the service of those who create, practise, take part in, produce, promote and support the arts and culture. The Foundation aims to contribute to the development, diffusion and promotion of innovation and experimentation in the aforesaid fields of activity, also through the systematic search for collaboration agreements and synergies with local, regional, national and international authorities and bodies. www.fitzcarraldo.it
Header image: Building a positive meritocracy: It’s harder than it sounds by Libby Levi for opensource.com// CC BY-NC-SA 2.0