6th ENCATC Academy on Culture in External Relations – The question of culture in Europe’s refugee crisis
On the 27-28 March 2017, 33 participants gathered for ENCATC’s 6th Academy on Culture in External Relations. The two-day intensive learning programme focused on “the question of culture in Europe’s refugee crisis”. Participants were a diverse group, representing the European Commission, European Parliament, European Committee of Regions, universities, consultancies, foundations, national institutes for culture, cultural networks, and cultural organisations.
The Academy was opened by ENCATC Secretary General, GiannaLia Cogliandro Beyens, who welcomed the participants coming from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. To set a common stage and context for all participants, the Academy programme kicked off with a presentation by Professor Gerald Lidstone from Goldsmiths, University of London. It was important to review how Member States remain divided on how to address the refugee crisis. The context is rapidly evolving. This has led to policy makers and public authorities being overwhelmed, preventing strong leadership from emerging. Furthermore, there is no common strategy. Governments have been unable to cope, provide the necessary human resources or allocate needed financial means. Frustrations from local populations have led to the fray of social ties, rise in national sentiments and right-wing politics.
Next, Andrew Murray, Director of EUNIC Global, presented culture in external relations at the EU level. He talked about the policy shift and strategy the European Union has for using culture in external relations and the need for a better coordination of efforts towards a strategic European approach. He explained the aim is not to “Europeanise” culture, but to bring it in all its diversity to a global level.
Having the context, what can the arts and cultural sector do? What is their role of play? How and where can the biggest impacts be made? To answer these questions and stimulate discussion, cultural professionals leading projects that directly involve refugees shared their experiences, challenges, and successes.
John Martin is the Artistic Director of Pan Intercultural Arts in the United Kingdom. Under his leadership, Pan has seen success in its arts programmes for social change, taking an active role to help refugees improve their lives and find their places in their new homes and communities. Using artistic expression and creativity, Pan is helping refugees and trauma survivors to reconnect with their imagination, building trust and self-confidence. For John Martin, the programme demonstrates success when participants move on from Pan. They become “too busy” with their education, training, job, new friends that they no longer need the framework and safety that Pan provided. Success can also be more subtle too. This can be witnessed through more eye contact, improved posture, and better communication skills. Thanks to artistic expression and movement, skills that were “lost” or “beaten down” from having gone through traumatic experiences are able to slowly resurface and strengthen. While Pan has had great success with individuals and their families in the programme, it has proved more difficult to reach out to communities that are adverse or hostile to welcoming refugees. Also, their work demands so much to be in the field that Pan’s trainers, mentors and artists do not have the time or experience to engage and influence policy makers. This can be a frustration that the successes of arts for social change do not make the vertical climb where there is great potential to influence policy.
To learn about an initiative in Brussels, ENCATC invited Sophie Querton, one of the co-founders of Refugees Got Talent (RGT). RGT is supporting refugees who were artists in their countries. Now living in Belgium, with the help of RGT, they are rebuilding their artistic networks. The artists are musicians, painters, sculptors, calligraphers, and photographers and are coming from Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, and Syria. To support their artistic talent and creativity, RGT provides them free studio space and hosts weekly and one-on-one meetings. It organises concerts, exhibitions, conferences, and workshops. It also sets collaboration projects with other cultural organisations. Sophie Querton shared how she has seen first-hand the positive impact this network has made. Artists are able to help themselves settle into their new communities, reclaim artistic expression, and forge new connections. Being only one year old, RGT has also faced challenges. The process has been slow to build up and it was not as easy as initially thought to match RGT artists with local creatives. Also, as Sophie Querton was precise to underline, these artists have been through traumatic experiences. It is important to find a balance between following a structure for artistic programming and being flexible for the unpredictable. Many artists are dealing with loss of family, stressful administrative procedures, and uncertainty for their future.
These presentations made it clear, the point is not to victimise refugees, but provide support so they are empowered to build their future. This was stressed further in the presentation by Marina Clauzet from the University of Barcelona. She has working on the project Sisterworks which is empowering female refugees to gain new skills, confidence and mobility through arts and crafts.
To present the actions taken by the European Commission to address the refugee crisis and new funding opportunities, participants heard a presentation from Silvana Verdiani, EU Cultural Cooperation Projects Officer at the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency of the European Commission, Coordination Refugee Integration Strand. After the initial emergency phase, the EU and EU countries must ensure the social, cultural, political and economic integration of the new arrivals. Through the Creative Europe programme, the EU is able to fund activities that recognise and celebrate the contribution refugees and migrants make to cultural diversity in Europe. In April 2016, the European Commission launched a new call for projects and for the first time it required partnerships from culture and media to work together. The 12 selected projects selected for €2.35 million funding under Creative Europe cover a range of sectors: creative writing, publishing, libraries and museums, dance, music, theatre, digital arts, film, video, graphic arts, painting, drawing, and photography. Many of the projects are focused on telling the stories of refugees. Another common thread between them is encouraging the sharing of experiences between refugees and host communities. The Commission will be closely monitoring the outcomes of these projects for the design of future calls and budgets.
To conclude the Academy’s programme, Gerald Lidstone presented on the topic of evaluation which can be a challenge for many projects. The discussions in this session brought up alternative ways to measure impact. To overcome language barriers evaluation surveys can use visual cues to express mood and changes in attitudes. Or artistic expression can be employed such as using clay for participants to sculpt representations of themselves at the start of the programme and at the end, then comparing the two.
Finally, the Academy’s learning environment proved extremely useful to the participants for sharing their challenges: How can best practice be transferred to other contexts? For example, the work Pan is doing can be inspiring for other cultural organisations, but it is naive to think its model can simply be copied and pasted to other countries and cultural contexts. Refugees Got Talent has also had invitations to set up similar initiatives in France and Norway, but at this stage of the project it is not feasible to expand the project. Or how can transnational cultural projects cooperate effectively when each country treats refugees differently? In the case of the projects funded by Creative Europe, this will be a challenge as well as dealing with different Member State’s travel restrictions for refugees, legal status, working permissions , and more. And what is needed for professionals leading and carrying out these projects? There was general consensus that more training for professionals is needed. The Academy was highly appreciated for its learning environment and participants said more training offers for the sector would be welcome.
Extracted from ENCATC News Issue nr. 105, available at: https://www.encatc.org/media/2404-encatc_digest_105.compressed.pdf