1. What is your personal motivation for the position of Secretary General of Culture Action Europe?
There are several reasons for why I applied for this position. Something that is very important to me is the European Union’s attempt to build a shared identity and to establish a new type of democracy, which makes the coexistence of the local and the global possible. The implication is that this idea and the cultural values that stand behind this common hope are under attack today. To some extent, the cultural sector can influence this process through community-building in two ways. First, by spreading the understanding that sustainability is based on social inclusion, economic growth, environmental responsibility and culture. Second, by contributing to building a sustainable society and fostering social inclusion. I believe that the contribution to this process of those working in the arts and culture sector is essential as they are critical actors for any social change and human development. These are the types of goals that I have been dedicated to in my working life, and Culture Action Europe is one of the actors that convey this message by engaging political actors for European cultural unification. That is why I thought that this position was an opportunity for me and that I could contribute to these common challenges.
2. Considering your vast experience in youth policies, human rights and public administration, what do you bring with you from this sector to the field you are currently involved in?
What I bring with me is mostly a different perspective and a broad approach that might be helpful for achieving our goals in Culture Action Europe and especially for influencing different sectors to break down certain barriers. As a tendency, the cultural sector represents itself as a necessary sector without explaining why. In addition, it is a sector based on strong individuality. It is therefore important to raise awareness about the fact that we have to find ways to expand, create and share culture, instead of protecting it. We have to find common points between different arts and culture organisations and similar values with other sectors including media, digital communication, education, youth and human rights. As I have been actively involved in these sectors before, I can contribute to a broader openness of the cultural sector. This includes ascribing a central role to culture in public policies, which is essential for sustainable development and for representing the voice of society through the cultural sector. Try to think about the green movement and its actions to encourage politicians, companies and communities to find new ways of development where the needs of people and nature meet. In this way, the movement has managed to raise environmental awareness by representing the voice and rights of nature. I believe that we should do similar things with culture.
3. How do you balance the interests between small NGOs and big cultural institutions?
I think that if we manage to make clear and broaden the awareness of the role that culture can play in the social change we need and that investing in culture, heritage and the arts is crucial to help get Europe back on its feet, we can find a common ground for big and small organisations to work together. Building the future together we can also find a balance between innovation and preservation, between North and South. We have to stop to only defend our own piece of the pie and work together to make culture a matter of general interest. We need to increase the capacity of civil society and to stress the importance of involving citizens in this process in order to gain more influence at a local, regional and national level. That is why it is important to support and provide capacity building activities on the ground that will benefit the development of both big and small organisations.
4. Why should the Member Centres of Trans Europe Halles get engaged with Culture Action Europe?
To a certain extent, the answer to this question is related to what I said before. What we can do at Culture Action Europe is to help TEH Members to increase their influence, to strengthen their case on the local level and to connect them with other organisations internationally. In the end, what we aim for and wish to foster is the development of a broad transnational movement that advocates for a broader role of culture in our societies. Capacity building is one of the instruments that can be used to stimulate the development of such a movement.
5. What future challenges do you identify for both Culture Action Europe as an organisation and the European cultural sector?
Let’s distinguish two different types of challenges. One long-term and extremely broad challenge is the current financial crisis. In the short term, the new EU Culture Programme (2014 – 2020) challenges the playground of the cultural sector and will imply a process of adaptation. But I think that the opportunities that this programme brings are extremely interesting, mostly because of the fact that it establishes a common framework for culture to regain relevance. The programme might also help the non-commercially oriented sector to foster a dialogue with the more commercially oriented sector (on the condition of some changes in the legal basis that we are currently promoting). Another challenge is to understand that stronger entrepreneurship does not necessarily mean a business-oriented model. The way we work will change substantially, but the changes could be beneficial for the broader cultural sector also depending on how the cultural operators will react to the changes. However, whether the new programme will be positive or not will also depend on the implementation of the new regulations. How and to what extent the needs of cultural activity as expressed by Culture Action Europe as well as by other organisations will be taken into account in the design of the new programme guide will determine the final result. That is why we all need to work to influence the European Commission in the process of implementing the programme. Another challenge for the European sector is to find a way to reconnect with the grassroots. The problem is that the voices heard at European level are mainly the voices of organisations and not those coming from the ground. It is therefore of high importance to build this connection by asking citizens for more political engagement. We should not forget that the EU is a citizens project, after all.
Interview by Plamena Slavcheva (TEH Coordination Office)