Kick-off conference

Esch/Alzette, 07/03/2019

Workshops: “European Capitals of Culture and cross-border urban cohesion”: Experiences from the ground”

Workshop, ‘European Identity and Sense of Belonging’
Workshop ‘Social Inclusion’
Workshop, ‘Urban Development’

Workshop, ‘European Identity and Sense of Belonging’

Participants in the workshop mentioned their involvement in many cross-border cultural projects. However, it was not always easy for them to directly associate these projects with the direct production of a European identity and a sense of belonging in their cross-border areas. There is a need to think about the indicators be taken into consideration in order to assess the impact of cultural projects on this identity.

The development of a European identity in a cross-border region comprises first choosing a pertinent territory (a territory already meaningful for local residents). Second, the scope is to investigate what the existing individual and collective cultural identities are in this area. Lastly, projects should be implemented that can help people to have a certain pride in this cross-border area based on its geography, its history and its imaginary. It is the sense of belonging to a cross-border and European area that is important. It can be difficult, or even impossible, to enhance the connection between people and space when territories are too large and made up artificially.

Current cross-border regions may have had a tense and conflictual history over the past century, with the two world wars. Cultural projects across state borders, such as theatre productions, can be conceived of as initiatives to view this difficult history from a different perspective. This can support a European identity that is not exclusive, but is a common one based on a shared awareness of the past.

The definition of a common European identity in cross-border regions can be complicated by the presence of linguistic borders and the unbalanced use of languages across a state border. This linguistic fragmentation must be taken into consideration when a cultural programme is defined. It can hinder people from crossing a border to attend performing arts. However, language is only one of the many reasons why people do not cross a border. The causes of cross-border immobility need to be understood, before imagining a cultural programme to support cross-border cultural mobility.

The existence of past cross-border and cosmopolitan regions (such as the Banat region between Hungary, Romania and Serbia) constitutes a scale at which some cultural activities can be contemplated to strengthen a European identity.

A European identity and a sense of belonging in a cross-border region are not exclusively perceived during declarative surveys. They are experienced through the existence of routines across the border, for example to attend cultural events. In parallel, a European identity does not necessarily mean a strong attachment to the EU institutions.

Cultural projects in cross-border regions can increase the visibility of cultural minorities that have been separated by state borders. This visibility can consequently support debates on the current vision of the European identity goal; that is, ‘United in Diversity’.

Cultural programmes at the cross-border scale, aimed at increasing a European sense of belonging, should target the segments of society that are the most Eurosceptic and the least interested in cultural activities, as well as minorities. This presupposes defining a programme able to attract these groups of the public and to work with these people from the start based on their cultural tastes. One should not forget the use of social media to communicate and display cultural events targeting a broad section of the public across state borders.

The European sense of belonging in a cross-border region can also be strengthen based on cultural projects when this cross-border area is characterized by the existence of related projects. For instance, Timisoara and Novi Sad, which are situated in the same regional environment, will be European Capitals of Culture in the same year (2021). This will help to increase cultural ties between the cities (direct bus connections, mobility grants for cultural workers, etc.).

The mass media can play a central role in promoting cross-border cultural programmes, facilitating the development of a European identity and a sense of belonging. However, they can also draw attention to things that go wrong, rather than the cultural projects themselves. Sometimes, the media located on the other side of the border can also be more interested in mediatizing cultural events in neighbouring countries. For instance, the Belgian mass media were faster than their French counterparts in promoting Lille as the European Capital of Culture in 2004. It is important to built-up close ties with the media right from the beginning, in order to promote cross-border cultural events and a European sense of belonging. The media can help to create a territorial, cross-border and European pride based on cultural events.

The presence of borders is considered as an opportunity to develop a European identity and a sense of belonging. It gives a European distinctiveness to a borderland area, compared with more inland regions. Extra-European people can consider Europeans living along state borders as rather privileged, in being able to experience Europe by moving so easily from one country to the next.


Workshop ‘Social Inclusion’

In order to structure the reflections within the framework of the CECCUT network, participants in the workshop were invited to re-examine the European presuppositions: What is Europe? Is it the one promoted by the European Union’s political and economic association, is it the one of the Council of Europe based on human rights, culture and democracy, or does it encompass its Mediterranean links and roots? What makes sense at the European level? To pursue the economic perspective, with the risk of fragmentation, or to change to a more social perspective? In addition, the EU motto ‘United in Diversity’ is an ambiguous construction, because it is not clear whether this is despite of or thanks to diversity. In the former case, diversity is portrayed as a difficulty, in the latter, as the condition for unification. This means that it is sovereign human beings who decide whether to come together to unite. In fact, we can only unite if we recognize ourselves as different (the principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Social inclusion is a regular concern for cultural actors through their programming or artistic projects, which they implement with the aim of bringing together the inhabitants of a neighbourhood, raising awareness among schoolchildren or involving vulnerable communities. However, few projects simultaneously have both social inclusion as a priority and a cross-border or European dimension. Participants highlighted the necessity to act over time to make this work, in order for committed people (young people, families, teachers, social workers, etc.) to be involved in projects.

The evaluation of cultural sites and their programming varies. First, this can be imposed upstream by the public authorities (EU, State, region or city) that finance and commission cultural sites to attract one or another segment of the public. Second it can be judged downstream whether or not the objectives have been respected. Lastly, it can relate to the self-evaluation carried out by cultural sites. Participants stated that evaluation as such is not a problem, as it helps people to organize cultural projects better. Nevertheless, its implementation often leads to difficulties and tensions. With regard to the first two forms of evaluation, the logic of the market and the principles of neoliberalism predominate, and structure the way in which cultural programming is approached, the methodological choices regarding the evaluation of cultural places and activities, and the statistics required to address these choices. Cultural actors note that this approach and the set of purely quantitative indicators (on the number, visiting frequency, origin of spectators, etc.) ultimately influence artistic projects, since a cultural project must achieve its objectives. Generally, the statistics employed measure very little of reality. The danger is therefore to construct a false reality through inappropriate indicators, and in an induced way, to provide inappropriate information to develop public policies. For the third type of evaluation, empirical evaluations exist, using standard statistical indicators (unemployment, social precariousness, etc.) that can be combined with qualitative studies (people's stories, sharing of emotions), but this remains a delicate exercise. In any case, an exercise to redefine the objectives seems necessary in order to allow for a feasible and realistic evaluation. In practice, this involves developing indicators that make sense and meet these objectives, and working in the field to understand people’s representations and practices. Collaboration with the academic community is a potential resource to support this process.

In the field of social inclusion, it is not easy to establish evaluation criteria and achieve objectives. To overcome these obstacles, one idea would be instead of producing a guide for good practices, to produce a guide for good questions in order to help cultural operators to prepare their project, to structure their reflection and their method, to present the practical difficulties or methodological problems encountered, and to build an information system as a foundation to organize all the activities.

Cultural venues rely on a multitude of partners (school, social world, sports world, etc.) to attract new audiences. However, that is not enough. People might not walk through the front door of a theatre, because they think it is not for them. It is necessary to make the cultural place a place of life, a place of meeting and appropriation (for example, opening a bar or a restaurant). Cultural actors are aware that this way of doing things works well enough to bring in all types of audiences, but how do we get them to come back? Part of the answer would be to work in proximity at the neighbourhood level.

Addressing the question of the public invites us to take into account on the one hand the Fribourg Declaration on Cultural Rights (2007) and Agenda 21 for Culture (2004), in order to consider how people implement (or do not) their cultural rights and freedoms, and on the other hand the work of Christian Ruby and Jacques Rancière concerning the spectator. According to these authors, the public does not effectively exist in itself, but only in the face of an artistic work. Thinking in terms of existing audiences could prevent us from identifying people’s cultural practices. This way of thinking is opposed to a marketing logic of culture. It is therefore necessary to adopt (alternative) language to recognize and better understand cultural practices.

The obstacles appear to be diverse and multiple. They concern financing (limited, complex to obtain at the European level, etc.), spectator mobility, communications (few common media outlets at a cross-border scale to disseminate information, problems with press conferences for several countries and several languages, etc.), or the ‘archipelization’ or fragmentation of society at the community, national, social and cultural levels. In addition, there is also a lack of common tools for cooperation; not with cultural actors, but with social partners or the media.

Despite the construction of a borderless Europe, borders remain prevalent in the minds of people who perceive them more as barriers. The border effectively creates a cultural distance between populations separated by such a boundary. The border is often ‘indicated’ by politicians. There is an injunction from the authorities to establish links with one actor rather than another, or to work with border neighbours rather than with actors in its territory (or vice versa).

In the future, perhaps less focus should be placed on institutions, and more on local actors, inhabitants, associations and neighbours (without institutionalizing them). Europe is a social construction and people are there to change it. The European Capitals of Culture initiative could be a way to change Europe (especially in terms of its relationship with people) and to reinvent the interest of the European institutions in culture.


Workshop, ‘Urban Development’

People attending the workshop mentioned culture as a key element for the development of their borderland cities. French representatives put forward in particular the building-up of ‘cultural poles’, developed in the framework of a partnership with central state and regional governments. The cross-border institution EGTC (European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation) was also presented as a public body encouraging transfrontier urban regeneration based on cultural projects (for example, the Alzette-Belval EGTC between France and Luxembourg, and the EGTC of Gorizia involved in the ECOC cross-border candidacy between Slovenia and Italy). It is perceived as important to contemplate a culture-based development that excludes no one. Such exclusions can easily be cultural (indifference towards some cultural groups) and/or social (indifference towards the less well-off social classes).

Some borderland cities are trying to use cultural activities to regenerate themselves and encourage a cross-border flow of the public, for instance the music cluster in the making in Differdange (Luxembourg) and the Italian film festival in Villerupt (France). This film festival, which has become a reference in France, has progressively developed a cross-border dimension due to the public coming from Luxembourg and the display of films in the Grand Duchy. The focus on a common past at the scale of a cross-border area can be the foundation for a cross-border urban development including a cultural dimension (for example, the common industrial past between France and Luxembourg for the European Capital of Culture, Esch2022).

EU funding such as Interreg can be useful to facilitate a cross-border urban development based on cultural initiatives. However, the European funding programmes are not easily manageable by artists and small associations involved in the cultural sector, as they do not have the required expertise, funding and time to manage this type of European project.

Cross-border urban development based on cultural projects supposes the existence of spatial diagnoses and auditing when these projects are achieved. However, data is not always comparable between one country and another. Consequently, it can be useful to have in-between coordinating agents working on the comparability of data to plan efficient cultural projects across state borders.

The mobility of the public across state borders is central to the success of a cross-border urban development based on cultural projects. This mobility can change over time due to the transformation of the demography in the cross-border area, and due to the evolution of cultural programmes determined by specific institutions. It is important to take into consideration the impact of cultural programmes developed in borderland cities on the cross-border ‘affluence’ of the public. This cross-border mobility can be made difficult due to linguistic barriers, mental borders and different expectations of cultural programmes, but also material barriers (such as the lack of infrastructure to cross a border). The presence of a border can be an economic asset to reach a public not located within the state. However, it can also be an obstacle to building up a cultural project with partners located in the neighbouring country, and depending on different financial resources and legislation.