Kathrin Deventer's article for the IO gazette

18 April 2017

Eye-to-Eye: Breathing Europe’s community

This text has been published in a short version in the IO Gazette (in french)

Europe is many things at the same time. We would almost forget it, but Europe is a continent in the first place. A space in the world where many people live side by side.

It is a space of immense cultural diversity. This makes it so rich. And also challenging. Above all, Europe is a peace project. Politically, Europe is a collection of countries, many of them organized under the blue flag of the European Union. In first and last instance, the European Union is about organizing a group of people living together; by preference engaged people that in the European project we call citizens.

Citizenship is not a simple issue. It requires a sense of responsibility, social engagement and political insight. The level how European citizenship can be brought to life has all to do with how the ones politically responsible give shape to it. We are at a significant moment in European affairs, when we have to ask ourselves: are we exclusively regulated by rules or also by our evolutionary imagination?

I believe the latter. And I demand it: citizenship is also a reflection of our own imagination, our readiness and sense of responsibility to act for and in a shared common space. In this light, I believe that culture contributes significantly to European citizenship, and to a European community because of a simple fact: arts and cultural activities work “Eye-to-Eye”, or face-to-face, face to face with the other, with yourself. A meaningful community happens in real, next door, in our environments; permanently, within a process of time. Festivals are fantastic platforms for people coming together for the arts. You can nowhere else feel the social dimension of the arts better than in the seat of a festival. The value of the arts as a tool to bring people in touch with each other is not to be underestimated on the way towards a peaceful and just society. This ambition asks our restless efforts.

Even though there are institutions, politicians, and structures that seem to govern the world in more and more dividing directions, I believe at the same time more and more in the power of the communities and every single one of us bypassing the structural and political constraints. Community building needs a new approach.  

I can see this within the festivals community brought together by the European Festivals Association (EFA) for 65 years now. EFA is the oldest community for and festival makers! It was established to bridge the distance between organizations, to create connections & enhance contacts to serve the enrichment of each festival’s artistic offer & its organizational opportunities.

Today we are living in a time when money gets rare, when expenses need to be defended and time is counted in seconds. ‘Crisis’ is the word of the day. Technological and global developments, including the concept of mobility, require a new, efficient and more rewarding organization of the festivals’ ways of working and our own work for festivals.

In our new approach, EFA serves as a permanent international representation or ‘embassy’ in Brussels empowering the local dimension of festivals within a global development. EFA is also a club giving more attention to the personal participation of people involved in festival making. Festivals are sensitive organizational formats that depend on the particular involvement of staff members within the implementation of a work plan. One-on-one or eye-to-eye meeting formats are developed to learn from each other. EFA is also a consultant in an ever growing community of festival professionals, which includes 69 major arts festivals in 37 countries, 15 national festivals associations, 1000+ festivals with the EFFE Label, 450+ alumni of The Festival Academy from 44 countries. EFA nurtures and reflects its community for the breathing of mutual respect. The EFA Team is there to connect festival organisers with one another, people with the same interest and concerns for art, for artists and for audiences. I ambition with EFA a sense of collaboration and interaction above all between the people; the ones that make our festivals vibrant everywhere; that shape festival life with their questions, ideas, proposals, and insight into the arts and the world.

At the same time, we have to re-inforce the invitation towards politics to give shape to the European peace project and discuss one of the most important and maybe painful points of the EU: how do citizens relate to each other? Who is a citizen? Who can become a citizen? What can the role be of cultural networks, or cross-border communities of engaged and responsible citizens be towards the EU keeping in mind that governments do not even execute commonly taken decisions on the acceptance of refugee-quota….?

We need to experience and live replies; not get stuck in the question or its analysis. That is what the arts can do, eye-to-eye, face to face. Policies will follow.

Kathrin Deventer - EFA's Secretary General