Ján Figel’: "Arts, culture, festivals and the European Festivals Association"

7 October 2009

The world economic and financial system is going through tough times at the moment, but it is definitely not all doom and gloom. I believe that we are currently witnessing a "cultural" revolution, a paradigm shift, with the emergence – in Europe and in other parts of the world – of the realisation that our society’s main resource is its capacity to imagine, to create and to innovate. Such a creative, innovative society links knowledge and creativity, and these links will provide the software and hardware to give a sustainable long-term boost Europe's competitive potential. The Commission has been highlighting these links throughout the European Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009. This Year aims to promote creative and innovative approaches in the various sectors in which people are active, both in the economic sphere, and in the private sphere. Consequently, it is about helping the European Union, its national and local authorities and citizens, to face the challenges of an increasingly competitive, globalised world. Furthermore, since mid-2008, the European Commission, the Member States and organisations from civil society, such as the European Festivals' Association have been implementing the so-called European Agenda for Culture. This Agenda was adopted and endorsed by the Member States in 2007, and is the first-ever EU-level strategy for culture. It has three main aims: to promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, to foster culture as a catalyst for creativity to create more growth and jobs in the longer term, and to use ‘culture’ as a vital element in the EU’s international relations. Today, I am very proud that since the adoption of this ambitious strategy, huge progress has been made: policy makers at all levels of governance are more and more convinced that culture plays an important role in the European integration process. Indeed, the European Union Heads of State and Government have recognised the enormous potential of the cultural industries to boost creativity and innovation in Europe. The role of cultural cooperation and intercultural dialogue in addressing political challenges and in promoting people-to-people contacts with the rest of the world is also moving into centre stage. Such a high-level recognition of the role and importance of culture for the European project is a first! The culture sector itself is involved in a number of ways, particularly in its contributions to the work of three ‘platforms’: one on ‘intercultural dialogue’, one on ‘access to culture’ and the last on ‘cultural industries’. The discussions in and debates at these platforms have helped identify and suggest ways to prepare for the challenges facing us all, and I am convinced that they will enable policy makers throughout Europe to tailor future policies accordingly. Festivals are an established feature of European cultural life and, increasingly, they offer opportunities for artists to perform outside their national borders offering European audiences the opportunities to experience the full range of Europe’s cultural potential. Cultural festivals offer people the chance to meet to take stock of what is going on in art, to discuss developments, and exchange ideas and best practices. During festivals we are also able to benefit from hearing grass-roots level views on what’s going on in the world around us by artists themselves. Festivals can be supported through the EU’s Culture Programme. In addition to the usual cooperation projects in which festivals can participate, and which are supported by the Culture Programme, European festivals can also benefit from a dedicated action by which festivals can get an operating grant. This potential of artists and festivals to help us get "out of the box" is also the guiding line of the FestLab for Creativity and Innovation, recently launched by EFA. The artists’ vision of society and their comments on developments are food for thought for policy-makers and stakeholders alike, and they feed dialogue too. Cultural festivals evolve around artists, their art and their vision. That is why the voice of Festivals is without parallel; they are the resonance chamber – even the amplifier – of what is going on in our societies. They are also a melting pot, where audiences – even those who otherwise would not go to the theatre, concert hall or cinema – can get a glimpse (and more) of the world's fabulous cultural diversity, thereby opening new horizons. That is why I am pleased at the opportunity once again to highlight the remarkable contribution of EFA and – through EFA – of all its member associations, in the reflexion and implementation process of our European Agenda for culture, in particular the role of EFA as an active leader of the platform on access to culture. I also know that I can count on them for the further implementation of our Agenda in the years to come. Its success is our collective endeavour and will be our common success. By Ján Figel’, European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth A translation of the article appeared in “Opera Actual” (June 2009) in Spanish language (“Festivales europeos: Europa canta opera”). For more information visit: