Seminar pleas for recognition of festivals as artistic, economic and social driving force

7 December 2009

On 2 December 2009 in Brussels, a seminar on “European Festivals: Driving Success Through Culture” was organised in collaboration with the Scotland House and the Edinburgh International Festival in the framework of the ‘Scotland Week’. Chaired by Joanna Baker, Managing Director of Edinburgh International Festival and Chair Festivals Edinburgh, the panel agreed on the key role for festivals and culture to act as a driver in artistic, social and economic terms. In her opening speech Fiona Hyslop, new Scottish Minister for Culture and External Affairs, stressed that “culture is not an optional extra but a key driver” in many respects. This view was shared by the panellists: Wendy Wilkinson (Deputy Director, Culture, Scottish Government), Faith Liddell (Director, Festivals Edinburgh), Lynne Halfpenny (Head of Culture & Sport, City of Edinburgh Council), Vladimir Sucha (Director of Culture and Communications, European Commission) and Kathrin Deventer (Secretary General, European Festivals Association). The Penal Session explored: How can culture drive success? Vladimir Sucha stressed the added value of festivals as they are democratic spaces that provide access to culture to millions of people who profit from the arts and culture offered by festivals. Next to their artistic excellence he underlined the important role festivals play in terms of education, social inclusion and raising awareness. Regarding the latter Mr Sucha referred to the 2008 EFA project “Arts Festivals’ Declaration on Intercultural Dialogue” that achieved to influence people and to make them understand the need of intercultural dialogue. Concluding, he stressed that the economic value of festivals is important but that “we have to have all other values in mind.” As representative of the European Festivals Association, Kathrin Deventer elaborated on the role that networks play in this context. Festivals are first of all platforms for artists who, according to Ms Deventer, are maybe the only free thinkers in our societies. Festivals like the Edinburgh International Festival are amazing meeting platforms for artists and citizens. In order to achieve recognition of festivals and culture, she stressed that the cultural sector and political decision-makers need to get connected: “The marriage between arts and politics is important and festivals can offer the right framework.” Joint initiatives such as the European House for Culture that brings cultural networks together are key to achieve this “marriage.” The representatives of the Scottish Government, the City of Edinburgh and of Festivals Edinburgh presented the successful collaboration model “Festivals Edinburgh”. All parties involved are aware of the enormous added value the festivals in Edinburgh offer the city. Faith Liddell, Director Festivals Edinburgh, summarised that the 12 festivals united under the umbrella with a combined annual audience of 4 million people, are platforms for success: they provide a space for innovation and creativity, they create opportunities for artists and offer access to audiences and productions, they are cultural ambassadors, they are inspiring, add to the nation’s optimism and foster mutual understanding. In a discussion with the audience the question was raised if one could collaborate as successfully across different cultures and art forms as within one nation, as within a cooperation initiative like Festivals Edinburgh. Kathrin Deventer explained the important work international networks are doing: She stressed that networks like the European Festivals Association have the ability to “engage on a broader political landscape” which eventually improves the conditions at national and local level. Concluding the seminar, Joanna Baker highlighted once again that “the economic impact is not the only and most important impact of festivals” and referred to other dimensions such as international reach and collaboration, artistic and cultural values as well as social aspects. Related documents: • Seminar outline