Solidarity, resilience and cultural change in COVID times

Europe's World

Citizens' Europe

Picture of Krzysztof Candrowicz
Krzysztof Candrowicz

Director, Foundation of Visual Education, 2012 European Young Leader

Picture of Agnesta Filatovė
Agnesta Filatovė

Executive Director of the Vilnius International Film Festival (VIFF) and 2020 European Young Leader (EYL40)

From one day to the next, faced with the fragility of our cultural, political, economic and ecological systems, we were forced to acknowledge how vulnerable life really is. These sorts of global crises are an opportunity for us to rethink existing paradigms. In these fast-changing times, shaped by globalisation and the rise of national egoisms, values like solidarity, collaboration and co-creation can be key factors in strengthening our communities.  

Culture – our social software – defines the way we perceive, think and act. Consequently, the first spark of transformation must occur at the cultural level so that we can, later on, change our structural, political and economic models. We are already witnessing new cultural support models emerging in countries such as the United Kingdom and Lebanon.

Paradoxically, to support the sense of European belonging we need to be more active at the local level. This will require creating more opportunities for cultural exchange to bridge the gaps between communities across Europe. For instance, the Twitter-based EURESILIENCE project, which ran from March to June 2020, offered a chance for citizens to share stories of solidarity, community and resilience during lockdowns.

Today, we are able to witness the cultural field’s fantastic ability to adjust to ‘new normals’

The cultural sector is a fire-starter of collective European identity, and there are several other great examples, including the Creative Europe, Erasmus, and European Capital of Culture programmes, or even popular cultural events like Eurovision. The creative sector is actively rethinking the purpose of ongoing projects.

Now is the perfect time to launch a new Europe-wide project in the cultural sector to reinvigorate exchange between Europe’s communities, much like Erasmus and Eurovision do in their sectors. This project, however, should emphasise collaboration rather than competition. One idea worth considering is establishing a new European (holi)day, when all member states can manifest and celebrate our unique international community and solidarity.

COVID-19 has also exposed the cultural sector’s structural weaknesses. Indeed, the financial viability of the cultural sector has been substantially hit by the pandemic. In these circumstances, cultural actors must become more responsible and sustainable. In practice, this means implementing new strategies and practices that are based on social and environmental responsibility.

Today, we are able to witness the cultural field’s fantastic ability to adjust to ‘new normals’. It is flexible and capable of adapting through the development of new projects. This can and should inspire ordinary businesses in Europe, so often presented as ‘far more important’ players in the economy.

Ultimately, we have to move towards new economic models

Today’s situation calls for more collaboration, not division.  We must strengthen cross-sectoral models and identify where culture, science and economy share objectives. The cultural sector ought to promote sustainable and healthy living. Festivals and cultural gatherings should strive to be as environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive as possible.

Ultimately, we have to move towards new economic models, and change taxing and funding systems in order to support new cultural priorities. Because, in the face of crises, creative industries support people’s mental health and provide a source of hope: they are a uniting force and offer a call to positive action. 

So, we need to reverse last century’s outdated strategies. It’s time to look beyond the economy, market growth, and GDP as the main indicators and stimulants of society. The European Green Deal can serve as an inspiration for changing cultural strategies towards societies based on welfare, solidarity and happiness of our citizens. That is the best way forward!

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