Why arts and culture must be the cornerstone of European recovery plans


Picture of Anne-Solène Rolland
Anne-Solène Rolland

Director of Heritage and Collections at the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac and 2020-2021 European Young Leader (EYL40)

Photo of This article is a part of our EYL40 Working Group on Arts and Culture series.
This article is a part of our EYL40 Working Group on Arts and Culture series.

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Show more information on This article is a part of our EYL40 Working Group on Arts and Culture series.

The European Young Leaders (EYL40) Working Group on Arts and Culture was established to share and brainstorm ideas for collaborating on pan-European projects related to arts and culture. It draws on the wide range of artists, musicians, writers and cultural practitioners in our EYL40 network.

Brexit, the rise of populism and the pandemic have threatened a sense of ‘European-ness’ among the citizens of Europe. The Working Group places a particular importance on how arts and culture – a core European industry contributing to 4.4% of European GDP – can be used as tools to help build that spirit while relaunching economies. The EU’s motto is: united in diversity. Our job will be to promote that diversity while responding to common challenges.

This series of articles complements the Working Group’s three meetings this year. The Working Group will produce a policy briefing to be launched in November 2021 and to be brought to the attention of high-level policymakers at the European and national level. Recommendations will also be handled over to EYLs, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel and French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Clément Beaune, ahead of France taking over the EU rotating presidency in 2021.

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The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves that have rippled across the globe. The arts and culture sector has been among the hardest hit since lockdowns began.

For artists, cultural institutions and industries, this has been one of the worst crises in decades. By suddenly cutting the link between art and its audiences – for months or maybe even years in some countries – this pandemic has threatened the very existence of arts and culture. As with everyone working in the cultural sector, I have witnessed this hardship – first-hand – for months.

What is a museum without its visitors? What is the meaning of performing arts without its audience? What is a movie if no one sees it?

Throughout the lockdowns, cultural institutions have lived up to their social responsibility, finding new ways to keep in touch with their communities. The pandemic has created an array of new digital offers, providing an alternative link between institutions, artists and their audiences. But is that enough? Can it be a new paradigm for arts and culture in the future?

Culture is a cornerstone of togetherness and social life

Some might say that the arts are only reserved for a small elite, but that’s not true. For instance, museums offer the unique experience of real contact with creation, and it is our duty to help as many people experience this as possible. The arts, from performing or visual arts to literature and everything in between, are essential – even more so during and after the crisis. Whether its live music and dance, visiting exhibitions and libraries, or going to the movies, we simply cannot live without real contact with art.

Culture is a cornerstone of togetherness and social life. Enjoying the arts is both an individual and collective experience. Culture is also an important tool for improving inclusion because it can open doors to new worlds and different ways of life. Arts and culture can rebuild communities, reignite a spirit of inclusion and togetherness, combat social withdrawal and offer hope after crisis.

For these reasons, arts and culture is key to recovery, and support for the sector must be a priority in recovery plans throughout Europe.

So, how can arts and culture be supported?

Many of these initiatives already exist on smaller scales, but they require time and money to grow and develop

Firstly, increased efforts in building bridges between culture and education is fundamental. Access to arts in schools, at all levels and in all educational centres, must be prioritised as a means to positively influence the lives and well-being of individuals and build a more inclusive society.

Special funds should be allocated to innovative initiatives, such as the long-term presence of artists in schools, in-depth programmes that introduce pupils to the arts, or long-term partnerships between schools and cultural institutions that facilitate students’ sense of belonging in a museum, library or theatre. Many of these initiatives already exist on smaller scales, but they require time and money to grow and develop. Linking the arts and education has to be part of a large scale and long-term ambition within Europe.

Secondly, on a wider scale, helping artists and cultural institutions come closer to their audience or even their ‘non-audience’ can support access to the arts. Throughout lockdowns, museums and theatres have found new places to perform or show works, instead of waiting for their own doors to reopen. What if such projects were a funding priority at the European level?

Cultural projects, or tiers-lieux as they are called in France, encourage institutions to go beyond their own walls and meet new audiences in public spaces that are easily accessible to citizens. Such projects should be more widely supported across Europe not only to bring people together through the arts, but also to revitalise public spaces.

Arts and culture for all must be a top priority in securing a more inclusive and creative society

Additionally, introducing the arts to a wider audience can be instrumental in fostering transnational cooperation and building a common, European identity.

So, finally, supporting cultural mobility and transnational projects is another avenue for supporting inclusivity and solidarity. This could be done by bringing artists from different countries together to build common projects that would tour schools, institutions and public places throughout Europe, encouraging public institutions to invite and host EU artists, or even, very simply, reinforcing travel fellowships for artists, who require support to start new projects again.

To paraphrase Jean Vilar, the great French theatre artist who fought for wider access to the arts, “[culture] is a food as necessary as bread and wine”. Arts and culture for all must be a top priority in securing a more inclusive and creative society.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the organisation they represent.

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