The Netherlands, with nearly 200 structures involved in Creative Europe over the past seven years, is active on the map of European cultural cooperation. Here we meet artistic personalities involved in this scheme, whose DNA is to encourage cross-border connections, audience development, diversity and innovation.

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Author : Anne Leray

Photo credit : Myriam Lefkowitz

192 Dutch organisations – including 42 project leaders – received funding from Creative Europe between 2014 and 2020. These figures were shared with us by Klaartje Bult of DutchCulture, a centre that acts as a link between the Netherlands and the European Commission in Brussels. The new call for projects, officially released on 26th May, continues to generate a lot of interest. “There is strong competition between hundreds of European cultural actors,” says Klaartje Bult.

TodaysArt is an electronic music festival, an artistic laboratory that combines music, visual arts and technology, and a cultural production agency. It is involved in no less than four Creative Europe projects. “Europe is this wonderful continent where we share arts, languages, cuisines, architecture and design. Culture is one of the pillars of our European values, more so than our economic or military power,” says Olof van Winden, who created TodaysArt in The Hague in 2002.

Born in Kenya in 1976 to a French mother and a Dutch father, this insatiable traveller left The Hague in September 2020 in search of a fresh dynamic in Montenegro. “The Hague is a difficult city for the arts. Most people work for the government or the international tribunal. The cultural industry there is limited.”

Maurice Mikkers @ We are Europe
TodaysArt © Maurice Mikkers

Among the projects in which TodaysArt is involved, there’s “Shape”, one of the beautiful offspring that Creative Europe helped bring into the world. This network, which now brings together 16 music and visual arts festivals (The Hague, Brussels, Tromsø, Ljubljana, Krakow, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Marseille, etc.), was the result of an initiative from Berlin: the European City of Advanced Sound (ECAS). This first collective experience allowed the teams to address teething problems. “We made many mistakes at the start, we didn’t know how it worked or how to manage this joint funding, and we all lost money. It was frustrating. The business side was hard, but we decided to embrace a partnership culture and keep going. After applying to Creative Europe three years in a row, we were selected and Shape was born,” recalls Olof van Winden.

Each year, the members of Shape create a list of artists together, and each of them commits to programming three names from this joint selection. 48 emerging artists are thus booked all over Europe, benefiting from promotional support and exposure. “Each festival also presents one or two artists outside Europe, in places like Montreal, Uganda or St. Petersburg,” adds Olof van Winden. Associating these vibrant actors allows small festivals to exist. “For some, it’s crucial. This is reflected in their programming. 80% of Bucharest’s Rokolectiv line-up comes from Shape.”

Myriam Lefkowitz @ We are Europe
If I Can’t Dance © Myriam Lefkowitz

The Amsterdam-based, performance-oriented visual arts collective, If I can’t dance I don’t wanna be part of your revolution, initiated and lead the Corpus” project for eight years with Creative Europe’s support. “We joined forces with visual arts organisations of different sizes and with the same leaning to provide a platform for this art-form and develop expertise in performance production and presentation,” explains Frederique Bergholtz, the collective’s director. “This European network has helped us take ambitious and often extraordinary projects to new places.”

“It’s up to Europe to take over the funding of culture.”

The benefits of Creative Europe go beyond financial support. In addition to promoting artistic discoveries and exchanges, it allows participants to share their organisational and budget management methods. “The grant is an incentive, but the network is what’s really important. It brings artists together to learn from each other. This cooperation leads to many interesting innovations,” says Klaartje Bult. “We already had informal relations and did many things together. This collaboration was an opportunity to learn to work together. With additional funds and partners, we could also design bigger projects. We get a lot out of it,” adds Olof van Winden.

The framework offered to these cross-border collaborations is highly appreciated by Hélène Doub, deputy director of the Institut Français in the Netherlands. She arrived in Amsterdam after four years as a cultural attaché at the French Embassy in Austria. “It’s not just about waiting for grants. Each partner plays an active role and contributes in terms of financing, human resources and communication. This programme is great because we’re not yet at the stage where we automatically have all the networks in place to work together. To be eligible you need to show interest in certain themes and reach out to your neighbors. This indirectly helps to set up a project.”

Performance © Myriam Lefkowitz
Performance © Myriam Lefkowitz

The Institut Français in the Netherlands responded to the new call for projects with a Franco-Dutch festival entitled “Nuits film et science” (Film and Science Nights). It showcases short films with accompanying debates, and its next edition will focus on climate change and sustainable development, subjects at the heart of Creative Europe’s new theme. This festival has been running for three years but wants to scale up and expand its partnerships to France, Belgium and Germany.

According to Olof van Winden, this European funding becomes particularly crucial at a time when national economies, hit by the crisis, will be funnelling their budgets into health and education as a priority. “Programmes like Creative Europe will play an increasingly important role. Funding structures and subsidies will change. Cities have more pressing priorities. It’s up to Europe to take over the funding of culture.”

The health-related restrictions and border closures linked to Covid-19 have paralysed artists’ mobility and led people to withdraw within their national boundaries. As such, according to Hélène Doub, taking part in a European project is also an invitation to reconnect with the outside world. “The side-effect of the Covid pandemic has been a return to basics, a recentring on our immediate vicinity, and these programmes invite us to embrace different approaches and other countries.”

“An artistic consortium better adapted to a world facing a pandemic.”

Since March 2020, technology has been the main gateway for culture to survive and connect with its audiences. Project design is now influenced by the constraints and new issues arising from the crisis. The collective “If I can’t dance I don’t wanna be part of your revolution” is applying once again with a project even more focused on supporting young artists.

“Our team is thinking about how to create an artistic consortium better adapted to a world facing a pandemic, how to share productions without necessarily travelling. Technology and online platforms will very likely be involved, but we don’t want to approach this as the holy grail either. We want to find other ways to share knowledge and form social gatherings,” explains Frederique Bergholtz. “Today, it’s crucial to keep up a dialogue with our international partners and with the artists. Without the support of Creative Europe, this connection would be more incidental,” she adds.

Myriam Lefkowitz @ We are Europe
If I Can’t Dance © Myriam Lefkowitz

For several months now, Olof van Winden has also been thinking about establishing new cultural and economic models, about audience mobility, and about interactive web resources. “We must combine the physical and the virtual. It’s important to have places where people from all over the world can meet and be fully immersed in concerts or conferences. Online, we tend to stay for 5 minutes and then leave, and it’s hard to capitalise on that and generate income. On the other hand, it means we can reach audiences and partners as far away as Nepal or Mongolia.”

Just as new ways of working and consuming are emerging, we are witnessing a merger of online and offline cultural practices. There is a lot to imagine and build to connect different territories and creators. For better rather than for worse. “Conflicts are also beautiful things, the start of a growing awareness.”

Thank you for taking the time to read this article in the Creative Europe series, which explores the opportunities and potential pitfalls of the new 2021-2027 programme and gives a voice to European cultural actors.

It is important to note that the testimonies collected in this series are those of present and former beneficiaries of the Creative Europe programme. Their perspectives inevitably reflect a bias linked to personal experiences – whether fruitful or unsuccessful – and therefore cannot represent a reality across the board.

Nonetheless, they can shed light on the challenges of applying to the programme, and on the benefits of a successful candidacy.

About the author

Anne Leray is a journalist, critic and copywriter. She studied in Tours and on Réunion Island before working for print media in Montpellier for 12 years. For the past six years, she has been living in the Netherlands. When she arrived in The Hague in 2015, she created the blog “La Haye des Arts” to share compelling snippets about Dutch cultural life. A correspondent and social media manager, she splits her work between journalism and digital communication.

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