The UK is no longer part of the EU, but that does not mean there are no lessons to be learned from the UK's former European cultural cooperation projects. In this article, former beneficiaries of the fund describe the opportunities it brought - whilst keeping the future in mind.

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Author: Rachel Rowntree

Photo Credit: Pascal Victor & Mito Gegič

“With or without Brexit, there is still a huge desire in the cultural sector to collaborate” – Lorna Fulton, ArtReach.

The figures are staggering. Between 2014 and 2019, 609 projects involving UK organisations received 203 million euros from Creative Europe. 27 million euros went directly to the UK’s culture sector. Every art form has been included. Thousands of artists and performers have collaborated, not to mention the many audiences and communities that have benefited from these projects.

There is no escaping the fact; international artistic collaborations require huge financial resources.  However, those working in the arts, say the impact of Creative Europe reaches far beyond simply funding projects. It allows organisations to grow and develop, for jobs to be created, for individual artists to be nurtured, and for new networks and relationships to be formed.

2019 Women Opera Makers workshop © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress @ We are Europe
2019 Women Opera Makers workshop © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

Close to the breathtaking Suffolk coast is Snape Maltings, one of Europe’s most stunning arts venues. It is here composer Benjamin Britten founded the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme (BPYAP). Since 2016, BPYAP has been a member of enoa (The European Network of Opera Academies) a Creative Europe initiate. Enoa brings together twelve prestigious European opera houses and theaters. Speaking on the phone Caro Barnfield, Head of Artistic Development at the BPYAP, explains why access to a network like this is so important  “It’s opened up new ways of thinking and new ways of going about things“. 

Cross-border relationships are essential for some structures. Through Creative Europe, Puppet Animation Scotland has co-created the EU Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform with partners in Slovenia, Croatia and Lithuania. This ambitious platform will present seminars, workshops, artists and critics residencies at puppetry festivals, and exchanges. Dawn Taylor, Artistic Director and CEO of Puppet Animation Scotland, describes how the  world of puppetry is currently a niche field in the UK. “Once we look at only working with other UK practitioners, our pool becomes very small” she tells me over the phone from Scotland. She continues “working with organisations that have different processes or artistic starting points is so valuable for interrogating your own artistic starting point”. This can range from practical questions, how to make a budget, or how to pay people,  through to conversations about structure, expectations and pathways into the arts. “It enriches our practice and the practice of all the artists we work with” she tells me.

2019 Women Opera Makers workshop © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress @ We are Europe
(photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComPress)

Creative Europe projects are totally changing the face of some art forms. Enoa’s current  work is about empowering opera. An open call for their Opera Creation Journey project and their Immersive Residencies allowed those without significant opera experience to apply. Caro Barnfield describes how this is “widening access, removing barriers from all angles of opera. Enoa is opening the doors to opera rather than it being an exclusive club. The network is really starting to make a difference in the industry”

Although Creative Europe often fund large organisations, the impact on individual artists cannot be underestimated. Composer Bushra El-Turk took part in an open space residency at Snape Maltings which has led to her opera being commissioned by the LOD Muziektheater in Gent. She describes how vital such workshops can be for artists: “It can help you find your essence. To remember what our purpose was in the first place.” Bushra’s opera, “Woman at Point Zero” promises to be a powerful production, telling the story of a woman on death row in Egypt. She hopes it will allow audiences to see the realities of life for women in other parts of the world, whilst recognizing the universality of such issues. 

Supporting artists whilst facing up to the challenges the modern world presents, is at the heart of another Creative Europe project, Liberty EU. This large-scale project brings together the work of around 750 visual artists, exploring and celebrating the theme of freedom. Lorna Fulton creative director of ArtReach, the agency leading Liberty EU tells me “artists have the opportunity to be part of a creative community, developing work that makes a commentary on the world around us, documenting, reflecting, and questioning who we are and what connects us”. Being part of this network, she explains also, “assures artists of a stronger online presence, that can be reached by organisations across Europe”. For artist Parham Ghalamder, Liberty EU have helped him extend his practice into the digital realm. He describes how they have supported him, “they have helped me develop my skills, find a new audience and stay visible as an artist” he recounts.

2019 Women Opera Makers workshop © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress @ We are Europe
2019 Women Opera Makers workshop © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

Being funded by Creative Europe allows organisations to propose programmes or exhibitions that simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Maddie Smart from ArtReach told me in a written interview “being a Creative Europe funded project has amplified our ambitions and given us the opportunity to work on an international scale that wouldn’t have been possible without it.” For many, the creative Europe funding has opened the door to  funding matches by structures such as the national arts councils.

All UK organisations currently involved in Creative Europe projects will be able to complete them. However they are no longer eligible to apply as lead partners for projects in the 2021-2027 call. UK arts bodies will however be able take part in cooperation projects, as a third country participants. In 2020 a press release from the EU Commission stated that 1.75 million euros was awarded to twenty-two cultural organisations in the UK funding such cooperation projects. In 2020 one in five Creative Europe projects had a UK partner. It is clear even in a time of great uncertainty regarding Brexit, the UK were still very much a part of many Creative Europe projects.

Pionirski Dom (Liberty EU) LIKFest, October 2020 © Mito Gegič @ We are Europe
Pionirski Dom (Liberty EU) LIKFest, October 2020 © Mito Gegič

There is still a huge amount of uncertainty regarding the practical impact of Brexit. The increased costs of visas, carnets and the extra administration that entails, will complicate touring exhibitions, and touring for performers. Dawn Taylor speaks of preparing for the “triple whammy of barriers” referring to Brexit, Covid and climate change.

There is no doubt these are extremely challenging times. However there is a clear resilience and determination to adjust. Caro Barnfield declares “of course we’re still interested, of course we’re hoping to make projects work in collaboration, it’s just one of those times when it’s not as straightforward”. Lorna Fulton at ArtReach echoed this sentiment “Liberty EU shows that art and culture have the power to cross borders, rise above a pandemic and provide cultural highlights to a broad audience. With or without Brexit there is still a huge desire in the cultural sector to collaborate”. Only over the coming years will we see how the UK is going to forge a new future without the substantial help of Creative Europe. 

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

Rachel Rowntree is a British violinist, writer and presenter based in Lille, France.

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