Culture: Reset!

European funds can help accelerate the development of cultural projects that cannot be supported on a national scale. This helping hand is sometimes saving, but it can also lead to bureaucratic complications and a need for structural adaptation. This article illustrates this, using Portuguese live art as a backdrop.

We are europe banner We are europe banner

Author : Marie-Line Darcy

Photo credit : Kalle Nio

With its neoclassical colonnaded facade, the Queen Maria II National Theatre dominates Rossio Square in central Lisbon. Behind the scenes, ten chairs await in a circle to be put to use. This is part of performer Raquel André’s upcoming show.

The young woman was lucky enough to take part in two Creative Europe (CE) projects. First Apap-Performing Europe 2020, which brought together 11 organisations from ten countries. Then BE SpectACTive!, currently in progress, which brings together 15 European partners around the issue of participatory practices involving citizens. Selected during an open call, Raquel André created her performance for Spectators Day on 21 November 2020, an event created by the BE SpectACTive! network. She was able to develop her “Collections” show based on spectator participation.

Kurt Demey @ We are demey
We are possible © Kurt Demey

“The website I created to draw in participants was relayed by the partners. This shows how much some institutions are involved in their community. I was able to reach new spectators and participants this way,” said the performer. BE SpectACTive! brought her international exposure through workshops, conferences and performances. Groups of women came together to reflect on the question: “What does it mean to be a woman?”. For Raquel André‘s next performance, the final text will be spoken and performed by women from Marvila, a working-class neighbourhood of Lisbon. “We are truly reflecting the concerns of Creative Europe,” concludes the performer.

The Europe of low-cost flights and couch surfers

The sense of belonging to a Cultural Europe is something that’s built over the long term. It’s an assessment made by Nuno Ricou, director of Procur’arte, which heads the Parallel platform dedicated to new photographic creations. “We first created Entremargens, a national project based on photographic interventions in urban spaces. Then Flâneur, in the same spirit but this time with a European dimension. Parallel is a real artistic platform that connects cultural actors and artists,” explains the project’s mentor.

In a very hierarchical environment, young people find it hard to get noticed by curators, who in turn have difficulty gaining the trust of galleries and museums. The platform helps people connect through the networks developed by Procurarte and its 15 partners. “Our role is to organise open calls between artists and curators under the guidance of tutors and teachers. Because it’s evident that an organisation won’t entrust an exhibition to someone it doesn’t know.”

The budget of 2 million euros for 4 years is essential and barely suffices. “We are low-cost flying, couch-surfing Europeans. What really matters lies elsewhere,” says Nuno Ricou. The project leader doesn’t hide how difficult it is to find the remaining 20% of the budget.

Originality: a prized quality

The field explored by the Sonotomia (Sound Anatomy of Unique Places) project bears the stamp of originality. Portugal is the leader of this project which also includes Spain, Hungary and, very soon, the Netherlands. “We are inventorying European sounds. The subject is so vast that we have divided the interventions into coastal/fluvial, rural and urban sounds, spread across the three countries. The aim is to develop a methodology to help advance sound engineering and sound collection,” explains José Falcão, director of Pedra Angular, the project leader.

Sonotomia is a small project (300,000 euros). “We are building a community of creators, researchers, sound engineers, anthropologists and artists who work on European soundscapes. On the threshold between culture and science, the project would not have come about without CE. This is a pilot project whose methodology is intended to be replicated by others,” says José Falcão.

None of the three project countries would have had the technical, human and financial resources to carry it out. The only hitch is that the Covid pandemic has disrupted public interventions.

Kalle Nio @ We are Europe
The Green © Kalle Nio

 A high-flying new circus

The flea circus has packed its bags for good. Today, the Beta-Circus (for Boosting European Trends and Artists in Circus Arts) is all about new magic, a contemporary dramaturgy that eclipses old-fangled card tricks. “New magic is mainly developing in France. The language barrier limits neighbouring countries’ access to this novel artistic expression. So it was a way of expanding our sphere of intervention,” explains Bruno Costa, from the Bussóla agency, leader of Beta-Circus.

Here again, the 330,000 euro project could not exist without the financial support of CE. “We cover the entire trip and stay for the 12 candidates, as well as the fees of highly specialised instructors, around 4-5,000 euros for the week. None of the participating countries could cover these costs on their own,” says Bruno Costa. The project aims to be transversal and to reach more countries. A documentary produced by Portugal will follow the journey of the 12 candidates in each of the associated countries.

“We are in direct conversation with Brussels. This represents extra work that many don’t want to take on. The bureaucracy is demanding, but once the project is launched, being supported by Creative Europe practically guarantees national co-funding,” observes Bruno Costa.

Thierry Collet @ We are Europe
Compagnie sans gravité © Thierry Colet

Creative Europe II, a springboard for a leap forward

On a ten-point scale of satisfaction, our four Portuguese culture musketeers place the dial at 8.5. They stress the benefits for forgotten or unpopular facets of the cultural landscape. For the first Creative Europe funding programme, Portuguese actors presented 63 projects, and very few are leaders. There is a certain timidness and lack of self-confidence in the face of European “giants”. “It’s a championship, and only the best have sufficient resources. Still, it’s not insurmountable. We just need a little more time,” sums up Sonotomia‘s José Falcão.

At this point, the project is unsure whether it will apply once again. For her part, performer Raquel André is delighted that the experience has given her the opportunity to have her show produced directly by another country, Norway. The young woman hopes to be invited to participate in other projects reflecting the issues of gender and representation that Creative Europe II aims to develop. At Procurarte, the project “extension” has been confirmed.

Raquel André @ We Are Europe
Raquel André © Raquel André

Nuno Ricou believes that four years are not enough for Parallel to carry out an inclusive project with a focus on training and employment. “With the Covid pandemic, we’ve been able to start a lot of things anew, and it’s time to question the position of artists in the context of health and societal issues, for example,” says Nuno Ricou.

As for Creative Europe and the Green Deal, for Bruno Costa they are in harmony with the Beta-Circus project: “It’s not just about the carbon footprint. We can be very efficient and frugal thanks to technology. That’s something the pandemic has shown us,” he says. Beta-Circus has already planned to prolong its innovative explorations. The project has a preparatory meeting scheduled for September 2021, bringing together the partners to further develop their New Circus experimentations. New languages, a search for cohesion and involvement, the New Circus, participatory performances, photographic expressions and soundscapes are all impatiently awaiting Creative Europe II.

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

Marie-Line Darcy is a freelance journalist based in Lisbon, where she has been working for 30 years. Following her debut in a local radio, her collaborations with french-speaking media expanded. Correspondant for medias based in France, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Germany and Canada. From RFI to RTS, from La Croix to Le Courrier, while not forgetting television. She’s the creator and author of www.lisbonne-affinités.com, of Lusobreves TSF and Lusobreves french news.

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