Funding and Residencies » Mobility and EU cultural policy

Author: Richard Polácek, independent adviser for culture and social policies, Brussels/Prague

Mobility and EU cultural policy

Mobility of artists and cultural professionals within EU cultural policy

In the past ten years the mobility of artists, creatives and cultural professionals became an increasingly important topic at the EU political level. Not surprisingly the EU’s interest in the mobility of artists and creatives is primarily economic, as mobility increases the opportunities to produce and exchange cultural goods and services, which in turn has a great benefit for the economy - through job creation and by injecting innovation and creativity into other sectors such as business and education. All these positive effects of mobility plainly meet the EU’s overall strategic objectives as outlined initially in the Lisbon strategy (2000) - a 10-year action plan to make the EU the most competitively viable actor - , and now in its successor, the EU’s 2020 strategy. Hence the interest of the EU to support the mobility of artists and culture professionals. The EU supported for the first time specifically the transnational mobility of artists and culture professionals financially through the EU Culture Programme (period 2000-2007) with matching funds from national, regional or local support schemes, private foundations or own resources of cultural operators. The Culture Programme for the period 2007-2013 – with a budget of 400 million euros – puts mobility at its very heart by explicitly promoting cross-border mobility of those working in the cultural sector and encouraging the transnational circulation of cultural and artistic output.

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Pilot projects and studies

Since 2007 the EU started to work increasingly on the mobility of artists and cultural professionals. Recognising that artists, creatives and cultural professionals encounter particular challenges when seeking to be mobile, the EU’s European Agenda for Culture in 2007 set the promotion of their mobility as one of its objectives. At the end of 2007, the European Parliament (EP) approved an additional EU budget dedicated specifically to pilot projects on mobility of artists. The pilots were intended to contribute to the work of the EU within the framework of the European Agenda for Culture, and serve to test new ideas to contribute to the preparation of the Culture Programme for the following programming period beyond 2013. To begin with, the European Commission selected four pilot projects (SPACE, e.mobilityChanging Room, and PRACTICS) for a period of two to three years with the aim to encourage the exchange of experience and mutual learning of already existing organisations and networks which support mobility. In 2008 another additional budget line was approved by the EP and in 2009 the Commission selected another nine pilot mobility projects, this time with the aim to support directly the mobility of artists by contributing to existing joint mobility funds, artists’ residency programmes or schemes. 

Next to these pilot projects, the EU also undertook two major studies in 2008 and 2009 with the aim to gain more knowledge and expertise on two specific topics which are key in the support to mobility-funding and information on regulatory issues relevant for cross-border mobility:

In 2007 the Commission asked the ERICarts Institute (The European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research) to carry out a study on funding schemes supporting the mobility of artists and creatives. The main aim was to obtain a clearer picture of existing funding schemes provided by national/regional authorities and private funders. In 2008 ERICarts published "Mobility Matters": Programmes and Schemes to Support the Mobility of Artists and Cultural Professionals in Europe which describes in detail main types and objectives of mobility schemes in Europe as well as the main motives for funding bodies to support mobility. The study is a rich source of information about how mobility in the culture sector is funded in Europe; it also contains a number of recommendations to national and European actors on how to improve the mobility of artists and cultural professionals.

Focusing on the specific issue of information for cultural professionals, artists and creatives about legal, regulatory, procedural and financial aspects to mobility the EP asked the Commission to carry out another study. The study entitled Feasibility study for a European wide system of information on the different legal, regulatory, procedural and financial aspects to mobility in the cultural sector was published in 2009 and analyses in detail the information needs of mobile artists and cultural workers. The study also provides an overview of existing information systems, identifies the gaps in the functioning of existing information systems and makes recommendations to national and European actors for remedies to fill these gaps with a view to setting up a Europe-wide system of information. Between 2009 and 2011 the mobility pilot project PRACTICS set up and tested an information system which was quite close to the one outlined in the feasibility study: a network of four national information points linked with major culture sector organisations in Europe and providing to artists and cultural professionals tailor-made information on legal, regulatory, procedural and financial aspects to international mobility.

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EU Work Plan for Culture

To achieve the objectives of the European Agenda for Culture, the Council adopted a Work Plan for Culture 2008-2010 which sets the improvement of the mobility conditions for artists, creatives and other professionals in the cultural field as one of its priority areas. The Work Plan also decided to set up several expert groups of experts nominated by Member States. In March 2008 the European Commission set up an Expert Working Group on Improving the Conditions for the Mobility of Artists and Professionals in the Cultural Field. The group adopted a set of political recommendations on improving the conditions to support the mobility of artists and cultural professionals which were addressed to the European Commission, the EU Member States, as well as the cultural sector. The document provides a broad overview of those activities that need to be undertaken at all levels to further improve the conditions for mobile artists and cultural professionals between European countries and beyond. 

The Council’s Work Plan for Culture 2011-2014 continues to give a prominent place to mobility, foreseeing different activities over the coming years, including the screening and assessment of mobility support programmes to identify barriers and problems faced in particular by small-scale cultural operators and by young artists and cultural professionals. Improved information on regulatory aspects to mobility remains one of the core topics of the Work Plan. In May 2011, the Council of the European Union, in its Conclusions on mobility information services for artists and for culture professionals, confirmed the importance of the mobility of artists and cultural professionals for the EU and for achieving its objectives within the EU 2020 strategy and calls upon the Member States and the Commission to facilitate the provision by mobility information services of comprehensive and accurate information to artists and cultural professionals seeking to be mobile within the EU. Based on the Work Plan for Culture, the European Commission set up in May 2011 another Expert group, this time to develop a proposal for information standards in the field of mobility. The group was composed of representatives from the culture ministries of EU Member States and representatives of national and European cultural sector organisations from all arts disciplines who have proven experience of dealing with the mobility of artists and cultural professionals. In December 2011, the group adopted a detailed document on Information Standards for the Mobility of Artists and Cultural Professionals.

The above-mentioned list of activities might seem a bit disappointing, as EU initiatives often focus only on recommendations, standards and political appeals. However, keeping in mind the extremely limited competences of the EU in the culture sector, the initiatives have at least the merit to strongly encourage EU Member States to take action and to be more coherent in their funding schemes and technical support mechanisms for mobility. The past years have also brought about some important changes in the regulations applicable for cross-border mobility of artists and creatives. New EU social security coordination came into force in 2010 and the same year the EU also adopted a new EU visa code, which implied changes in visa categories and therefore modified conditions of residency for nationals of third countries. It certainly is still too early to measure in how far these new rules also ease the frequent and short-term mobility of artists and cultural professionals. 

Although many of the above-mentioned activities focused primarily on the mobility of artists and cultural professionals between EU countries, they also included proposals for activities and recommendations as regards mobility between the EU and non-EU countries. In May 2011 the EP adopted a Resolution on the cultural dimensions of the EU's external actions, asking the Commission to propose a short-term visa initiative with the aim of eliminating obstacles to mobility in the cultural sector.

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Engagement of the cultural sector

The relatively ‘recent’ history of the EU’s involvement in favour of the cross-border mobility of artists and creatives cannot make forget the long-lasting and on-going engagement of several cultural organisations in Europe. Some of them have been working actively on improving the conditions of mobility of artists and cultural professionals for over thirty years. Amongst them are organisations such as Pearle* (Performing Arts Employers’ Associations League Europe), Trans Europe HallesDutchCulture I Trans Artists, and many, many others, including professional organisations at national and regional level. IETM, the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts was always a strong precursor in this area. In 1999, it created the Roberto Cimetta Fund to support artists and cultural managers who wish to travel in order to develop contemporary artistic cooperation projects in the Euro-Mediterranean region, and in particular throughout the Arab world. IETM also set up On the Move in 2003 as an on-line toolkit for mobility in performing arts and which became in 2009 Europe’s network for cultural mobility information, regrouping over 30 organisations across Europe including major European cultural organisations which are concerned with cultural cross-border mobility. As mentioned earlier, between 2008 and 2011 many cultural organisations across Europe joined their forces around the mobility pilot projects, shared their rich experience of supporting mobility and adopted common recommendations to ask policy makers at national and European level for improved conditions for mobility. 

Next to these European-wide activities, in the past years many initiatives on artists’ mobility were set up at national level. Studies and reports about cultural mobility were carried out in the Czech RepublicFinlandFranceItaly, Portugal and Spain

Also several specific sub-sector initiatives took place, such as a series of conferences and recommendations on mobility of visual artists in Europe, organised by IGBK-Germany or the EU funded ON-AiR project (2010 to 2012) of Trans Artists on artists’ residencies.

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Crossing borders between countries has always been a reality for artists and creatives and Europe’s history is full of examples of artists who worked across borders and who significantly enriched the culture of their host and home countries. The future won’t be different and artists and creatives will continue to cross borders, though today’s and tomorrow’s artists may choose new ways of being mobile, including ‘virtually’. They also will have to face challenges, which will make their cross-border experiences increasingly complex:

In the past years cultural organisations across Europe have witnessed ever more complicated administrative procedures, especially as regards visa and work permits for cultural operators and artists from outside the EU. What specific visa rules and procedures will the culture sector be able to ask for? 

With the financial and economical crisis the whole cultural sector in the EU is undergoing severe unprecedented cuts. This is impacting heavily on operators, artists and creatives, their working conditions and also their desire and financial ability to be mobile. Sometimes funding shortage forces operators and artists to become increasingly mobile and look for funding sources abroad - just in order to be able to survive, regardless of their own wish to be mobile or not. As regards EU financial support for cross-border mobility, important changes will occur from 2014 onwards. A new EU programme will merge the existing Culture, MEDIA and MEDIA Mundus programmes – the latter two being programmes to promote the European film industry within and outside the EU – in a single programme with a total envelope of €1.8 billion for the period 2014-2020. The new programme, entitled Creative Europe, was proposed by the European Commission in November 2011 and is currently under discussion in the Council of EU Ministers and the European Parliament.

Environmental constraints raise the question of the ecological responsibility and sustainability of cultural mobility (cf. the Study by on the move / Julie’s bicycle: Green Mobility Guide).

Finally, the digitalisation of culture impacts more and more the arts and new forms of ‘mobility’ have appeared, including ‘virtual’ mobility. This raises increasingly complex questions in terms of intellectual property rights. 

With all the current changes and challenges and those still ahead, operators and artists in Europe have increasingly diverse needs for accurate information to be able to “master” their mobility. This makes the provision of information on cross-border mobility a challenging but indispensable activity.

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