Authors: Richard Polácek, independent adviser for culture and social policies, Brussels/Prague,
Marie Le Sourd, On the Move (update 2017)

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.

– Richard Polácek (2013) –

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Update 2017

Indeed, as Richard Polácek rightly said in 2013, the ‘provision of information on cross-border mobility [is] a challenging but indispensable activity’. This necessity was particularly highlighted during two meetings convened by the European Commission involving representatives of EU member countries and the cultural sector: Artists’ mobility, social security and taxation in the EU (June 2014) and the Stock-taking meeting – Mobility of artists and cultural professionals (May 2016).
On the occasion of the first meeting, On the Move presented a report commissioned by EENC – the European Expert Network on Culture – entitled Artists’ Mobility and Administrative Practices Related to Social Security and Taxation in the European Union. The report, produced  in collaboration with the PEARLE* network, recalls to a certain extent the Study on Impediments to Mobility in the EU Live Performance Sector and on Possible Solutions, written by Richard Polácek (2007). It introduces a typology of obstacles faced by (hyper) mobile artists and cultural professionals while stressing two key points, namely that artists and cultural professionals now have better access to general information about the questions and issues they face, but that the complexity of their questions has increased due to a variety of factors: ‘It is often difficult for artists and culture professionals to know their status and what their particular situation implies in different countries (e.g. their job status may evolve over time and between countries; their career has a high degree of unpredictability; the jobs each artist undertakes are not necessarily in the same sector; in some countries artists may benefit from special conditions – sometimes referred to as “the status of the artist” – alongside the normal labour law provisions applicable across Europe; artists and cultural professionals cannot always choose to be employed or self-employed depending on the opportunities that arise, etc.). Mobile artists may, therefore, be uncertain about their rights and obligations’. Hence the ongoing and repeated need for more tailor-made forms of services, particularly in relation to taxation, social protection and visa issues.

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Mobility Info Points (MIPs)

A network of ‘Mobility Info Points (MIPs)’ – organisations that offer free and professional advice for mobile artists and cultural professionals (as part of their mission or as a main mission) – was introduced by On the Move during the second meeting in 2016 as one of the solutions for tackling this dense administrative issue. The MIPs are based in countries or regions with the highest flow of incoming and outgoing mobility1: Cultuurloket – Belgium; MobiCulture – France; touring artists (hosted by IGBK and ITI) – Germany; DutchCulture / TransArtists – The Netherlands; Wales Arts International – Wales/UK and Theatre Info Finland – Finland. The group has also recently welcomed two new members, one in Portugal – Polo Cultural Gaivotas | Boavista –  and one in the Czech Republic – the Arts and Theatre Institute (from 2018). The addition of these two members extends the network of MIPs to countries where mobility may also be driven more by economic necessity. It is then especially important that these MIPs benefit from better links to countries with a high inflow of cultural professionals, giving them access to accurate administrative advice.

1If we refer to the number of mobility funding schemes listed in the cultural mobility funding guides for Europe.

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Mobility and EU cultural policy today

From a policy perspective, however, the actions related to cultural mobility seem rather meager when compared with the previous EU Work Plan for Culture and the past decade which saw a significant number of pilot projects supported at EU level. The Work Plan for Culture 2015-2018, as adopted by the Council on 25 November 2014, indeed relegates the question of cultural mobility to the last chapter together with other key issues such as cultural diversity and culture in EU external relations: ‘D3) b. Mobility of cultural professionals, including tax obstacles to artists’ mobility in cross-border situations. The participation of tax experts will be encouraged’. It is with this aim that the above-mentioned stock-taking meetings were organised by the European Commission.
The administrative obstacles related to cultural mobility remain a key challenge, however, it would be a pity to consider cultural mobility only from the perspective of the administrative challenges it implies.

Perhaps it was considered that the question of cultural mobility had been sufficiently dealt with by the previous EU Work Plan for Culture. In this respect, the two main reports produced by the OMC Group (Open Method of Coordination) – a group of EU members’ representatives sharing best practices and knowledge – may be helpful as regards specific questions of cultural mobility and artists’ residencies: the Report on Building a Strong Framework for Artists’ Mobility: Five Key Principles (2013) and the EU Handbook on Artists’ Residencies (2014).

Or is it the fact that the issue of data relating to artists’ mobility, both inflow and outflow, remains a challenge at the level of the member states due to the lack of reference framework allowing for comparison, trend checking and recommendations?

Perhaps, as a sector, we lack qualitative and neutral means of evaluation to identify the multiple impacts mobility can have on artists and cultural professionals, for example on their professional lives, the nature of the organisations they form, on the regions they visit, the communities they come from etc.? ‘The tendency to quantify the benefits of mobility in terms of profit and the related pressure to measure impact, productivity, and applicability are extremely problematic in the arts. However, mobility can no longer be embraced uncritically even though we need to make ever-stronger arguments for its necessity’2.

Did the focus of the Work Plan for Culture lay too much emphasis on the economic impact of the arts and cultural sector, with any concept of cultural mobility beyond this being considered a ‘déjà vu’ type of issue? Similarly the Creative Europe Programme for the period 2014 to 2020 – with an overall budget of EUR 1.46 billion, including 56% going towards the media programme, 31% towards the cultural sector and 16% to the cross-sectional strand – presents an overwhelmingly economic standpoint in line with the EU’s 2020 strategy (stimulation of the international distribution of work, strengthening the sector’s financial potential etc.).

2 Residencies & future cosmopolitics, by Taru Elfving, in /re/framing the international by Kunstenpunt / Flanders Institute of the Arts (November 2017):

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Challenges in a changed context

Since the end of 2014, however, the context has changed drastically both in Europe and in the world as a whole, with terrorist attacks affecting France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany, the still ongoing refugee crisis, some world-impacting elections and referenda – in particular Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the USA – and the rise of populism in general.
Against this background, the issue of acquiring visas for people in general and for artists and cultural professionals in particular, becomes an even more challenging one as attested to in the recent UNESCO World Culture Report 2018 Surviving the paradoxes of mobility by Khadija El Bennaoui3. The revision of the visa policy of the Schengen area is still on hold and the idea of a touring visa is no longer a priority on the agenda.
On a positive note, in order to tackle the changing landscape related to the refugee issue and also taking into account the fact that some refugees are professional artists and cultural operators, we have seen new forms of projects, programmes and support created and existing funding schemes slightly adapted – including the Creative Europe Programme (see here a list of initiatives, mappings and projects in this field). Additionally, at least in the above-mentioned countries that see the greatest cultural mobility, the eligibility criteria for receiving support seem to be slowly shifting away from ‘being a national of’ and towards ‘being resident in’.

Last but not least, there is a clear shift towards more capacity building and training as well as formats which allow lifelong learning in a context of mobility. Among the various forms of cultural mobility, four main categories can be identified: cultural mobility for meetings (networking meetings, conferences, workshops, exploration/prospects etc.), for creative process purposes (residencies, collaborations etc.), for the purposes of internationalisation (touring, export, market events etc.) and for learning purposes (training, capacity building, staff exchange programmes etc.)
This latter type of cultural mobility has definitely increased or at least seen greater diversification in the past two years , for instance at the level of the European Cultural Networks – a majority of which have reinforced staff exchanges, trainings, e-learning activities etc. – but also through projects funded by the Creative Europe Programme or other EU funding schemes like ERASMUS+ as well as through further programs run by cultural organisations (like festivals, cultural centres, regional agencies etc.) .

Interestingly enough, since 2017, we have noticed a resurgence of calls for a specific policy support framework for cultural mobility and a renewed focus on the importance of mobility for artists, cultural professionals and entrepreneurs – particularly younger and emerging ones. At the national level, the Italian Ministry of Culture (backed by the governments of France and Germany) has called for mobility support for young people in the arts and cultural sector, echoing to a certain extent the proposal of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, for an Erasmus for Culture.
As far as EU /international relations are concerned, and in line with the new resolution on the role of culture in EU external relations, some ‘MEPs also recommend[…] to develop an effective EU strategy for international cultural relations, accompanied by an annual action plan; and […] to provide a separate EU budget line to support international cultural relations and launch an EU programme on international mobility and exchange for young cultural professionals and artists’ (July 2017).
Finally, the European Council in December 2017 asked ‘the Commission, the Council and the Member States to examine possible measures addressing the legal and financial framework conditions for the development of cultural and creative industries and the mobility of professionals of the cultural sector’.

Challenges definitely remain, both from an administrative and a narrative perspective, with the need evident to share more stories of the positive change resulting from mobility experiences and to constantly raise the issue of mobility in the arts and cultural sector. Moreover, the official announcements made in 2017 regarding a new support framework for mobility in Europe and beyond should be followed by a more holistic and inclusive approach to cultural mobility in the next Work Programme for Culture (to be voted on during the Austrian EU Presidency within the second semester of 2018). In that sense ‘They [the institutions] need to commit to the development of more inclusive practices across those borders that are being reinforced around and between us right now – between cultures and peoples, between disciplines and modes of knowledge, and between individual practices and collective processes’6.

This new support framework will also have to take into consideration what has already been done at national and regional levels by funds such as STEP by the European Cultural Foundation, PICE by the Spanish Cultural Agency, the International Visegrad Fund, the Nordic- Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture, the Roberto Cimetta Fund, and more recent mobility funds such as Mobility First! by the Asia-Europe Foundation and TelepART by the Finnish Cultural Institute.
In that sense, cultural mobility will also be seen as an opportunity to tackle remaining inequalities in funding and access within Europe and beyond, particularly in South and Eastern Europe for countries not yet included in a regional form of partnership. This will be addressed in an open consultation on the subject coordinated by On the Move from the end of January 2018.

– Marie Le Sourd (2017) –


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4Based on data gathered through On the Move’s website:
5To name  just a few programmes: European Cultural Networks: IETM Campus, ENCC BECC staff exchange programme, ETC European Theatre Academy Avignon; TEH start up support programme; EU funded projects: STAMP by EMC and Live DMA with a series of webinars, ICCI Training on internationalisation; Organisations: CIFAS Producers’ Academy, Spectacle Vivant en Bretagne, Deploy etc.
6Residencies & future cosmopolitics by Taru Elfving, in /re/framing the international by Kunstenpunt / Flanders Institute of the Arts (November 2017):



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