DIGITAL STUDY VISIT UNDER COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

DIGITAL STUDY VISIT UNDER COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

Certain activities organized as part of the Intercultural Dialogue Programme aim to strengthen the cooperation between Yunus Emre Institute and the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) Network. One of these was the study visits that were transferred to the digital environment due to travel restrictions led by the pandemic, although they were physically planned before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The most important aspect of the study visits is that they allow an exchange of information, experience and ideas between the employees of institutions and organizations operating in different countries but in similar fields. Although the digital study visit conducted within the scope of the Intercultural Dialogue Programme did not provide an opportunity for one-to-one observation in the working environment of institutions, it still offered an important and permanent opportunity in terms of exchanging information, experience and ideas.

While developing the digital study visit programme, the institutions where information and ideas will flow were determined. Due to travel restrictions, video interviews were held with the representatives of the institutions in their own countries. These video interviews were later shared with the employees of Yunus Emre Institute. Whenever they please, all Institute employees will be able to access video interviews in which various experience from different institutions are conveyed through the training portal created.

Which institutions were involved in the digital study visit? Which areas do these institutions operate in? What did the institution representatives share?

The first leg of the visit included EUNIC Global, with which Yunus Emre Institute works as an associate member and aims to strengthen the existing cooperation. Through video interviews with Gitte Zshoch, EUNIC Global Director, and Robert Kieft, director of EUNIC’s European Cultural Areas Project, the participants got to know the working dynamics of the body and the projects it has implemented.

 

What is EUNIC?

EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) has 36 members from 27 member states of the European Union and is an important cultural cooperation network of the Union. With offices in 150 countries, EUNIC members carry out various activities in arts, language education, youth, education, science, social studies, intercultural dialogue and development. Organized in 100 different clusters as cities, regions and countries at local level, EUNIC members work jointly around projects and programmes, and carry out activities that draw attention to the importance of culture in the EU’s relations both within the Union and with other countries.

EUNIC Global, EUNIC’s headquarters in Brussels founded in 2012, supports the work of these clusters around the world. In addition to the realization of joint studies and the dissemination of cultural relations with Europe, it also sets the ground for knowledge and experience exchange among the people in this network.

 

Gitte Zshoch, EUNIC Global Director, informed the participants attending the digital study visit about the studies and main strategies, and also touched on the connection of this network with the European Union and its global strategies. In her interview, Zshoch stated the following about the existing work:

“Our network consists of organizations officially delegated by the European Union member states. We consider the EU as a strategic partner while conducting our fieldwork on cultural relations. To give an example, one of the major projects we are currently implementing is called the European Spaces of Culture.  It includes finding new ways of conducting cultural relations abroad, outside the EU. Local partners, EUNIC and EU delegations are running projects together.”

In addition, Zshoch defined the principles they adopted in supporting the cultural collaborations of the Union around the world as follows:

“Our work is based on the principles of cultural relations, so we have a value-based approach. We adopt the principle of mutual listening and learning from each other.  We base our activities on local needs. So, while operating in a country, be it Japan or Zimbabwe or South Africa, we observe the cultural sector, open spaces and trends in these countries. We are checking if we can work with other partners, other arts and education organizations in these countries. The idea we develop is not something like ‘We believe in the power of movies, so let’s do a movie project together’. We sit together and determine what we can do together with the actors in those countries. This potentially very productive method is based on working together, co-developing and co-creating.”

In her interview, Gitte Zshoch also pointed out that there were no procedural obstacles to the cooperation and joint work between the cultural institutes that were members of the EUNIC network and Yunus Emre Institute, and added that such collaboration could be strengthened through local clusters.

 

The interview with Robert Kieft, director of the European Spaces of Culture Project, provided information about the initiative and the pilot projects supported under it.

Kieft introduced the European Spaces of Culture:

“European Spaces of Culture is a preparatory action by the European Parliament. That is, it is an initiative developed by the European Parliament to test new policy and strategy ideas, for example, specific activities and specific collaborations to evaluate future funding programmes. EUNIC Global was given the task of implementing the project for a period of two years at the inception phase. The project aims to test new ways of working for new partnerships between European actors on the one hand and local cultural actors on the other, especially from non-EU countries. At this point, we are not only looking at implementing projects, testing projects, and how these things are done, but also testing collaboration issues.  We want to identify a variety of concrete ways in which different actors can work together. The project is planned to provide policy advice to the European institutions, the European Parliament, and the European Commission, and foster future policy dialogue.”

6 pilot projects are carried out within the scope of European Spaces of Culture. Kieft also shared information about these projects:

“We have a project in West Africa, in Benin. Six West African countries are working together in creative fields we call FabLab. Six different countries come together to create cultural projects, cultural events, residences and exhibitions together.  It is being implemented in a rapidly urbanizing area, the capitals of West Africa.

Another project is taking place in Ethiopia. The project is called Tibeb Be Adebabay. It is a street festival, a modern art festival. During the festival, people take to the streets, work together to do street art, and thus offer a platform for local Ethiopian artists.

Another project is being implemented in three countries in Central America, namely El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. This is basically a traveling theatre project. Theatre companies from three countries are working together on new theatre performances and plays. Together, they stage performances in these different countries.

Another project is taking place in Mongolia: Nogoonbaatar Eco Art Festival. This project is an outdoor cultural festival on the effects of air pollution and the contribution art and culture can offer to combat it.

We have two more projects in Sri Lanka. The Colomboscope festival will be held at the beginning of next year. Preparatory work is underway, residences are offered, artworks are created together.  Sri Lankan artists and Asian artists come together with European artists to produce art.

Finally, there is The Grid project in the USA. This is a project where the arts industry interacts with the tech industry and policymakers. The effects of technological innovation on society are discussed. How art and culture contribute to this kind of discussion, and the ethical questions arising from digital innovation are evaluated.”

Kieft also stated in his interview that he had to redesign the activities of these projects during the pandemic period and moved many activities onto the digital environment.

 

The next guest of the digital study visit was the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. The Directorate-General’s name is abbreviated as DG-NEAR. Bernard Brunet, the Head of Strategy and Turkey Unit, hosted an event, during which a video interview on cultural studies and the European Commission approaches was aired.

 

DG-Near, European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, is responsible for the European Union enlargement policy and the Union’s eastern and southern neighbors. At the same time, DG-Near is responsible for relations with the member states of the European Economic Community and the European Free Trade Association.

The Directorate-General also manages aid activities for Europe’s eastern and southern neighbors, provides support for reforms and democratization, and supports the establishment of prosperity, stability and security throughout Europe. In this region, it supports the adoption of EU values, policies and priorities while contributing to the development of relations with neighboring countries. Furthermore, it supports the candidate and potential candidate countries to meet the criteria defined in the European Union Agreement, follows their progress and participates in the negotiations at the request of the Council. To that end, it manages the Union’s financial support to enlargement countries.

 

During the interview, Brunet also commented on Turkey’s participation in Creative Culture, a major EU programme:

“The Creative Culture Programme is an important two-component programme that benefits all EU member states. The first component is about the media, movies and audio-visual sectors, while the second component is more about the cultural aspects of art.  The cultural and creative sectors are very important for the EU. More than 8 million people work in this industry and provide high quality jobs especially for young people. Turkey used to participate in this programme but withdrew from it couple of years ago. Next year, we expect and believe that Turkey will participate in the Creative Europe programme that will begin in 2021. This is an essential element of our Union, and we hope that Turkey will participate in the Creative Culture programme again. Currently, EU member states are negotiating the final details of this programme, and then negotiations with candidate countries such as Turkey will start in order for them to participate in this programme.”

Brunet also expressed his views on the Intercultural Dialogue programme:

“This programme was financed by the EU Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, which is the EU funding benefited by all candidate countries. In particular, it aimed to promote the intercultural dialogue between the EU Member States and the EU institutions and civil society organizations and cultural organizations from Turkey. This programme was financed from the 2014 EU budget. It will end soon. Of course, as I have mentioned, the cultural and creative sectors will continue to remain important for the European Commission in the upcoming period, which will start in 2021. We hope there will be a new opportunity for civil society organizations and cultural organizations from Turkey to benefit from EU funding.”

 

Another guest who shared her experience and views through video interviews during the digital study visit was Malin Bergström, Project Manager at the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux in Brussels.

Founded in 1993, the geography in which the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux operates encompasses Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Institute is one of Finland’s 17 cultural and scientific institutes that span the globe. Established with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture as well as different public and private funds, the Institute is independent and non-profit. The main aim of the institute is to promote cultural relations between the Benelux countries and Finland as well as the transformation of these relations into permanent cooperation.

The Institute offers artists and organizations space and opportunities for exchange of views, new projects and new collaborations. The Institute is involved in a wide range of cultural activities covering many fields such as visual arts, performing arts, literature, design and cinema.

 

Malin Bergström shared key information on the working dynamics of Finnish cultural centres:

 

“The Finnish Cultural Institute is one of the 17 Finnish Cultural Institutes worldwide. They all have their own separate boards as well as different strategies and goals. Our aim is to support and encourage cooperation between the Benelux region and Finland, particularly in the arts sector. Our funding comes from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.  We apply for funding once a year. So, we are working on a system of annual funding. In addition to the projects, we also apply private foundations for funds.”

 

Bergström also made the following statements about the importance they attached to intercultural dialogue and how they integrate it into their work:

 

“Intercultural dialogue is at the centre of all our work. All of our programmes help build links between Finland and Belgium, Luxembourg or the Netherlands. We do this either by bringing people from other regions where we operate to various countries. For example, if we have an art event, we bring our own artists from Finland, or if there is an art event in Finland, we can take people to that event. Or they can come to us and suggest these arrivals and departures themselves. In other words, it is not always that curate it. We are open to suggestions from various artists from all regions where we operate.”

She also shared with the employees of Yunus Emre Institute her experience about TelepART Mobility Support Platform, an important funding mechanism by Bergström Institute:

“TelepART Mobility Support Platform was actually an initiative started by our Institute in 2016.  It aims to encourage and finance artists from either the Benelux region or Finland to travel to other locations in our operational sphere. It is an application-based platform, and funding includes travel and accommodation expenses as well as some possible expenses for shipping supplies. It is currently applicable to performing arts. In other words, this includes music, theatre, performance and circuses.

In our application, a grant of up to 20,000 Euros can be applied for, and besides our own internal evaluation of which projects can be awarded a grant, experts from other organizations such as Music Finland also review every application that goes through the application process. In other words, it is not only decided by the Institute, but the decision is also made based on the feedback we receive from these professional organizations in Finland.

TelepART’s main goal is to help young and new artists become international and perform internationally, thus establishing and developing international networks. The funding programme offers more artists the opportunity to go beyond Finnish borders and gain visibility, while artists from other countries are also given the opportunity to come to Finland.”

 

Natalie Giorgadze, Communication and Community Director for Culture Action Europe, was another guest who shared her experience and knowledge during the digital study visit.

Culture Action Europe was established in 1994 as the European Forum for the Arts and Heritage. Operating as a network of networks, the Forum aimed to ensure the continuity of dialogue and information exchange between cultural actors in Europe and EU policy makers.

The Forum changed its name to Culture Action Europe in 2008, subsequently diversifying its member profile and opening to the public and private sector. This change was reflected in the Action’s mission and advocacy policies. The focus of the new strategic approach they adopted was the fundamental rights of everyone for access to arts and equal participation in cultural activities. It continues its advocacy activities for public investment in arts and culture, which are the fundamental forces for a more harmonious and united Europe.

Today, Culture Action Europe is Europe’s largest cultural network, the first stop for artists, activists, academics and policy makers to learn about the EU’s arts and cultural policies. Being the only intersectoral network, the Action brings together many cultural practices from performing arts to literature, visual arts to design and interdisciplinary art, and community centers to activists.

 

In her interview, Natalie Giorgadze, Director of Communications and Community for Cultural Action Europe, which supports various programmes and projects involving partnerships between different organizations from different countries, evaluated the key elements behind successful partnerships:

 

“As a network, building connections and partnerships is at the core of our daily work.

We have developed some different steps to connect our members with each other, to associate the interests of our members, and to facilitate sharing and cooperation between them.

 

What is the most important element for the best partnership? I think there should be a common interest, or a common problem we often see that brings people together to collaborate and find solutions to challenges. It is definitely important to live the moments of sharing, to be together, to create a community and to create the feeling of belonging to the same network or the same family, and to share the values and vision. Now it has become a little more difficult as we cannot meet face to face due to the pandemic. Face-to-face meetings are very important to our work as a network, but digital technologies offer alternatives to create the same feeling. But we hope we can soon return to seeing each other, co-creating and bonding, building a sense of community.”

Giorgadze also commented on the limits of cooperation for the Action, which does not have any members from Turkey yet:

“We want to expand our memberships beyond the European Union. Most of our members are working with partners from Turkey or carry out projects in Turkey or outside the European Union. We are talking about cultural relations, about international cultural diplomacy. From this point of view, creating direct partnerships and projects and having members from outside the European Union are also very important for our work.

We are happy to be discussing with you the potential for any cooperation opportunities between Cultural Action Europe and the culture sector in Turkey. However, I can say that we are carrying out a project called Pilot Cities on the development of cultural policies and cultural strategies. We bring together different cities from Europe and work with experts, consultants, city governments and the cultural sector to design together the best cultural policies and strategies for cities.

Izmir is one of the pilot cities, and we are very happy to cooperate with them. For now, this is the only link we have with Turkey. But again, we look forward to possible future cooperation opportunities.”

 

 

In the next stage of the digital study visit, employees of Yunus Emre Institute will meet with EUNIC officials on a webinar and probe into potential cooperation opportunities.