|Intercultural Laboratory - participants from UK, Romania and Greece|
The symposium was characterised by a tone of resignation. Even David Lan, whose speech struck a more powerful moral tone than most, didn't dare to suggest that Brexit could possibly be resisted. What seemed to me most striking and most disturbing about the day was the sense that Britain really was different from the rest of Europe, and that the difference consisted of a more mercenary approach, even to culture. Mark Ball talked about British participants in the international theatre circuit being more transactional in their approach than Europeans (or anybody else, except Americans). Christopher Balme, who has always had a global view of such things, looked at the UK's gradual policy shift away from an integral to an instrumental view of the value of culture; and suggested that the corresponding move in European cultural policy, from Culture 2000's belief in the inherent worth of intercultural dialogue to Creative Europe's emphasis on culture as a means to economic and social regeneration, was a reflection of British influence. So at least we managed to mess Europe up before leaving it....
I retain a few little strands of hope as to what may happen in the negotiating process. If, as seems virtually certain, Theresa May is re-elected with an enhanced majority, she will take that same transactional, indeed confrontational approach to the negotiation. Her recent run-in with Jean-Claude Juncker shows just how alien this is to the European approach to policy: on the continent there is far less adversarial politics, far more consensus and coalition building. The thought that the Brexit talks might be about "the best deal we can get" is itself anathema to the Commission. The British government cares not a jot for culture or education - the most recent instructions from the DCMS to the Arts Council suggest that the latter should be transformed into a business development agency, a bit like UKTI. But culture and education do still matter to the European Union, and they value the contributions that British educators, researchers and (yes) artists can make to their projects. It may just be that the EU manages to salvage our involvement in the programmes as a trade-off for some concession on tariffs or the like. I'm inclined to direct the lobbying efforts towards Brussels rather than Westminster.
Turbulent times produce good art, though - and, fully aware of the irony, I can report that this Laboratory was the best we have done. At our Evaluation session, and since, participants spoke about the freedom they had found in our approach, the way the workshop had enabled them to follow their creativity and emotional paths, to overcome fear, to re-frame their own roles as artists or educators. One young man from Romania, who may or may not have known that he was arguing the case for Europe, said: "It made me feel how travelling and communicating can help you grow... If you put people together, it's better for everyone".
Simple really, isn't it?