Tuesday, September 29, 2009

European Culture Forum

I'm in Brussels as a guest of the EU, for the European Culture Forum - a two-day bunfight involving policy-makers, producers, advocates and even the odd artist from all over Europe, plus a few from elsewhere. Given the importance of the European element in much of what we're doing at the moment, it seemed important to be here - and, well, they did ask....

Not that Britain is particularly well represented at this event - as so often in Europe, though it's not exactly very far by Eurostar. I bump into Yvette Vaughan-Jones from Visiting Arts, who was on the same (very early) train as me this morning. She knows she needs to ask me something, but the 4am start prevents her remembering what it was... I also have long chat with Deborah Shaw from the RSC, who I last met in Hong Kong. She runs the intercultural aspects of their operation, which at the moment seems to mean work with Russia (as witness the new plays just opened) and with the Middle East. She tells me that Arabic has no infinitives, so that when "To be or not to be" is translated, it comes out as "Shall we be or shall we not be", which makes the abstract question a whole lot more immediate, catapulting it into the political arena.

Not much coming from the stage is as exciting as this - though there are odd gems among the plethora of platitudes which tend to be obligatory on such occasions. The liveliest sessions are, predicably enough, the smaller ones - like a discussion of access and participation, or the session around the Platform for Intercultural Europe. Border Crossings is now a member of this Platform, and I spend some time discussing its implications with Sabine Frank (who runs it) and Chris Torch (from Intercult in Sweden). They are both very keen to integrate cultural action more fully into other aspects of policy (particularly social policy) - and I'm very enthusiastic about that. The one area where I find myself diverging from the Platform is when it states that "The potential lies in... highlighting similarities rather than differences between people." If you do that, then where is the drama? Without conflict, there is no cultural production, nor indeed any dialogue. This is a basic problem in a forum of this kind. We talk about the arts as a social bond, and indeed they are - but that must not blind us to the fact that they are actually about divisions and differences and conflicts and turbulence.

In the evening, there is a concert which makes the point very well. It's programmed, and mainly conducted, by the wonderful baroque specialist Jordi Savall. Watching him and his performers, it becomes very clear how dialogue is at the basis of all European culture. In the baroque, one instrument answers another, one phrase complements the next. It's a fallacy to see this music as still and beautiful - its beauty in fact lies in dynamism and change.

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