Creative Scotland for a Creative Europe

Andrew Ormston | 20 November 2017

© 2017 Dundee City Council

What ‘Brexit’ actually means seems to change on a daily basis. Last week’s ‘no deal’ scenario is this week’s ‘Norway’ model. If, however, you work in the cultural and creative industries, you most likely stood aghast at the prospect of Brexit from the ‘get-go’. The sector is economically, emotionally and, of course, culturally connected to Europe. The 27 are our colleagues, partners, collaborators and our most important non-domestic market. Freedom of movement is hard-wired into both the zeitgeist and the mechanics of creative businesses and cultural institutions across Scotland. Unless our sectoral prayers are answered, we will see a diminishing cultural and creative industries in the not too distant future.

In the UK, Brexit tends to ‘suck the oxygen out of the room’. In the 27, it is the wider populist agenda that is preoccupying many hearts and minds. I have just returned from a meeting on cultural policy in Prague, where it was clear that the rise of the populist right is having a dramatic impact on cultural policy in some countries. The Hungarian critic, Tamas Jaszey, talked about how the National Theatre of Scotland had inspired the development of proposals for a similar model in Hungary ten years ago. This may have been possible then, but he was clear that in today’s political climate the idea is, in his words, only utopian.

Since the Paris Declaration of 2015, the EU is taking practical steps to address both autocratic attempts to curtail artistic expression, and also the potential for culture and creativity to push back against the thinning of our social space and identity that comes with populist ideologies. A new portfolio of policy documents have just been released that focus on topics like ‘strengthening European identity through education and culture’. They are accompanied with practical recommendations like doubling the numbers of Erasmus+ participants by 2025 and strengthening the financing capacity for creative and cultural SMEs across Europe.

At the heart of these documents lies an understanding that the various European programmes are part of a combined and integrated approach. When it comes to creativity and culture this particularly applies to links between the major research programme, Horizon 2020, the major mobility programme, Erasmus+, and the comparatively minor (albeit important) cultural programme, Creative Europe. The EU sees these programmes as a package whose combined effects shape the economy, society and culture of Europe. It is why one policy paper may include tackling xenophobia as well as digital skills. In the UK our thinking tends to be more compartmentalised, with various sub-sectors arguing for the special importance of their particular source of funding. Universities push Westminster to guarantee future involvement in Horizon 2020 but may be less focused on Erasmus+ and Creative Europe.

This sectoral lobbying is one reason for Whitehall recruiting thousands of new civil servants as it grapples with the enormity of the Brexit task. Part of their remit is to figure out if and how to engage with programmes like Creative Europe after 2019. If the UK adopts something like the Norway model, then it will be possible to buy into the programme. ‘No deal’ means the UK designing its own unilateral solution.

Creative Europe is growing in importance and the ambition of the 2018 European Year of Cutlural Heritage programme stands testament to a wider recognition of the positive role of culture in such ideologically divisive times. The Creative Europe programme has also steadily grown in importance in Scotland with many Scottish filmmakers, authors and producers feeling the benefit (€6.3m was distributed across 16 organisations in every part of the country in 2014/15).

It seems to me that much of Creative Europe’s positive impact lies in a process that is not mediated by national or regional governments or institutions. An organisation or business develops a project with like-minded organisations in a number of other countries. If the application scores highly enough against the criteria (and it is a very competitive scheme) the money is awarded. The focus of the resulting international cooperation, exchange and innovation lies with the project partners. This directly empowers people working in the sector, provides a strong platform for the building of international relationships, and provides a direct route to investment that, unusually for project funding, can cover 4 or even 7 years of work.

Culture is largely a devolved Scottish parliament responsibility. My hope is that the Scottish government is looking seriously at the principles that underpin the Creative Europe programme – not just the mechanics and measurable outputs, but as a basis for how it supports the future internationalisation of Scotland’s cultural and creative industries. There is the potential to both fund our practitioners to develop and deepen international relationships and to provide match investment for the resulting initiatives. It should also mean keeping faith with the value of cultural investment as contributing to the way we would like the world to be.

Andrew Ormston | Twitter

Drew Wylie Projects

Andrew Ormston is an international consultant working across the cultural and creative industries. He is based in Edinburgh and is an Honorary Fellow with Edinburgh University’s School of Social and Political Science.