Great speeches and splendid disagreement at the ECP’s annual meeting

EU_Culture

Sometimes to have a spinning brain is a fine thing. I´ve just returned from Edinburgh, from the European Cultural Parliament’s annual meeting – I´m privileged to be the only Norway-based member – and after three days of discussing nationhood, cultural identity and freedom of expression, my head is engaged in Scotland´s national dance, the reel.

Stuck in transit at Heathrow en route to Scotland with three members from Luxembourg, including the ex-culture minister, we started the debate early – fascinating to listen to their views on the EU culture department´s lack of open dialogue – and ended up (it was a long delay) dissecting the current structure around European Capitals of Culture and the dire need for a rethink. Hours later, we make the last twenty minutes of the ECP opening session, which is enhanced by a number of highly articulate and good humoured African guests, and diminished by the total absence of Scottish cultural politicians or artists. There is, however, reason for the omission. Creative Scotland, the national arts agency created two years ago from the bureaucratic crumbs of the then Arts Council, plus the deeply unwilling Scottish Film Council and various creative industry partners, is currently in a stand-off with the artists and organisations it is purports to support. After a ferocious open letter sent by Scotland´s most formidable artists criticising Creative Scotland´s leadership and objectives, the situation remains fragile. Let´s hope the newly appointed CS chief can wave a magic and creative wand.

Next day we listen to a flabby opening speech on National Days which then provoked tremendous debate on how these may reflect political interest as opposed to celebrating cultural heritage, followed by emotional interventions by Serbian and Kosovan members, who described acute issues of maintaining openness and democratic practice in establishing identity in new nations.  Much was said about a concentration on ’projects’ as opposed to a clear long term vision for culture development not manipulated by political ambitions. Our African colleagues listened, conferred with each other, and then erupted. What was this European obsession with national identity, they asked?

And so on. Some great speeches. Mshai Mwangola´s description of Kenya´s long journey towards freedom of expression was masterful, Uffe Elbæk, formerly Denmark´s culture minister, led a workshop on how/how not to lead a nation´s culture department, and the French members debated the current scandal around the Louvre´s highly sanitized exhibition of France´s visual arts history with Germany.

Meanwhile, back in Bergen, in the land of ’luxurious arts funding’ (I quote my UK colleagues) we have just had another three days of highly stimulating debate: Bergen National Opera´s Academy on dramaturgy and new opera, focusing on how to develop a story. Six pairs of composers and librettists, plus one director – a mix of Norwegians, Swedes, Irish, Belgians, Danes and Brits – worked with composer Judith Weir, dramaturg Jens Schrott and poet/librettist Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen on extracts from their ongoing opera projects, along with an excellent group of singers. Wonderful, inspiring results. Lucky participants, to have such superb mentoring, lucky Bergen National Opera to have the privilege of bringing together such talent.

And more talent arrives on Tuesday, for the start of rehearsals for our new Fidelio. Great music, a great cast and a remarkable creative team. Back to the reeling brain. Beethoven is already dancing in my head.

Mary Miller

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