“Mobility” and “intercultural dialogue” have become everyday words in the global discourse.
Yet faced with the urgency of political decision-making, nations as well as local authorities (or coalitions and networks of one and/or the other) would do well to take the time to understand these words, since misinterpreting their significance could have costly effects.
All of these governing bodies could engender a variety of political futures, some invariably antagonistic, but all of them at their own level of power will have to make their choice and strategy quickly in this regard.
The pressing question that requires some political analysis is "For what aim do we want mobility and dialogue ?”
In order to reach this necessary clarification, we need to examine everything that has contributed to change since the time when the inappropriate colonial relationship was formally removed, which could be considered more or less exactly as during the 60s ; let it be said in passing that this period also saw the emergence of Europe and the independence of a number of African states which was no mere coincide.
The change is still in process and although it is favoured by cooperation policies, it is at the same time influenced by two paradigm shifts, two consequences that have a direct impact on today’s subject :
The first paradigm addresses the notion of “intercultural dialogue” which, particularly in the Mediterranean, has mainly been promoted at interministerial level ; a dialogue between Ministries of Culture rather than a dialogue of cultures, a sort of continuation of the diplomatic influence that the previous French Ministry of Foreign Affairs again referred to (cf : lettre de cadrage by Bernard Kouchner on cultural diplomacy, September 2009, see footnote) and mainly organised around inter-state cultural relations.
"Globalisation is accompanied by growing competition in all sectors. The prosperity and security of our country, the promotion of our interests and our values demands that we strengthen our capacity to project our language, our culture, our ideas, our vision of society to the outside world”. IN Réforme de la Politique Culturelle Extérieure, 26 décembre 2009
Quite logically, all the logistic aspects of this level of exchange, and in particular the funding of cultural and artistic mobility, are consequently integrated into the relevant budgetary lines. The aim of cultural mobility is clearly linked to the prestige and influence of national or local cultures and rarely understood as a factor of development.
During the last two decades however, the political impact of regional development funds - a consequence of the building of Europe – has, like a shift into gear, strengthened the autonomy of local and regional authorities giving rise to the gradual convergence of local authorities in a sort of differentiated federalism where local cultural identity, consolidated by “touristic attractivity”, plays an essential role ; for the worst or for the better.
Moreover, at an era of globalised conflict, the paradox would have it that a certain number of clashes, often linked to cultural issues, cannot be resolved merely by the will of national diplomacy. A “discussion between neighbours” is often the only key to unlocking tricky and longstanding divides.
We can witness a gradual shift in sovereignty, the emergence of territorial diplomacy next to national diplomacy.
It is not surprising therefore that one of the key local cultural-policy-framework documents, the Agenda 21 for Culture, was produced by a worldwide network of local governance, Cities and Local Governments United ?
The second paradigm shift is at European level, within the Treaty of Lisbon, that has instored competitivity and creativity strengthening the mission and aims of local politicians in this field.
No local politician would dare to clam in the face of their constituents, whatever their political colour that creativity and attractivity are unnecessary to the development of local communities.
The common future of local inhabitants cannot therefore be envisaged without good quality creative talents and this also explains the acceleration of a “transfer of interest for the arts” from the State to the local level, which, in many cases, must we be reminded, were already the main funders of the arts, in France at least and in other European countries.
At the same time, taking a stance at international level or more exactly “externally to the local level” is vital for any local community in order to develop its attractivity elsewhere.
The undisputable effect of the “European Capital of Culture” phenomenon (promoting local policies which no State would, in its right mind, deprive itself of, although candidacies do not always follow with the same euphoria), has lead, in addition, to a transfer of interests and aims that will be lasting, because they are upheld by a number of international treaties such as the UNESCO Convention of 2005 on cultural diversity. This convention also insists on the local dimension of culture and the arts and its contribution to local development. The Treaty of Lisbon, in a European framework and due to competitivity, also promotes the need for alliances between local authorities.
As any international treaty, these two agreements are supposedly binding, and although they will probably not be implemented by force, they are nonetheless, symbols of a commitment, a commitment without ambiguity. Local authorities know this just as well as States do.
Concerning mobility, what can we say about the last five years ?
It is difficult to provide a complete response to this question, since most of the mobility operators concentrate their communication on their own parameters and public, without necessarily providing global communication ; it is moreover, difficult to know all the initiatives taken in this field. Purely factual information such as this would not have sufficed to nourish the indepth debate that has now emerged.
In the framework of a conference organised on the initiative of the Roberto Cimetta Fund, with the support of the Institut français, a major meeting of mobility operators took place in Fès, Morocco, from 12th to 14th May 2006. This meeting provided the possibility to agree on a number of major principles, to analyse existing programmes and present some founding documents.
More recently, on 13th September 2010, on the initiative of the European Commission and the Roberto Cimetta Fund, the main organisations involved in the mobility of artists and operators from Europe, Africa or the Arab world, meet in Brussels in the form of an informal think tank to compare operational modes, but more importantly to share experiences and try to define common challenges.
The organisations that were invited, all involved at one level or another in these questions, were the following :
The Roberto Cimetta Fund
The Gulbenkian Foundation
The Safar Fund
The European Cultural Foundation
The International Organisation of French-speaking countries
Art Moves Africa
The Prince Claus Fund
The Felix Meritis Foundation
The Young Arab Theatre Fund
The Arab Education Forum
The Ford Foundation
The organisations agreed on a number of common values without much difficulty. These values will continue to evolve along the lines of the paradigm shifts presented above and they all tend to present mobility as not just a simple journey.
None of the organisations listed above would like their work to be considered as simply that of a “specialised travel agency”. They fall within two categories ; those that protect human rights and those that act on the field.
On the chapter of Rights, the right for equal treatment requires balanced relations between artists and operators from the South and from the North. Yet we cannot fail to notice that the leaders of cultural projects are rarely from the South, which would invariably imply that most partnerships are lead and therefore influenced by operators from the North, even if they do so with the best intentions. We are confronted with the stark reality which immediately calls for training and for the setting up of artistic teams and facilities that will consolidate the arts sector in the South, but also reveals and questions the legitimacy of project building the “way they do it in the North” that could be different from the “way they would do it in the South”.
In the same way, the importance of cultural mobility in peace keeping, a messenger of cultural diversity, a facilitator of dialogue has been underlined on countless occasions by the professionals working in the sector, but still does not appear to be seen as an effective contributor by political decision makers. They still need to be convinced of the importance of the cultural factor in the emergence of conflict and in its resolution.
Finally, to consider hospitality as a shared investment rather than a charitable act is difficult for us to apprehend within our moral traditions in the South as well as the North, and this conservative approach contributes directly to our ignorance when it comes to evaluating the potential benefits that we could gain from our mutual visits.
It is precisely at this point that we could not only contribute to a real economy of scale but also to mutual respect which is much more important that a passing compassion inspired by the media. Hospitality is a path to knowledge, to personal enrichment.
Translating these principles into concrete action on the ground obliges experts that provide travel grants to respect three conditions :
The first without a doubt involves the absolute necessity of encouraging artistic team building and the development of cultural infrastructure.
The grantee’s travel is not a one-way ticket.
Until recently, the aim was to identify and entice the best artists from the South, bring them to the European land and use their creativity to serve the interests of our leaders, or the material interests of our cultural industries. This method has, since the independence of African states, gradually taken the lead over any real form of cooperation and has sapped these countries of their “creative raw material”, it has impoverished them as surely as the looting of their natural resources, and this, it must be said, with the frequent complicity of their elite leaders.
A mobility grant can only be justified by the effect it can have on local development once the grantee returns to his or her country of origin. The paradox of this trip is that the benefits can only be measured on the return, not on the outward journey.
The second condition stems from the idea of a return on investment. Travel grants are to be considered as a stake, collective risk-taking on the part of the funders of mobility funds who aim to contribute to the emergence of international artistic cooperation. To this end, it may be interesting to try and calculate the ratio between “investment/benefit” of such support. For many artists and operators, a plane ticket can represent a number of monthly wages, the cost of which remains an extremely profitable investment in the light of the positive chain of effects generated by this investment. Instead of seeing it as beneficial to one individual it should be considered as a collective dynamic. It is wise to compare the amount of the travel grant with the amount of economic benefits hoped for. At any rate, this calculation would not leave financial experts indifferent.
The third condition relates to the perception of spin offs in a long-term time frame. Each trip should be seen in a sustainable perspective as a continuum of development. No doubt the experts in charge of selecting the candidates have kept this in mind.
But sustainability, team building and local development cannot be identified or be linked without a common project for society in the future. Individual travel must imply that the beneficiary reflects on his or her position in society and this trip should be seen as a privileged moment of political responsibility. At the opposite end, the local community must accept this individual perception that has become external due to the trip, and accept the transformation that could result from this.
To conclude on this common project for society in the future :
Including a time frame widens the debate. In the South of the Mediterranean, 70% of the population is under twenty. When these generations will be of age to travel, thousands of artists and operators will want to make use of their right to travel the world. Must we create enormous funds for international mobility to respond to this legitimate request ?
Or, on the contrary, will the principles of democracy have lead to the setting up of real cultural policies established with citizens to respond to their needs ?
Will this common project for our future integrate in its DNA the essential articulation between bio-diversity, cultural diversity and democratic pluralism ? Will it recognise Culture’s undeniable role as a developer, a pacifier and a liberator ?
If the response is yes, international mobility funds will be supported by local governing bodies who will invent, adapt and control the entire financial needs of the community, including investment in mobility of its most brilliant thinkers, seen as a process of shared enrichment.
If the response is no, the pressure and the injustice will be such that mobility will have given way to an exodus of no return, to ghettos and conflicts.
The issue, it seems, is leaving the realms of global competitivity between nations, and shifting to the level of local political decision making where a common project for our future society will respond to the desire of mobility.
Ferdinand Richard, March 2011