Reshaping and rewiring European cultural projects and networks

Reshaping and rewiring European cultural projects and networks

The current crisis is setting a lot of strain on cultural initiatives, and in particular also on international cultural networks and projects, which have been – of course – highly dependent on international travel. At the same time, the crisis offers opportunities to rethink and reshape their practices in a more sustainable way. RESHAPE, a large scale collaborative project, and IETM, the international network for contemporary performing arts are two examples, in which IDEA Consult is involved.

IETM is one of the pioneers of international networking in the performing arts. It was founded in 1981 by a small number of entrepreneuring directors of alternative festivals and venues, organising live meetings in order to exchange knowledge about emerging talent and how-to organise festivals. The formula worked quite well for a long time: it allowed the ecosystem for contemporary performing arts to develop: there were new opportunities for artists, through collaboration and coproduction more and larger work could be made, mobility in Europe increased (also between East and West) and the public support on the EU level was pushed forward. The network grew and inspired many other networks.

However, since ten years, some major shifts have put a lot of strain on the cultural sector in Europe. After the near-collapse of the global financial system in 2009, most European countries cut their budgets for contemporary performing arts. This put severe pressure on the collaborative practices in the performing arts, which – as a result of international networking – had turned into a transnational system for production and presentation (international coproduction and touring).

The performing arts sector looked for answers, but short term solutions have proved not to be sustainable on the longer term. Strategies were developed to work more efficiently and remain visible in a system under huge pressure. Today, one of the main issues in the field is the socio-economic precarity of artists. Also, the strategy to remain productive via international coproduction and touring, led to hypermobility, the need to travel constantly in order to be able to work – which is highly at odds with the increasing ecological awareness in this sector and society as a whole.

Currently, there are a number of initiatives in the international cultural field to rethink current unsustainable practices and develop alternative models via transition thinking frameworks. IDEA is involved in two of them. Both are good examples of how the corona crisis also helped their reflections shifting into the next gear.

We have already talked about IETM. IDEA is facilitating the network’s trajectory to reset its agenda and modus operandi for the twenties. In order to design preferred transitions and discuss the role the network could play in this, the idea was to have two large brainstorms with the whole network (500 members) in Tromso and Belgrade and a series of discussion papers. Because of travel and other restrictions, we redeveloped this trajectory as an online virtual journey, with a survey, a series of blog posts, some large scale online brainstorms and… who knows what the next months will bring, as we keep redesigning as we go? Read all about it here.

RESHAPE (Reflect, Share, Practice, Experiment) is a 3-year trajectory, funded via Creative Europe, aiming at the development of new organisational models for a fair, sustainable, solidary and geographically balanced arts ecosystem in Europe and South Mediterranean countries. Forty artists and art professionals (we call them ‘Reshapers’) are working in small groups on answers and proposals around 5 complementary topics like fair governance, solidarity funding, transnational practices and art and citizenship.

RESHAPE was supposed to have a plenary meeting early March in Zagreb, which was cancelled because of corona, but in a matter of just days the program was redesigned as a remote virtual conference. Read all about it here. IDEA joined the exercise and facilitated a large scale brainstorm with a large scale brainstorm with more than 60 people, combining several digital tools such as the online whiteboard MIRO, Zoom and Google Sheets. Read about that here.

More important than these technical experiments, the partners and artists involved in RESHAPE are currently redesigning this project in order to put its values into concrete practice. What does transnational solidarity mean in the current crisis? Is it possible to not only design new working models, but also: to also implement them and put them into practice directly?

These days, the performing arts sector is not only advancing its digital skills quite rapidly. More profoundly, the crisis might break down unsustainable but persistent practices and accelerate alternative working models for projects and networks. Will the crisis be a pathway to a more sustainable future? Or will we fall back into old habits when it is over? The future will tell whether this corona crisis — which has had a huge impact on our lives and work so far — might also be the catalyst, breaking down and phasing out unsustainable practices and paving the way for a more sustainable future.