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Council of Europe

Culturelink review, no.22/August 1997 - contents - imprint - archive

In from the Margins

A contribution to the debate on culture and development in Europe
Culture Committee, Strasbourg, 1997, 347 pp.

The report In from the Margins is the European complement to the report of the World Commission on Culture and Development entitled Our Creative Diversity. It seeks to advise the Council of Europe on the key issues facing cultural policy makers in Europe. The complex cultural challenges and development issues of 'a continent in transition' are addressed in this volume. The central themes of the report, as stated at the very beginning of its Executive Summary (p. 1), are 'two interlocking priorities - to bring the millions of dispossessed and disadvantaged Europeans in from the margins of society, and cultural policy in from the margins of governance'.

The developmental role of culture is strongly stressed in this report. Culture is directly connected to the main aims of sustainable development. It is a concept that in each society stands for humanistic values, as opposed to the growing exclusion and unemployment of ever larger numbers of people in Europe. The central themes clearly reflect an effort to interpret culture as social change itself. It is, however, hard to believe that the overall social change of the European societies is almost exclusively reflected in cultural values. If culture becomes everything, then it may as well become nothing.

The cultural policy responses to the challenges of European development are seen as ineffectual and lacking in vision. They are found to be fragmented and generally inadequate as an effort to link culture and development. In order to provide for such a link, the public administration should be changed, and the isolation of ministries of culture should end. However, the cultural sector should not be controlled or managed exclusively by the state, since it functions best when outside of the state control.

The most valuable resource of European development is Europe's human capital. Investing in the human capital and implementing the cultural rights of a variety of marginalized groups (particularly national and cultural minorities, but also women, youth, etc.) is therefore seen as a crucial issue in addressing European development. Adoption of inclusive, rather than exclusive, policies by cultural organizations is seen as a support for new social ethics. The restoration of links between arts and sciences is also suggested. In this context, the need for a European Declaration on Cultural Rights is felt to be stronger than ever.

In from the Margins is a contribution to the wider global debate on culture and development and it represents 'a stand-alone document on the issues which are specific to Europe' (p.6). The contents of the publication are divided into three main parts: I. Cultural Policies on Trial, II. Europe in Transition, III. Setting a New Course. There is also the Introductory part and Appendices. The part on cultural policies is concentrated on describing culture as a policy domain and on defining principles. 'Europe in Transition' summarizes the main transitional trends reflected in the relationships between the global and the local, economics and management, demography, discussion of lifestyles, liberties, and the renewal of civil society, as well as in cultural transformation. Cultural changes are discussed in the context of a united Europe, exposed to the external global, mainly American influences, but also to 'Eastern', Asian influences. 'Setting a new course' represents an effort to answer a difficult question: 'Is there a Future for European Culture?' The answer would imply much more than a cultural analysis. It becomes evident that the key question still remains the same: Is there one Europe?, or, Is there something called typical European development? Such questions can hardly be answered by an analysis of cultural trends in the continent. Therefore they remain unanswered.

An interested reader of In from the Margins is exposed to a plaidoyer for a political change and for making politics out of cultures. Cultures should step into politics, or at least influence politics enough to influence developments. Such an attitude is challenging, particularly as a number of concepts, ideas, observations, analyses and scenarios are presented. They all have some value, and may inspire some useful political steps. However, bringing all Europeans and their cultures in from the margins of political and social life is a demanding task that can hardly be conceptualized through an effort to link culture and development.

In from the Margins is an interesting report, discussing culture in the light of two central themes that are perhaps overambitionely formulated. It offers uneven insights and analyses built on approaches and methodologies that are sometimes hard to harmonize and standardize. Although an all-inclusive approach is strongly announced in the introductory parts of the report, the cultures of about a half of the Europeans and the typical developments of the Eastern and Central European regions are practically excluded from it. Some key issues, like technological development and the cultural impact of scientific knowledge, are almost marginalized.

For all the deficiencies it may have, the report nevertheless represents a valuable effort to understand and interpret culture as a key domain of overall European developments.

To obtain this report, please contact: Mme Francoise Mallet, Council of Europe, F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France; tel.: (333)88 41 26 32; fax: (333)88 41 37 82

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Culture and Neighbourhoods

Volume II
A comparative report prepared by Franco Bianchini with Lia Ghilardi Santacatterina
Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, 1997, 110 pp.,
ISBN 92-871-3270-4

Volume III
Talking about the neighbourhood: views from locals and artists prepared by Michel Steimer
Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, 1997, 163 pp.,
ISBN 92-871-3151-1

Few of the contemporary European cities can avoid facing the socio-economic inequalities that are often reflected in the urban landscape. Social conflicts on the outskirts of cities or in certain inner-city areas, complex multicultural relations, growing isolation, anonymity, and loss of primary and physically close relationships as globalization progresses, are becoming common feature of the cities. Imbalances between city centres and neighbourhoods are persisting even though decentralization policies exist.

These are some of the reasons why the Council of Europe has decided to publish the results of the Culture and Neighbourhoods project (See Culture and Neighbourhoods Project, Culturelink no. 11/November 1993, pp. 61-64.) undertaken by the Council for Cultural Co-operation. The publications reviewed here are the second and third in a five-volume series planned to describe these results. (See Culture and Neighbourhoods Volume I, Culturelink no. 17/ 1995, pp. 46, and Culture and Neighbourhoods, Volume I, Culturelink no. 20/November 1996, pp. 63.)

Volume II presents the final analytical report on the programme, which comprises a comparative review of the twenty-four neighbourhood case studies and puts forward some interesting proposals for neighbourhood cultural development. These are based largely on the results of the mentioned case studies, as well as on the report of the expert visits, and on discussions within the group of advisers and at project conferences. The report does not pretend to be an exhaustive summary of the wealth of information and insights produced by the project, nor to be the final word on the topic. It is, rather, an attempt to begin to fill a large gap in research on urban neighbourhoods and to start a debate which will go well beyond cultural policy-making circles, as it touches on issues which are central to the future of European cities.

As Mr. Raymond Weber stresses in his Preface, today the city symbolises all the conflicts of a changing society. Though formerly the cradle of democracy, the city today is all too often synonymous with exclusion, indifference, hostility and violence: a reversal of values. Therefore, the Council of Europe has tried, based on the values it defends (human rights, democracy, rule of law, humanistic values), to analyse this reality of urban neighbourhoods, not only as areas of decay, disaffiliation, misery, despair and fear, but also as spaces of promising transformation, places of experience and of innovating social and cultural practices. And indeed, the 24 neighbourhoods studies show that a difficult neighbourhood or a heterogenous suburb can also be:

  • a space for discovering the other,
  • a space of new solidarities,
  • an extremely dynamic space of artistic and cultural creativity,
  • a space of experimentation concerning new cultural places,
  • a space of experimentation for a new democracy.

Consequently, the city can become a vector of humanism, a territory where social and cultural transformations are invented and managed.

Volume III is the third in this series, and it complements the general and conceptual framework (Volume I) and the analytical final report on the project (Volume II), which were both masterminded by esteemed academics in the field of urban development and culture. The third volume gives a voice to those directly concerned: the inhabitants of the neighbourhoods researched and artists involved in neighbourhood cultural work. The 30 extracts which make up the book are taken from interviews which were conducted in eight European cities: Villeurbanne (Lyons urban community, France), Liverpool (United Kingdom), Copenhagen (Denmark), Budapest (Hungary), Lisbon (Portugal), Athens (Greece), Barcelona (Spain), and Berlin (Germany). The selection of countries, cities and neighbourhoods in which the interviews were conducted can obviously not provide an exhaustive or even representative picture of the diversity of problems associated with the concept of neighbourhood in Europe. The idea was to go out and meet 30 or so individuals who were prepared to recount their own concrete experiences in terms of the relationship between culture and neighbourhoods.

From these testimonies there emerges a view of the neighbourhood as essentially a space of communication and creation to be reconstructed, a creator of new social bonds. The neighbourhood thus becomes a political and social issue, one which also touches on the question of identity. It has become an artistic and cultural issue too: the artist and the cultural agent are not the deus ex machina who will resolve all the political and social problems. This is the task left to the citizens of a community who seek to give meaning to a whole set of cultural practices and lifestyles.

Volumes I, II and III can be obtained in English and French at the price of ECU 11/ FF 75/US$ 15 each, plus packing and postage.

To obtain the publications, please contact: Council of Europe Publishing Sales Unit, F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France; tel.: 3 88 41 25 81; fax: 3 88 41 27 80

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European Gardens

Issue number three, Autumn 1996, of the Historic Gardens Foundation's English/French publication European Gardens, examines the bitterness of conflict between the private owners of historic gardens and the bureaucrats overseeing them. Most owners have come to accept statutory control over their houses and other buildings, in terms of the listing system which makes public what is important historically or aesthetically, and forbids alteration and destruction, but they often feel different about their gardens.

This issue also investigates how to run an efficient garden festival, and presents a historic family's garden diary. A number of gardens at risk are listed and the understanding of different garden cultures gained through educational exchange is explored. A report on volunteers researching and restoring the garden heritage of English counties is included, as is also a look at the fragile heritage and the restoration of glasshouses. News and announcements from exhibitions, conferences and publications complete the volume.

This publication is part of the Cultural Routes Programme of the Council of Europe.

Address: The Historic Gardens Foundation, 34 River Court, Upper Ground, London SE1 9 PE, United Kingdom; tel.: 44-0171-633 9165; fax: 44-0171-401 7072