Last June 4th, we made our way down the Lisbon hills and through a tangle of railway tracks to the Alcantara docks along the Tagus river, to the Museo do Oriente, where our 2019 Project Fair was about to kick off.
75 participants from 14 countries were present, a mix of well-known members and colleagues, more recent additions to the network (hello Ritums, Non Riservato, Il Mutamento Zona Castalia, VEF Culture Palace, Rete delle Case del Quartiere and Stiftung Neue Musik-Impulse Schleswig-Holstein!), and new faces joining the ENCC community for the first time.
From the start, the meeting seemed to place itself under the signs of experience sharing, honesty, and openness. Keynote Rosa Pérez Montclus, policy director at Culture Action Europe, explained how the EU can develop a cultural policy when it has no real mandate to do so - and went on to situate cultural cooperation and advocacy in that larger picture. Helena Bijnens, from the SILO project for making foreign literature accessible, described their own practical learning process and dealt out candid advice ('In accounting, have a good cop and a bad cop. Interim reports can be good for monitoring partners' progress and motivating yourself to keep moving forward. Use EU projects to do things that your organisation already wants to do - don't do them for the Commission'). Moderator Geoffrey Brown, Euclid director, tackled questions about how to deal with troubled projects ('Cultivate a good relationship with your project officer and communicate with them about any issues. Keep a written trail of that communication.').
Every meeting has an a-ha moment, which sometimes can be just one individual slide. This time it was probably the lightning-speed presentation by Geoffrey Brown on what not to include in a project summary ('Lots of dreary historical and/or philosophical background to justify the project. Lots of explanation as to why the (lead) partner(s) are (is) great. Very little about what will actually happen, the beneficiaries or the legacy...') and a template for making it vivid and relevant.
'Presenting a cooperation project is being able to tell the story behind it. And then involving other people in that story. So it's about storytelling, and about making it participative.'
After the plenary sessions, more than half of the participants joined the expert speed-dating workshop, no matter how advanced (or not) they were in their projects. This was an opportunity to discuss and challenge project content, orientation and partnership structure. As Ivo Peeters, chairman of the ENCC board, commented later, 'Presenting a cooperation project is being able to tell the story behind it. And then involving other people in that story. So it's about storytelling, and about making it participative.'
Going up and down the long hall where participants' projects were displayed bulletin-board style, we ran into, among many others, Sabine Zimmerman talking about the Hildesheim 2025 bid for European Capital of Culture ('We'd like to show that European networks and ideas exist even in the smallest corners, behind hedges, under carpets, in kitchens and gardens'); artists Rita Kudrina and Georgi Georgiev, stretching, exhausted, after a speed-date on their project about preserving Mediterranean whistle languages; and chatted to Xavier Lejeune about how his cultural centre L'Estran, on the Western coast of France, brings together surf and skate culture, sound creation and jazz. Seeing such diverse practitioners connect seemed like evidence on how useful a transdisciplinary network like the ENCC can be in supporting rich cross-sectoral cooperation.
"Thank you for the avoidance of boring panels. Thank you for the funny moderator!" wrote one participant in her evaluation. We'd also like to thank Teresa Tamen from the Centro Nacional de Cultura, Cristina Almeida from the Museo do Oriente, and graduate student Margarida Gordon for her brilliant help on the spot. As well as the speakers, experts and workshop leaders from the SILO project, our partners in organising the meeting, for sharing their experience, energy and critical minds. A special thanks to VOARTE and CiM Dance Company for their opening performance.
The European is Beautiful Project Fair was hosted at the Museo do Oriente on June 4 and 5, 2019. The study visits were Museo do Oriente, Centre Nacional de Cultura and Museu do Azulejo.
Speakers presentations, project sheets, photos and tips on European cooperation projects are available on the European is Beautiful Resource Base.