We're almost 30
The European Network of Cultural Centres was founded in 1994, when The Lion King and Naked were playing in movie theatres and the Yugoslavian Wars were still ongoing. It was the brainchild of five cultural operators from Flanders, Finland and Poland, who gathered 30 other future members in a cultural centre in northern Belgium to celebrate the organisation's official launch. The informal slogan was «The network for those who never dreamed they could go European». Creative Europe and its funding programmes did not yet exist. Communication was mainly through postcards and typewritten newsletters, though the ENCC office was an early adopter of email by 1995. (By the way, this focus on tech is still present in the network, though today it takes a more critical approach.)
Nowadays, the ENCC office is run by a small group of women from the top floor of a former school in Brussels. Their daily efforts go towards organising trainings on EU project writing, consulting with members, circulating calls and opportunities, writing cooperation applications, and inviting discussion and experimentation around transversal issues such as inclusion, gender equality, non-urban culture, digital ethics, working conditions in culture and the arts, and of course the ecological transition.
The ENCC has been co-funded by the Creative Europe networks strand since 2014.
What do we mean by "cultural centres"?
Let’s take a walk around the place where the network was born, in a medium-sized city in northwestern Europe. It’s a sprawling, late 20th-century building with as many transparent surfaces as possible. It has auditoriums and meeting rooms, a theatre, a professional recording studio, an gallery space and a huge café. The former director used to describe it as an « art space where no distinctions are made between professionals and amateurs » (that was before two new directors took over internally and decided to go a step further by removing distinctions between maintenance and operational staff). People come here to watch movies, join a support group of female DJs, attend a concert or picnic on the lawn. The centre is open 24/7 and anyone can spend the night in the lobby, including people who do not have any other place to sleep.
Other ENCC members comme from rural or«non-urban» areas : small towns, invisible cities, peripheries without infrastructures. One member organisation operates on a Mediterranean island so steep that we could not organise an event there, and had to move it to a neighbouring, more-accessible island. Another, located inside a former windmill, is a meeting point for an ageing rural community. Its director notes: «My audience doesn’t really do digital communication. I just write things on pieces of paper and tape them to the walls.»
Some members are networks themselves, on the local, regional or national levels. They may link a string of similar organisations in the same city to function as a social laboratory. They may represent historical cultural houses in the former Soviet Union, searching for their present-day mission and connection to youth. They may be powerful advocates contributing to national policy for artists and cultural workers’ rights and well-being, in spite of being based in a tiny office, or not having a dedicated workspace. If we put all the members of our members together, we come to a total of approximately 3000 cultural centres that can potentially participate in our activities. Although we don't reach all of them directly, we consider them to be our members and grant them all advantages that our members enjoy.