Cultural transformation is at the heart of any other transformation

“In the extremely challenging times that we are living, we should rather double, triple, quadruple investment in culture and cultural heritage,” says Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General at Europa Nostra. “The wider field of culture can have a real impact on our society.”

“By cutting funding to the Creative Europe programme, we reduce investment in creativity and innovation,” adds Carla Toffolo, Programme Manager for the European Heritage Hub. “Even with the relatively little funding culture receives, it has huge positive impact; therefore, introducing cuts in these funds which are already limited, is neither sensible nor responsible.” The proposal to reduce Creative Europe’s budget by €40 million, or more than 12 % of the 2024 allocation, has led to serious concerns among the culture and heritage sector as well as relevant stakeholders.

European Heritage Hub Forum 2023
Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra and Project Leader of the European Heritage Hub © Felix Q Media

Culture of and for change

In the past, projects like Cultural Heritage in Action, presenting best practices from cities and regions, have collected ample evidence that culture and heritage are resources to achieve green, social and digital transformations. “The environmental, digital and social transformations require a true cultural transformation,” says Quaedvlieg-Mihailović. “In times when many forces seek to tear Europe apart, cultural heritage has the potential to bring people together.”

Culture and heritage are key resources for the successful transformation of our society and our environment. To achieve this, cities are strong allies because of their proximity and access to people. “Municipalities can reach out to citizens almost one by one so that each of us understands that we must contribute to the change the world needs,” adds Toffolo. For example, the award-winning project of the Royal Gardens renaissance in Venice revived a part of the city’s green lung and created a place for social encounters for locals and tourists alike.

“Venice, like many other cities worldwide, is threatened by climate change. Culture has a role in making people aware of the risks, creating a sense of responsibility, and stimulating imagination about what could be done in the longer term for Venice and other endangered heritage sites,” says Toffolo.

Strategic alliances

Venice is also an emblematic city that has been placed at the centre of the European Heritage Hub project and activities. “The project wants to build as many synergies as possible between stakeholders, networks, programmes, initiatives, funding opportunities, etc.,” explains Quaedvlieg-Mihailović. “We shall build one large platform where the wide cultural heritage ecosystem comes together, from civil society, associations and foundations, to universities, local authorities and private companies.”

For this reason, the very first European Heritage Hub Forum took place in Venice last Thursday as part of the European Cultural Heritage Summit. Activities at the forum put culture and cultural heritage at the heart of climate action and they were part of the programme of the first Biennale of Sustainability launched this year in Venice.

European Heritage Hub Forum 2023
European Heritage Hub Forum: Reimagining the Anthropothene © Josef Rabara

The project aims to set up and animate interconnected hubs in cities around Europe, decentralising the approach to the green, social and digital transformations and ensuring that different contexts and cultures are represented and understood to work together towards a better future for Europe and its people.

The European Heritage Hub is forging a crucial alliance with cities because they ensure that the concerns and interests of cultural heritage will be better understood and considered by policy-makers, at all levels, from local to European and global. “We want to build a strong alliance with cities because they are closer to the citizens and because they are usually proud to be European, as a result of thousands of years of Europe’s shared history and multiple cultural exchanges,” says Quaedvlieg-Mihailović.

Cities and culture take action

An example of how cities can make a difference through shaping forward-looking cultural policies is the Eurocities Lille Call to Action. The initiative, already signed by 35 cities, was highlighted during the Venice Summit programme, with the hope that many other cities will join this culture-driven movement.

European Heritage Hub Forum 2023
Marie-Pierre Bresson, Deputy Mayor in charge of Culture, City of Lille, on screen at European Heritage Hub Forum © Josef Rabara

“We should make use of the multiplying potential of the European Heritage Hub project to rally as many cities behind this important call to action,” says Quadvlieg-Mihailović. “We want cities to become more vocal about the importance of culture and cultural heritage for sustainable development and to engage in cultural and heritage activities that are more sustainable.”

The tendency within the European institutions is to focus mostly on greening culture, Quaedvlieg-Mihailović stresses. Yet “the other side of the mandate is the need for ‘culturing’ the green agenda and all other policy agendas and activities.” The Eurocities Lille Call to Action recognises that culture helps finding imaginative solutions to our society’s multiple transformations. “If we give culture a more central place in the process, citizens and their communities will resist less to change. This will show them that the necessary change can and should improve the quality of their life and living environment,” adds Quaedvlieg-Mihailović.

More voices for culture

Regretfully, the wider field of culture is still one of the first sectors to get budget cuts when governments need to reduce spending. However, the long-term positive outcomes of investing in culture are undeniable. With the next European elections around the corner and several European Green Deal commitments being challenged, “we have a duty to contribute to the debate about the future of Europe, highlighting that culture and heritage are a strategic resource, our true gold mine which is a sustainable one!” says Quaedvlieg-Mihailović.

Cities should continue to explain and champion why it is crucial to invest in culture. “The more voices are raised, the more difficult it will be for the EU Institutions and Member States to disregard them,” insists Quaedvlieg-Mihailović. “The European Heritage Hub project will help build alliances between civil society, the cultural heritage stakeholders and cities and will channel our messages to the European leaders and decision-makers.” The same message is relevant for the global arena, with a special focus on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and on the campaign for culture as a stand-alone goal in post-2030 Agenda.

This article was originally published by Eurocities, a co-beneficiary of the European Heritage Hub

Cover photo: Piazza San Marco, Venice © Josef Rabara

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