Mobility happens anyway: let’s make it happen better! | MARIE LE SOURD & ELENA DI FEDERICO – ON THE MOVE

September 27, 2013

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Mobility happens anyway…

Long before the recognition of its importance by European policies and programmes (including the current Culture Programme and the upcoming Creative Europe), which made the word become suspiciously fashionable, cultural mobility has been a reality and a key element for the personal and professional development of artists, cultural operators and professionals for centuries. At least in Europe, way too often we’re reminded of how the great masters of the past toured countries and royal courts to work at the service of different kings or popes (while too seldom the freedom of movement of people is acknowledged as a luxury good to which the majority world[1] today has no or very limited access, due to financial, political and administrative issues). However mobility must be considered in all the complexity of its cross-sector nature: it has to do with professional development, lifelong learning, intercultural exchange and dialogue, politics, policies, social and administrative issues, environment and more. It impacts on the travelling artists themselves but also on fellow artists abroad, communities and societies at large – and its impacts are mainly positive, but not only[2], not just economic, not easy to quantify.

Very pragmatically, and focusing on the current European reality, it is increasingly difficult to draw the line between mobility as a choice, an aspiration, an experience and mobility as the only chance to “survive”, professionally speaking at least, considering the current economic stress hitting most European societies and in particular the cultural, social and education fields. On the other hand, the support to cultural mobility itself is suffering from these same cuts: public and private funding to artistic and cultural activities, including more or less explicitly international activities (touring, promotion, residencies etc.), are shrinking and refocusing, often giving priority or even exclusive support to outgoing mobility (promoting national artists abroad) rather than two-way mobility (outgoing and incoming), to the detriment of a real exchange.

And yet, mobility happens anyway. Artists and cultural professionals continue to travel and develop their skills, also to use new technologies that help them raise fund (e.g. crowdfunding platforms) and make the most out of their “real life” experiences (e.g. networking with local artists before travelling and keeping in touch after the visit). Overall, budgets are shrinking, certainly, but funding opportunities are still available in many countries and at different levels[3] and artists are developing their skills to find and use existing resources.

As cultural mobility in all its complexity is the raison d’être of On the Move[4], when the organisation developed into a European and international network in 2011 we started delving into the main aspects related to mobility. Beside fulfilling our primary mission of providing free information about mobility opportunities for artists and cultural professionals, we decided to engage together with our members[5] and selected external partners into a wider and deeper reflection on some crucial issues related to mobility: administrative aspects, social aspects and the environment. The result is a Charter for a sustainable and responsible cultural mobility that is currently available (for free) online in English and French[6].

…let’s make it happen better!

OTM’s Charter for a sustainable and responsible cultural mobility is an online tool conceived to help European cultural operators, funders of mobility and policy-makers at various levels to practice, fund and support cultural mobility while taking account of social and environmental principles. The Charter is meant as a checklist of principles to respect, according to the situation and objectives of each signatory, and it is enriched by concrete examples, references to successful experiences and useful resources to inspire and support those who engage in improving their mobility-related practices.

The Charter tackles three thematic areas:

– Visas, which are an important issue in particular when dealing with artists from “third countries” willing to enter the EU (here the principles include, for example, better information and signposting for artists or attention to prepare invitation letters in advance);

– Administrative and social aspects of mobility, ranging from working conditions (fair salaries, insurances, social security aspects, non-discrimination) to the connection with local communities;

– Environmental aspects of mobility, i.e. how to limit the impacts of mobility (travelling, touring, staging, producing etc.) on the environment (by recycling materials, renting instead of buying, using eco-friendly equipment etc.).

Concretely there are three Charters: one for cultural operators and organisations supporting mobility (through programmes, residencies, organisation of festivals and events, etc.), one for public and private funders of mobility, and one for policy-makers not only from the cultural field, but also from other fields which have an impact on the working conditions of mobile artists (in particular social security, external affairs and migration – impacting on visa regulations, etc.).

All interested persons or organisations are invited to read the Charter and define which aspects are more relevant for their work, how they could improve their mobility-related practices adopting certain principles of the Charter and actually engage in making such changes. Online references and resources are listed for each principle, to provide inspiration and useful contacts to the signatories. In other words, the Charter is a dynamic and evolving checklist that accompanies cultural organisations and policy-makers towards more sustainable and responsible mobility-related practices.

Why engaging?

For all those supporting (organising, easing, funding…) cultural mobility it is crucial to recognise that as highly mobile workers, mobile artists are a particularly fragile category of workers. Working across borders and often with atypical statuses and contracts means that they risk limited access to social security, including unemployment and pension rights; for non-European artists, visa procedures can be a serious obstacle to face, with important negative impacts on their professional and personal paths. All these aspects are only partially taken into account by many funding schemes and mobility programmes.

At the same time, acknowledging the environmental impacts generated by artists’ mobility is a matter of responsibility. It’s definitely time (not to say that it’s already late) to deal with the environmental costs of human activities, and certainly artists’ mobility is not the most polluting one; however artists are at the forefront of a new environmental consciousness, the cultural sector has developed advanced tools to limit the environmental footprint of certain activities and arts have a big potential to raise awareness among audiences and societies.

Overall, engaging in improving mobility-related practices is a responsible act and this Charter is a very time- and cost-effective tool that meets the needs of different organisations and can lead to a community of engaged and responsible supporters of cultural mobility, ultimately benefitting artists, organisations and societies at large.

In the era of online petitions for any possible cause, which just require you to “sign and share” for a better world, this Charter is an attempt to go a bit further and ask for a concrete engagement: knowing that mobility happens anyway, are you ready to make it happen better?

 

http://on-the-move.org

https://www.facebook.com/onthemove.OTM?ref=hl

mobility@on-the-move.org

 

Marie Le Sourd, Secretary General – On the Move

Elena Di Federico, Responsible for Communication & Advocacy – On the Move

 


 

[1] We’re particularly grateful to Shahidul Alam for this definition. http://www.majorityworld.com/en/page/show_team_page.html

[2] see Anmol Vellani’s speech at the ifa conference European External Cultural Relations – Expectations from the outside, Brussels, December 2012. http://on-the-move.org/news/article/15485/european-external-cultural-relations-expectations/

[3] See the Funding section on On the Move’s website: http://on-the-move.org/funding for a directory of funding opportunities for mobility in Europe, Asia and other world regions

[4] On the Move was launched in 2002 by IETM as a website gathering useful information for performing artists interested in “mobility opportunities”. Since 2010 it has become a network of organisations, based in and outside Europe, pursuing different missions and having different natures, but all working for the support to artists and cultural operators working internationally. http://on-the-move.org

[5] On the Move currently counts with 37 organisational members and 4 individual members, based in 23 countries (in and outside Europe)

[6] http://on-the-move.org/charter/ and http://on-the-move.org/charte/