The Roberto Cimetta Fund’s contribution to the mobility of artists and cultural operators between Europe and the Arab world | ANGIE COTTE – ROBERTO CIMETTA FUND

September 27, 2013

istikshaf-map-newIstikshaf Platform. Exploring Mobility in the Mediterranean

The Roberto Cimetta Fund runs a mobility programme for artists and cultural operators travelling in and around the Euro-Arab region. Since 1999, the Fund has supported over 1400 individual round-trip travel grants that contribute to capacity-building, exchanges and art production both in the host and home countries. We are also the co-partner of the Istikshaf platform, a group of regional arts and culture organisations that have identified mobility as a key necessity for youth in the Arab region. This platform, funded by the European Union, coordinates the advocacy policy of the members and build a policy agenda to mobilise institutional actors.
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How do artists envisage mobile work and the circulation of art works?

Following two recent mobility impact assessments carried out by RCF’s office we have been able to determine more specifically some key characteristics of artistic mobility. Clearly, the artistic travellers consider that the most important role of cultural and artistic mobility is to develop understanding of the world and globalisation and promote understanding between different cultures.

Their personal motivation to travel is related to the concrete productive artistic outcome of their trip and a better integration into their professional circuits. They realise the impact of their trip very quickly and are able to qualify it as an experience that they want to pursue through further mobility and by keeping contact with the people they have met. Not only has the experience been generally positive but it has helped them contextualise the issues in a given region. This experience invariably widens their perception, giving them new insight on their home locality when they come back and enables them to see other possibilities that they hadn’t seen before.

Perception of cultural differences between home and host help them to break down certain mental barriers related to aesthetics, ideologies or politics, developing new ideas and approaches that open up a certain freedom of thought and movement that is beneficial to their work. Often, by meeting other artists from a variety of nationalities, mobile artists can envisage their projects developing with many different people in different ways, so that the co-production or exchange can be envisaged multilaterally.
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How can we appreciate the impact of this mobility to build cultural policies that address this issue?

This is a key question related to the work of RCF. On the basis of our recent studies as depicted above, the wider social, cultural, political and economic implications of cultural or artistic mobility can be more clearly defined along the following lines:

–    the concrete art production resulting from the mobility of artists clearly impacts on local development in the home and host countries and creates a chain of positive effects, linking the local production to a more international pool of entrepreneurs and activists;

–  the mobility that RCF supports enables meetings face to face which are the condition of trustworthy, long term partnerships that can develop in a multilateral way;

–   mobility is a “two-way” phenomenon that should be supported as such, since by exporting well a country can also receive better and therefore export more – as a chain of collective benefits. Indirectly these mutual benefits encourage reciprocity and mutual respect;

–     building cultural policies around mobility helps to define geographical directions of artistic production, linking artistic hubs which are not necessarily in major urban areas, but often link the inter-regional or inter-local levels. Generating this type of production circuit contributes to renewed and sustainable models of alternative cooperation, diversifying cultural and arts productions and going against the distribution and production monopoles that the arts world (and culture in general) is currently suffering from.

Mobility and the circulation of works is very much about meeting people face to face and building up sufficient confidence and affinities to enable collaboration or even co-created networks of co-production – interconnecting local actors at an international level. Aesthetics and artistic work develop as a process of experimentation in which each partner’s own interculturality is the central working tool. The results of these co-productions are often interdisciplinary, or flexible in form, varying in relation to the audience to be reached (ie “national” or “local” audiences). An Italian theatre director can produce a performance following a workshop with local artists in Palestine and show the performance in two different forms to the local audience and to the audience back in Italy.

Mobility can also entail an absence of hierarchy in the structure of the joint-project. This absence of hierarchy, due to the experimental form of the joint-adventure often develops forms of small collaborations, involving a relatively small number of collaborators. These micro-groups also develop because they are working on micro-funding models, which must be small and flexible to survive in the absence of proper international funding mechanisms.
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How can mobile artists define a new framework of references to work with?

A new framework of references should first of all consider that mobility is not the aim itself. Equal access and facility to mobility as a way of developing arts and culture in the four corners of the globe, is the main goal. The aim is also to increase the autonomy and emergence of artists and their producers.

Mobility is a global policy issue. As such it is a cultural policy issue for Europe, for member states and for local governments. In this context we aim for mobility to be understood as a round trip concept, directly linked to local development at the starting point. One-way trips from one corner of the world to another are a human rights issue more than a cultural policy/development issue, even if this issue is a central pillar of democracy building.

We must acknowledge the geographical imbalances at work between the rural and the urban, between the North and South, the directional imbalances, are directly related to colonial heritage. There is an urgent need for a more reciprocal and respectful exchange between Europe, its neighbours and the world at large particularly the so called emerging countries. This exchange must also take stock of the need to rebalance the artistic needs such as infrastructures, training and human resources. Artistic imbalances are not linked to talent and artistic capacities being higher in some parts of the world than in others: artistic potential exists in anyone of us, everywhere. Potential to overcome artistic imbalances depends on the setting up of policies related to given sectors that respond to the operators and artists working at local level. Building up democratic platforms to address the needs and ideas and transform them into concrete policies in various sectors of artistic activity remains a key issue in Arab countries as well as on the European continent.

Are we ready to think in terms of an artistic community without frontiers, which exists through encounters, works through experimentation, and is productive through interaction of a multiplicity of actors – not only from different nationalities but also working at different levels (artists, managers, critics, programmers)?
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What are the tools that artists need to be mobile?

Being mobile and productive cannot be possible without intermediaries or relays (ie organisations that already exist and help artist to find other contacts in other countries). Intermediaries can also be networks of operators that organise meetings so that the sector can interact at European or international level (such as Istikshaf network or IETM network for example). They can also be platforms of exchange in which operators come together at a given moment on a given topic to build up a framework for action, for project-building, or to advocate for their needs. Translation is also a necessary tool for mobility to further the capacities of artists to communicate and translate their own works (see also the work done by Transeuropéennes). Information needs to circulate to all actors so that opportunities, financial resources, events, regulations, studies, and so on are available in all countries to all actors wherever they may be (such as the network On the Move). Representation of the cultural and arts sectors is vital to federate the needs, advocate or relay policy issues at a wider level (such as the platform Culture Action Europe). Strengthening of capacities in the sector through training at international level is also required.
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What kind of dynamic and ethics should be encouraged?

The universal declaration of human rights starts by stating that we are all equal in dignity and rights. So the basis of the ethic should be that there is no dominant culture.

We should advocate for fair culture which is related to fair trade in which the mobility conditions of artists and cultural operators from emerging countries should be respected and where a sustainable approach to partnership building is promoted.

We should advocate for liberty of artistic expression in all parts of the globe and for the independence of the producer, the maker, the creator of art or art works wherever he or she may be. The role of culture in conflict resolution and reconciliation should be recognised and supported as such.

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Angie Cotte is Secreteary General of the Roberto Cimetta Fund. She has extensive experience in cultural networking at European level. She has contributed to the organisation of many European conferences on cultural policy and has coordinated arts and culture projects for a number of years.

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