“Feeling European does not come from pie charts and growth rates. It comes from sharing stories and experiences. Culture connects and unites us and invites us to imagine different futures.”
On Saturday 9 May, Europe Day was celebrated with an online festival. The festival was organised by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF), and the festival content is available until 29 May: https://www.europeday.eu/.
The windows on this website let attendees share, experience and imagine Europe through stories, clips, films, podcasts, research, artwork, documentaries, campaigns, performances and debates. Cliffordene Norton chats to Friso Wiersum, project manager: communications at the ECF.
Congratulations! This is the 70th anniversary of Europe Day. How has the importance of this day grown throughout the years?
Well, I would not know for official statistics, but I fear that the day itself is not such a well-known day in Europe. For many, the ninth of May is the day that Nazi Germany officially capitulated, so in many countries other festivities have the upper hand.
Over the last few years, however, we have seen how many individuals, organisations and EU institutions have started making the day a more celebratory day. That includes us, the European Cultural Foundation. We want to help grow the day into a more shared European experience, maybe even into a Europe-wide holiday, for we believe that a more inclusive and democratic Europe is strongly supported by shared common cultural activities.
As we write in our mission:
We believe in the power of culture to achieve this Europe. Culture helps us negotiate ways of living together, build and understand our multiple identities and make Europe our home. It offers the space to question and redefine the principles we stand for and helps develop and preserve feelings of mutual comprehension and solidarity.
Feeling European does not come from pie charts and growth rates. It comes from sharing stories and experiences. Culture connects and unites us and invites us to imagine different futures.
How vital is culture – and the celebration of culture – in these uncertain times?
I think that we all understand the power of culture in this period better than ever. Ask anyone living in lockdown how they imagine they would have lived through it without books, films, online events, games or music. So, this pandemic could – maybe even should – make clear that culture cannot be treated as an economic asset, or as part of a market economy: it is an ecosystem that needs constant nourishment, as all ecosystems do, in order to bloom.
One cannot only “harvest” the blockbusters and expect new ones to emerge when the breeding grounds for future blockbusters are not supported. Therefore, our advocacy department has made a strong appeal to the EU institutions to include culture in the upcoming negotiations for the financial plans of the EU for the coming years. (See: Future of Culture and Creative sectors in post COVID-19 Europe.)
What does organising a cultural festival entail?
Firstly, we had planned a festival at a physical location in Amsterdam, where we are based. As with all festivals, the team responsible for the programming makes a plan which fits the overall strategy of the organisation.
For ours, that translates into: inviting voices on stage that, via culture, promote a European sentiment – voices that represent different Europes to the one you might read about in newspapers, because these voices are already European, and no longer only national. Voices who share stories, art work and ideas which are based in the multilayered European history and try to do justice to it.
So, we invited our network, locally and internationally, to collaborate with us. And then, the Covid-19 crisis started.
So, in early March, we knew that we could host our festival online only. Then the adjusting began. Would we stage a day with many interactive sessions? Would we have musicians perform online? Would we continue programming live debates? Would we ...? The choices were endless.
“This pandemic could – maybe even should – make clear that culture cannot be treated as an economic asset, or as part of a market economy: it is an ecosystem that needs constant nourishment, as all ecosystems do, in order to bloom.”
The moment we decided that the festival would be a festival in the sense of offering free content that allows visitors to choose for themselves, and provides no answers, but invites visitors to think for themselves about what kind of Europe they would like to live in, we knew we were onto something. No live sessions, no timetables, no limited access – but a great series of windows to experience Europe.
The Europe Day website lets attendees share, experience and imagine Europe through stories, clips, films, podcasts, research, artwork, documentaries, campaigns, performances and debates. How long did it take to create this content?
We know many of the contributors, as we have worked with them, or we know their work, as they are proxies. That helps. So, as mentioned above, we started long before March, but, since March, our focus has been on realising this online festival.
How can attendees participate in the festival? How interactive is the website?
Not interactive at all. Sorry, if that is what your readers were expecting. We prefer the collection of windows to make people start to think about what future Europe they would like to live in – and then start acting accordingly.
How does the Europe Day festival contribute to the European Cultural Foundation’s “Challenge 2025” strategy?
One of our main objectives for the upcoming years is to contribute to the coming of age of a shared European public space, a space where European issues are discussed at a European level, not only by policymakers, politicians and other elites, but by all Europeans. As we write in our threefold strategy:
- Share Europe: contributes to a European public space as a cultural sphere. It provides online and physical spaces where Europeans across national borders share ideas, experiences, artistic expressions or news of European relevance.
- Experience Europe: creates a European sense of belonging through cultural and educational exchange of people and practices. It provides tools for European exchanges between citizens and between cultural professionals beyond borders and sectors.
- Imagine Europe: supports initiatives that tell the stories of Europe, its heritage and its future in the most compelling way, using all forms of cultural expression.
Sharing one day together with all of us is a small but meaningful contribution to these bigger goals. Please do join us at europeday.eu. And, if you want to know more about the European Cultural Foundation, see culturalfoundation.eu.