European Cultural Foundation: An interview

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“The foundation has always focused on programmes and grants
enabling mobility and the exchange of ideas, education through
culture, and capacity-building.”


Menán van Heerden chats to Friso Wiersum about Europe as a cultural community and mobility programmes offered by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF).

Why was the European Cultural Foundation established and what is its focus?

The ECF was set up in Geneva in 1954. Its founding figures included the Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont, the architect of the European Community Robert Schuman, and HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, under whose presidency the foundation moved to Amsterdam in 1960. They all believed passionately in culture as a vital ingredient for Europe’s post-war rebuilding and healing.

They envisioned a united Europe where citizens feel proudly European, a place where they can live, express themselves, work and dream freely, in diversity and harmony. They created the ECF “for the stimulation of the European sentiment, to promote the development and preservation of a feeling of mutual comprehension and democratic solidarity between the peoples of Europe by encouraging cultural and educational activities of common interest”.

The foundation has always focused on programmes and grants enabling mobility and the exchange of ideas, education through culture, and capacity-building. In its 65 years of existence the foundation has initiated and developed more than twenty programmes, supported thousands of Europeans with grants and exchanges and helped put culture and cultural policies on the European agenda.

If you want to know more about our history, the free download “Stories of Europe” gives you all the information.

Tell us more about what lies ahead for 2020, including programmes.

Based on our strategy “Challenge 2025” we are developing initiatives in three programmatic clusters: Share, Experience and Imagine.

We believe Europe as a cultural community needs to be connected (Share Europe), emotionally engaged (Experience Europe) and felt (Imagine Europe), across borders, backgrounds and identities.

In addition to content development we will review all grant making processes and digital tools in order to improve consistency and efficiency. A lot of programmes will continue: TANDEM, Culture for Solidarity, medi.activism, CCSC, but some others will not resume: STEP travel grants for example.

We will be sharing a lot of updates on the work of our Democracy Needs Imagination grantees, we will contribute to making May 9 a widely celebrated Europe Day and we will be working on a new initiative called Challenge Europe. We will keep you posted! 

There are almost 30 countries in the European Union. How would you define Europe? Has perceptions of Europe changed in recent years?

For us, Europe has always been bigger than the European Union. Ever since we started in 1954 we have also been working in non-member states, and that continues to this day.

For our latest open call to participate in Culture Lab Europe we also welcomed applications from South Africa, Tunisia and many other non-European countries.

Some of our TANDEM programmes intentionally focuses on exchanges with neighbouring countries like Turkey or Ukraine.

The perception of Europe has changed over recent years. Much more than before, politicians and opinion makers are trying to define “others” in order to make easy electoral gains, which sometimes results in vetoes blocking the start of EU accession negotiations, as was the case with Albania or North Macedonia, but unfortunately it often results in xenophobic language directed at non-native citizens.

I am happy to say that for us nothing has changed: we still work together with Europeans from all backgrounds who live in many more countries than just the EU member states.

Britain recently exited the European Union. How does Brexit affect Europe / your organisation?

As explained in this statement – “Brexit and a cultural way forward, together” – we see Brexit as a symptom and a wake-up call, as an invitation to do our work even better. For some of our staff who are from the United Kingdom it poses some practical difficulties, but all in all it does not change our daily work too much.

Buro: MvH
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