The European Culture Congress – Final Press Release

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The European Culture Congress, one of the key events of the Cultural Programme – Polish EU Presidency 2011, is over. Debates concerning the most pressing problems of modern culture were accompanied by interdisciplinary art projects.

The idea behind the Congress was to create a space for discussion on the changing definition of culture and possible scenarios for its development. The intellectual framework of the Congress was set by special guest Professor Zygmunt Bauman, in his book Culture in a Liquid Modern World, specially published for the occasion. Bauman, a philosopher and an attentive observer of social change, also delivered the inaugural lecture, in which he described culture as one of the most important challenges of modern times.

The programme of the European Culture Congress was based on four pillars: a meeting of EU Ministers of Culture, meetings and discussions between top European intellectuals, debates held as a part of the A Soul for Europe initiative, and art events. The Congress provided a meeting place for theoreticians and practitioners, renowned masters and alternative artists, state officials, representatives of European institutions and NGOs, as well as publicists, animators, and activists from Poland and abroad. Altogether, 13 debates were held and over 100 interdisciplinary projects realised. The art programme of the Congress was created by 550 curators and artists. Wrocław was visited by such prominent figures as: Zygmunt Bauman, Mirosław Bałka, Andrzej Wajda, Zbigniew Libera, Gianni Vattimo, Jan Fabre, Brian Eno, Krzysztof Penderecki, Oliviero Toscani, Ryszard W. Kluszczyoski, Fatos Lubonja, Jonny Greenwood, Pekka Himanen, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Dubravka Ugrešić, Sara Arrhenius, Wiktor Jerofiejew, and Ewa Rewers.

A distinguishing feature of the Congress was its problem-focused approach to culture and its interdisciplinary formula that combined theoretical reflection with cultural practice. The European Culture Congress offered an opportunity for discussions, meetings, heated debates and integration between all its participants. The conclusions reached during Congress meetings will be collected and issued in a special publication. The first conclusions and recommendations for the future were already formulated during the official closing ceremony. ‘We have made a journey whose starting point was a reflection on culture as the most important asset of modern Europe, a foundation on which we can build our perspectives for the future, a source of social and economic change’, said Bogdan Zdrojewski, the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

Panellists stressed that in the digital era, the very definition of culture has evolved, and its European model as such has ceased to exist. In their opinion, culture should inspire trust and bring along social change. ‘The significance of culture lies in that it teaches creative thinking, therefore it is important to provide cultural education and shape cultural competence’, remarked Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski. The role of culture was also emphasised by Jan Truszczyński, Director General for Education, Training, Culture, and Youth of the European Commission, present at the Congress closing ceremony; he stressed that culture is an effective strategy for EU development, and it is indeed our main asset. The programme of the four Congress days was brimming with exceptional art events. A specially-prepared multi-media
project titled Future Perfect was presented at the Wrocław Fountain by Brian Eno, while Mirosław Bałka created an installation titled Wege zur Behandlung von Schmerzen. During the unprecedented meetings between Krzysztof Penderecki, Jonny Greenwood and Aphex Twin, audiences had an opportunity to hear the world premieres of the pieces Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima remix and Polymorphia Reloaded by Aphex Twin, as well as 48 Responses to Polymorphia by Johnny Greenwood.

In keeping with the main slogan of the Congress, Art for Social Change, participants were invited to take part in and shape the open formula of the Congress and to collaborate on the creation of numerous projects, including workshops for people with diverse skills and abilities (workshops on liberature or tweeting, music workshops, or a sieres of workshops for NGOs), projects selected in a competition held the run-up to the Congress by the National Audiovisual Institute, or asocial project titled Cities in Cells.

Fifteen thousand participants registered for the European Culture Congress. Moreover, five thousand entry tickets were issued, and Congress events were attended by a total of about 200 thousand people. Over 550 people volunteered to help organize the Congress. In keeping with the ideas of volunteering (the EU’s main theme for 2011) and innovation through culture (a key element in the development of social capital, as mapped out by Poland 2030 Strategy), the
Congress enlisted the help of almost 100 NGOs from Poland and Europe.

The programme of the Congress also included projects that drew attention to the issue of social exclusion due to such factors as age or nationality (as seen in the performance Legs by the Dawka Energii Dance Theatre Company from Wałbrzych and the project Memory and Oblivion by the eFKa Women’s Foundation). In a non-governmental project titled Idea Generator, during which Congress audiences voted for one of the five projects created over the course of 24 hours of continuous work, the winner was Generation Swap, a piece that involved cooperation between senior citizens practising dying crafts and young artists and designers. One of the conditions for participating in the competition for NGOs, held by the National Audiovisual Institute, was to prepare a common project involving organisations from various countries, mainly Eastern Europe nations such as Belarus, Ukraine, and the Caucasian states, where citizens have limited access to the content of European culture. The winning projects carried out in Wrocław included: Fish Radio, where Polish and Belarusian journalists prepared coverage (interviews) from the Congress for Belarus; ART Training in Wrocław, with Polish and Ukrainian artists cooperating to prepare a city game; or the above-mentioned Idea Generator, which encouraged cooperation between authors from Poland, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Western Europe.

Although the Congress has officially been concluded, its projects will live on in the public space and on the Internet (scanned pictures of collaborative comics drawn on post-its), or in the form of recordings. Many of the Congress events were audiovisual in nature, such as Dock’s Docs Gdańsk Remix – a film contest involving the use of archival footage from the Gdańsk Shipyard; the Cities in a Cell social movement encouraged Congress participants to record their subjective experiences using cell phone video cameras. Coverage of the events at the European Culture Congress, prepared by journalists of the Belarusian section of Polish Radio External Service and web-based Radio Fish can be heard until the end of October. Broadcasts will reach the inhabitants of Belarus directly, encouraging their active participation (broadcasts will also be available at www.polskieradio.pl and http://radioryba.com). The project by the group Supermarket Discount includes a kind of contact platform for representatives of institutions, NGOs, and independent groups working in the field of culture.

Debates and the official opening and closing ceremonies of the Congress were broadcast at www.culturecongress.eu and www.nina.gov.pl. The footage will soon be available at these websites. In keeping with its main idea – Art for Social Change – the Congress was a platform of meetings, exchange of perspectives and catalogues of good practice for active participants of social life, including NGOs.

430 mass media journalists from Poland and abroad were accredited.

More information at: www.culturecongress.eu and www.nina.gov.pl/en/presidency

Electronic press kits, as well as photos and other visual material from the Congress, are available at:
ftp://ftp.nina.gov.pl
login: prasa
password: ninapress

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