In spite of the multiplication of successful examples of culture-led local and regional development across Europe and elsewhere (e.g. Sacco et al., 2008, 2009), there is a widespread perception that the role and potential of culture in the overall European long-term competitiveness strategy is still seriously underrecognized (CSES, 2010). This reflects in the difficulty to bring cultural policy issues at the top ranks of the broader policy agenda, and consequently explains why the share of structural funds devoted to culture badly fails to match the share of cultural and creative sectors in total EU value added.
This situation is mainly the consequence of a persisting gap in the conceptualization of the role of culture in an advanced, knowledge based economy as it is the European one nowadays. For many decision makers and policy officers operating outside the cultural realm, the cultural sectors are at best a minor, low-productivity branch of the economy, largely living on external subsidies, and which is therefore absorbing economic resources more than actually generating them. Not surprisingly, as a coherent consequence of this wrong conceptualization, cultural activities are one of the first and easiest targets of public funding cuts during phases of economic crisis.
There has been in fact a long record of cases of successful culture-led development policies of cities and regions (and sometimes even countries) from the late 80s and early 90s onwards, which however have mainly been regarded as exceptional (or even exotic) by the common sense of policy making.
The impressive figures that have emerged from first attempts at measuring the economic size of cultural and creative sectors in Europe (KEA, 2006), which are by the way likely to be underestimated (CSES, 2010), have certainly made a cases and have attracted much attention. Consequently, more and more administrations at all levels, including ones that never paid real interest to these issues, have henceforth begun to devote more energy and resources to culture-focused development policies, but the overall awareness at the European level remains scarce and scattered, so that much is left to be done. In particular, awareness and policy activism at regional and city levels is at the moment far superior than that at the country level, and thus there is the possibility that in the close future uneven culture-related development patterns may be found across the EU, and that some countries are at risk of lagging behind.
In order to prevent this from happening, in view of the next 2014-2020 round of structural funds programming, a more appropriate formulation of background principles and target objectives for cultural and creative sectors in the wider context of EU’s competitiveness and cohesion policies is badly needed. The aim of this short paper is to provide some fresh inputs in this direction.
Pier Luigi Sacco,* on behalf of the European Expert Network on Culture (EENC)**
Produced for the OMC Working Group on Cultural and Creative Industries, April 2011
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