The mishap of cultural values in present-day Europe

The following statement should come as no surprise: We live in uncertain times.

Taken point-blank, that is however nothing new. The future is by definition a state of the unknown, and the unknown brings with it uncertainty. That is likewise not a thing to be automatically afraid of, since the unknown is neutral: it can harbour risk and failure, but it can also mean a testing ground and an opportunity. At the same time, from a collective point of view, we have never had so many tools at our disposal to map our future. Through studies, research and prognoses we know more about our world and the possible directions it is likely to take than ever before. Especially in Europe, we have information at our disposal with a single click or swipe, we can connect to people all around the world from our living rooms and many of us have ample opportunity to for example travel and thus take in even more input.

Ironically, many people do not feel more at ease because of all those tools we have given ourselves. Quite the contrary, there is a general sense of crisis, a crisis that wages on many levels: economically, politically, culturally, societally, you name it. We live in turbulent times.

For the cultural sector, in the past decade or so there has not been a lot of encouraging news. Budget cuts, more and more prevalent nationalism, mistrust towards everything of not direct practical or economic value have put the sector in a defensive position and in strong demand of justification.

Flanders Arts Institute (FAI) in Brussels took that zeitgeist as an incentive for a roundtable afternoon discussion and asked how cultural organisations and practitioners should position themselves towards that sense of crisis. It was a moment to explore cultural interests and values in the light of a changing Europe, both in terms of ethical values as well as practical mechanisms on an international level.  And FAI took it as an occasion to explore a part of Europe which for Belgium (and other Western European countries) remains, despite the fall of the Iron curtain more than 25 years ago and the multiple EU enlargements since 2004, relatively new territory: Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

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