Criticism on Fridays: European Culture Bailout 2021–2027

Why the Seven-Year €2.8 Billion Package for European Culture Only Sounds Good for the Opera Community

By Polina Lyapustina
Photo by Daniel Thiele

Every Friday, Polina Lyapustina delivers a short essay on some of the most sensitive topics in the industry with the intent of establishing a dialogue about the opera world and its future. The choice of topics discussed, how they are researched, and how they are portrayed is conducted independently of OperaWire’s editors. 

Last week, a €1.8 trillion budget was agreed upon as the final version of a European seven-year recovery plan. The long-term funds for Creative Europe total €2.8 billion, which almost doubles the 2014–2020 budget of €1.46 billion.

At first, the funds for culture were planned for only €1.6 billion. But in light of the ongoing pandemic and after the first version of the recovery plan was criticized over lack of cultural funding, the agreed €0.6 billion were added to bring immediate relief and empower institutions to overcome the period and plan for the future.

But when I saw the Compromise on long-term EU budget (pictured above), which eventually adds €16 billion to various key programs of the European Parlament, I couldn’t ignore a gap between the money received for the Cultural projects (as well as Human rights and Health initiatives) and any other programs (e.g. finance, investments, etc.). 

Perhaps, such a judgment appeared not only in my head, since the art industry officials eventually negotiated an additional €600 million for culture as part of a wider bailout that will support all 27 EU member states.

As a result, €2.8 billion would be spent on Culture in the next seven years in the EU.

It sounds impressive, and yet… it’s very hard to expect that this money will ever reach the most unprotected members of the artist community — freelancers, casual workers of the theatres, chorus members, and many others.

From the very beginning, it was stated that, as in previous years, the lion’s share of the funds would go to support the innovative Media Arts, which separated from the rest of the culture industries into a special category. And in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU committee (not Creative Europe, though) has proposed special support for museums, especially for those affected by the pandemic. Live arts, where more Europeans are involved, did not deserve a special mention. 

Created in 2013 as the European Commission’s framework program to support culture, Creative Europe still remains a mystery for most European artists. The older generation of musicians don’t know the organization and would hardly trust it, while younger artists and producers would rather find more open independent funds for their programs. As a result, the most successful (I don’t question their importance) projects funded by Creative Europe were created by managers, not musicians. 

I’m asking, on what will the €2.8 billion be spent? And from the perspective of this series, how will the people of the opera industry benefit from this deal?

Back in June, the general budget was widely criticized for the lack of direct support of arts and artists for the sake of general development of the European Union and ambitious plans in energetics, investments, communication, etc.

“This is about all of us and it is way bigger than any one of us,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president said, addressing European Parliament members. “This is Europe’s moment.” 

After nine months of the pandemic in Europe, depressed people losing jobs, and constant protests, when seeing the significantly increased budget still supports all the same directions and ambitions, I ask when will we finally think about any one of us? And when will this be the arts’ moment?

“The increase in funding for Creative Europe will have a huge impact on the initiatives to be funded and will directly benefit European cultural enterprises and professionals,” Sabina Verheyen, chairman of the committee on culture and education for the European parliament said.

But who are those professionals, who can apply and benefit from Creative Europe? Ten opera artists and producers I consulted with, almost unanimously stated — Creative Europe is a bureaucratic organization that is easier not to mess with. The lack of orientation on people, intelligibility, and transparency (not for lawyers and officials, but again, for people) repels inexperienced opera artists and keeps the experienced ones aside. 

This issue also teaches us that managerial skills have essentially become a key to success in the art industries, at least if you want to be funded. So maybe to have all the processes well-managed would be a good development for the industry, and Creative Europe could support art education on the matter of bringing the management courses into the art academies — for any one of us!

To make the funds not just important and loudly announced, but accessible for the people of art.

Big money was given, generously and certainly publicly, but the ways of distribution and bringing them to the arts are still vague.

Will we see any changes in the industry in the next seven years?  Education, safety, worker’s rights?

I cannot find them in the plans for festivals and competitions.

Or is this perhaps, a means for failed officials to successfully use the fight against the consequences of the virus to cover up their failures and unwillingness to support artists and rebuild the industry?

Time will tell. Seven years to be exact.