Interview with Tere Badia

Secretary General of Culture Action Europe Interview by Conexiones improbables, 12.07.2021.


Tere Badia, the Secretary General of Culture Action Europe, a major European cross-sectoral cultural network, discusses the critical role artists play in questioning and challenging societal norms and conventions, as well as being able to navigate complex and ambiguous situations. Further Badia brings up the topic of an abundance of informal education and knowledge sharing among artists outside of academia that is not being integrated into formal education and the need for greater cross-disciplinary collaboration and transdisciplinarity in both academic and professional spheres to drive future knowledge and progress.


What is Culture Action Europe (CAE)?

Culture Action Europe is the major European cross sectoral cultural network. We essentially operate on three pillars. The first one is advocacy, trying to bring culture to the centre of the political debates and decision-making of European institutions. The second one is the aggregation of knowledge and its sharing. We work with our members gathering their knowledge in order to probe into what is happening in the European cultural sector and translate it into cultural policies and concrete recommendations. And thirdly, we are a European network that works for and with its more than 170 members. What most defines us is that we work with all cultural sectors: both with the visual arts and literature, with performing arts and music, even spanning to opera and heritage, and also with universities. Another defining feature is that amongst our members we encompass all kinds of cultural organisations: from European networks to associations, foundations and even individual members.


How would you describe CAE’s current relationship with Institutes of Higher Arts Education?

We have several members working in Higher Arts Education. Some of them are networks like AEC – European Association of Conservatoires or ELIA (European League of Institutes of Arts). Our connection with Institutes of Higher Arts Education is based and mediated by these representatives. But we also have members who are working in the field of informal education and pedagogy outside the Academia as, for example, H401, Interarts or Kultura Nova Foundation.

One of the areas on which we have been working over the past few years is artistic research. As such, we understand all those processes prior to artistic production that concentrate, above all, on stimulating new knowledge or approaches to everyday issues which correspond to contemporary challenges. This is where we have mostly worked with some of our members, such as ELIA or the European Association of Conservatories, who are very concerned with this issue. We collaborate with them in the most academic field, for example in some meetings focused on the Vienna Declaration, which is related to artistic research originating from the Academia. But in this sense, knowing that universities and institutes of higher arts education are already doing quite a good job in terms of defining what their contribution to the quality of artistic research is, what we are currently doing is focusing somewhat more on all those artistic research practices carried out by artists and cultural producers who are not within the Academy, those working in a more independent manner.

In addition, nowadays we are also working with other network members on issues related to lifelong learning, being part of some of the EU platforms that are conversing about this specific topic, such as Lifelong Learning Platform – European Civil Society for Education.

Which kind of impact does this relationship have on Culture Action Europe?

There is a greater influence coming from these more informal practices of generating and transferring shared knowledge.

We are frequently thinking about how to change and modify processes of knowledge transfer or shared knowledge creation, because we believe that it is crucial to start out from situated knowledge that is perhaps not as methodical or not as articulate as it may be in the Academia, but which is remarkably valid to integrate. Not to belittle the work done at these institutions, which I think is very important, but to open up the spans of knowledge to other kinds of practices that are much more hands-on, more collaborative and somewhat more “illegitimate”.

Where could models of Institutes of Higher Arts Education be moving towards?

In general terms, and without going into too much detail, it seems to me that the models employed in Universities and in Institutes of Higher Arts Education, as they are currently devised, need to be reviewed. Why? Because there is a lot going on outside them. An abundance of informal pedagogical projects, lots of working groups, an affluence of knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing that is not entering into those educational institutions.

Academies and universities are powerful domains in a way rather shut off from everything else. They are large institutions that also have the power to establish what knowledge is, what it resembles and how it is determined, and I believe that there are other types of practices that are not finding a spot within them. And all this without getting into working conditions, which is another topic that urgently needs to be addressed…

From your perspective, with regard to both the present-day and the future, what are the most impactful roles of artists, art and creative work in society?

Artists spend many years speculating and working on empty canvases, on blank pieces of paper. I think that the ability to face complex situations, of which there are no preconceived patterns, is one of the fundamental roles that all those who are trained in artistic practices and methodologies can have.

So is the capability to be critical and to question everything. We are very used to take, both socially and politically, many things for granted and we are unable to question many other things parting from these spheres. And in this respect, the arts operate with much more freedom and are much riskier when posing challenges, generating critical awareness about how we situate ourselves in our relationship with the world and with the rest of humanity and the environment, or even when suggesting where the cracks and the problems of the current system are, whether the system be economic, social or any other type. Artists have the ability to work in not only poetics, but also in politics, jointly.

Do you think all these aspects you are mentioning are really having a social impact?

Impact is very difficult to measure, especially because all the tools of which we dispose to measure it with are uncomplete and do not even consider artistic methods and goals. Whether we measure it under social, economic, cultural, political or environmental impacts, remains to be seen.

For me it’s obvious that they can have a larger impact, but for that we would need a greater disposition to listen to what can come from contemporary artistic practices. I think we don’t listen enough, and that it is very difficult to include artists in any debates. Anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists or economists are involved, but artists are not. And I think this is a blunder.

I think there is an obvious absence with regards to what happens in artistic practices by other sectors and other political spheres. Culture is simply not present there, it is barely called upon. Now this sphere is beginning to open up to some extent, but it is still very difficult to get other sectors out of this somewhat preconceived concept that the arts are, above all, a matter of leisure or that they are strictly a matter of cultural product consumption.

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The same happens in an institutional level…

In institutional terms, and mainly concerning European institutions, I think that now there seems to be a slightly more open, though very uncertain, attempt to incorporate artists into contemporary debates regarding actual challenges. But, until recently, this has not been very common.

It should also be taken into account that European institutions possess very few cultural competences. What they are presently doing and essentially dedicated is to promote collaboration, mobility, cooperation projects…. Trying to work within the subject area of mobility, which is indeed one of the competences. But in terms of culture, there are very few competences. And that is pretty much the narrative that we are trying to break. In other words, there are no competences on culture, but it is essential that culture is included in all the other competences, because we understand that any issue that works on social, community or collective issues has a fundamental cultural component, and this is what we want to see.

And, in your opinion, what are the most impactful roles of artists, art and creative work in the economic and productive sphere?

I insist on the ability of artists to break boundaries. The keyword here is innovation. But when it comes to innovation, we have to be careful and define what we mean by it. Because if we understand innovation to mean something that ultimately has a direct and immediate impact on the market, then we may come across a few more problems. Primarily, due to issues of temporality, because cultural processes are very complex and take a longer time to see its impact . They are collective processes, they do not depend on just one person but on several, and in these conversations and relationships the issue of temporality as a fundamental factor. When we talk about pushing or somehow straining and provoking some changes, both in the economic and social spheres, this question should be considered. We are utterly used to rapid consumption and expecting immediate results. Everything is short term, politics and economic decisions are driven by urgencies, and I think this is a mistake and is taking its toll on us.

I am also concerned about some narratives, like for example some aspects of the “Human centered” perspective. So far, the Anthropocene is the result of the dominance of humans on the environment and we need to review and define exactly what we mean when we say the humans are at the center. Hence, we should start thinking towards a slightly more complex perspective and start recognising that there are many other elements that we don’t even take into account. Cultures and the arts can have a very relevant and evident impact in this wider perspective.

Questioning techno optimism or turbo-capitalism, including de-colonial perspectives in the unbalanced power structures, considering interdependencies between human beings and other species… These are topics present in the work of artists. And I think they are doing it from very understandable stances and that it would be crucially necessary to listen to them.

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How do you imagine Culture Action Europe to change and evolve in the next few years? What would be the main challenges & drivers of this change?

I think we need to work deeply on networks. To a degree, networks are presently an interface that can establish a dialogue between the political institutions and the cultural sectors, in our case. There, I do believe that they have a fundamental place and role to play. I think that in the coming years we want to see the organisation acting more as that interface, also with other voices that until now have not been present within our network. That means more diversity on the one hand but also more interlocution with the other organised voices from the cultural context. Organisations have to operate in this diversity.

On the issue of sharing knowledge and the expertise that we have amongst and beyond the members of the network, our main challenge is to be able to coordinate this space better, not only in terms of exchange but also in how to document it and how to develop the narrative to make it accessible. Documentation and narrative regarding this exchange of knowledge and of knowledge itself must serve to open up to other people who may be interested in it. Opening up conversations between experts, between members of the network… and when I say openness, I also mean to facilitate its accessibility. Here is where we generally fail at in the whole art sector: in documenting processes, results, changes… and also, in creating a narrative that makes sense of all of it. It seems to me that this is fundamental because, what it ultimately does, is to become the pillar for future knowledge to be developed on and facilitate the comprehension of what we do.

And the third of the challenges, it would be to do better in governance models. I think there is much work to be done, and I would like to see a renewed system of governance in the upcoming years.

At the very end we need to work enhancing those three capabilities that the network has. To act as an interface, to build a participative community and to provide an open context where you can work upon the expertise of all its members and beyond.

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What contribution can the cultural and creative sector make to governance models?

I think that there are very good governance model practices in the field of culture. There are many projects that are considering how initiatives are managed and produced, who holds the decision-making power, how to deal with communities and with the commons. In terms of governance projects in our immediate context, one that has always fascinated me is Asilo Filangieri, in Naples, which is working on the concept of the Commons. And what can it contribute? Above all, one of the most interesting things about culture is its ability to work with diversity, and it is this ability to work with diversity that may push it to influence governance models. I think this is fundamental.

What influence does the training in the Institutes of Higher Arts Education have on the role that artists later take on in society?

They play a crucial role because, in the end, what they are doing is nourishing young artists with critical, methodological and research tools. Although, as I was saying, I think it would be interesting to reconsider how they are working and also to rethink the model of professionals they are creating. And here I have many questions and few answers. Is the professional model really based on originality? On the individual? It is an extremely competitive market when looked at through the market of the economy of the arts, of the artistic product. So, it’s really worrying because most of our educational systems are based on that competitiveness and productiveness, on skills “that are going to place you within the market at a greater advantage than your peers”. I think that this is a matter schools should ponder, if this is really the type of professional we want.

Nonetheless, I do think that there are university study models or projects that are very interesting, which try to cross disciplines and methodologies that not only encompass the arts, but also, technology, science… And for me that’s the goal that institutes and universities have aim for in the coming years. That ability to cross curricula, to move from one field to another… It is happening in some way, and I think it is very important that it continues to happen, and that it happens more often.

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And how does this link to the employability of students when they enter into the labour market?

The contemporary model of employability (precarious, isolated, and extremely competitive…) is actually deeply inspired by the professional models in the arts. That is to say, be entrepreneurial, creative, work seven days a week 24 hours a day, be on the clock all day long and settle for little or nothing.

And I would like to see the opposite process. How the artist collectives that are emerging and that are increasingly working collaboratively, also influence other models of employability which, in my opinion, should be linked to more decent working conditions, to the prospect of not having to constantly jump from one project to another… I think that this model of employability, which does come from the field of the arts and which has managed to be absorbed and exploited and applied to all models of employability, has been very harsh, and I hope that it may be modified in the future.

As you said before, it is important to promote dialogue between artists and creative people with other fields…

For me, working from the arts and as an art professional with other sectors and fields of knowledge, is one of the most interesting areas to develop and implement. There are things being done and more transdisciplinary projects are being implemented. I like to call them in-disciplinary.

When everybody is willing to give up their discipline’s positions of power – not the discipline itself but its position of power- to work together, I think that’s fundamental. One of the most vivid images I have in my head is the idea -not mine- of an expedition. An expedition of a group of people who have a common challenge, which could be climbing the Himalayas or crossing Cape Horn, but in which no one questions the disciplines they come from, nor the effectiveness of their disciplines, but everyone provides what they know and all the skills they have acquired in schools, in their professional career, in their day-to-day activity and in their precariousness (because perils also teach us lessons); and they all move forward to solve these collective challenges.


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