Nordic Cultural Assembly in Visby


The Nordic Cultural Assembly, organised by the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators and the Nordic Councils of Artists acting in cooperation with the Baltic Writers' Council, was held 16–18 May 2007 in Visby, Gotland, with the participation of sixty artists, culture scene operators and other representatives of cultural life from the Nordic countries, Baltic countries and Russia as well as representatives from the Saami and the Inuit cultures.

Cooperation in the Baltic Sea region was discussed in the light of the present conflict between Estonia and Russia. The value of being able to share the stories from both sides and to speak about the conflict from different points of view was acknowledged and appreciated.

The three international centres for artists existing in Visby have greatly contributed to making Gotland a meeting place for cultural cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. In this respect, however, it has been found quite amazing that SIDA's Baltic Sea Unit, likewise situated in Visby, does not have culture as one of its cooperation fields, especially so in the light of the recently adopted UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The UNESCO Convention – ratified by most of the countries represented at the meeting in question as well as the European Union – states that every country has the right to conduct its own culture policy and should also take into consideration the cultural aspects of other policy matters. However, in order to be effective, the Convention must be implemented in national legislations. The example of the offensive culture policy adopted by Norway's new government was cited as an inspiration for artists' organisations of other countries demanding culture policy initiatives from their national authorities.

Discussions delved also into the problems of the impact of the European Union's single-market initiatives on cultural matters, especially with respect to the Public Lending Rights (PLR) Directive. As systems of remuneration of authors for making their works available in public libraries in Sweden, Denmark and Finland are no longer viewed by the European Commission to be in accordance with the PLR directive, the meeting emphasized the importance of these PLR systems for the national culture production and information access and decided on cooperation in order to defend the positive impact of Nordic remuneration model and to present and promote it in other countries of Europe.

Acknowledging the Nordic contribution to European cooperation by the adherence to the arms length principle in decisions on art funding and to the practice of interdisciplinary cooperation in the form of artists' councils, the meeting affirmed the need to be present in Brussels and to actively monitor and influence the EU decision processes in order to safeguard and improve the conditions for artistic creation and performance. In this respect, the meeting deplored the fact that the European Commission has repeatedly decided not to support the European Council of Artists, which acts as the umbrella of European artists' organisations and councils.

Furthermore the meeting took a critical position on the Commission's efforts to utilise culture as a major tool of European integration, employment and development. It agreed that culture and arts must be also recognised as a value on their own and that more respect must be given to the member states' national culture policies in line with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Another major issue of the debate involved the reform of cultural cooperation of the Nordic Council of Ministers'. In this particular respect, the Nordic Artists' Councils already during the preparatory process expressed their criticism of the increasing ministerial influence and the short duration of the programmes. Nevertheless the meeting declared its interest in monitoring and dialoguing with the Nordic governments in order to have the programmes in question properly evaluated and developed. This, however, will only be possible if Nordic Culture Forums are opened for the artists' organisations and other stakeholders and if the agenda for the discussion is likewise made a subject of dialogue. A successful development also presumes the application of artistic competence not only to the selection of projects but also to the gathering of experiences and evaluation thereof.

Issues addresses by the meeting included also taxation and social security as artists in many countries have problems in fitting into public schemes. Examples of good practice and exchange of experiences in these areas are therefore valuable for artists' organisations' struggling to improve their memberships' status.

The meeting voiced an unanimous wish to continue with this cooperation among artists' organisations around the Baltic Sea region and a working group was formed to prepare a 2009 conference which should also involve Polish artists' organisations.

The Nordic Cultural Assembly 2007 was financially supported by the Nordic Cultural Foundation, Gotland regional development unit, the Swedish Institute, the Arts' Council of Sweden, Gotland County administration, Gotland Municipality and Gotland University.