Effects of corona situation on EUNIC members: first overview
EUNIC members discussed the effects of Covid-19 on their organisations and activities at a meeting in May 2020.
Operating as a network
The first challenge on the short term was to transition from office work to working from home. Some members already had teleworking in place but others, new to it, managed to adapt to the sudden change. This included new internal procedures, such as using digital means to communicate and hold meetings, signing of documents and contracts, and organising evaluations.
Teleworking presents new possibilities even beyond the current situation. Since all members are likely to be better equipped to face the new working circumstances, working from home could be introduced even when lockdown measures are eased, where possible and suitable.
Those members who depend on income from commercial activities – such as Instituto Cervantes and British Council – seem more severely affected on the short term, while state funded members might see effects of cultural budget cuts mainly at a later stage. The network adapted quickly to the changes, for instance by moving events and language courses online. Members with broad geographical representation expect uneven reopening of their local branches depending on the local developments.
Other members such as the Swedish Institute have put on hold their projects and calls, but plan to resume soon and continue with existing programming. Ifa is expected to reopen its office and its library in Stuttgart the week of 11 May. Most members are also expecting to move activities online, postpone them into autumn 2020 or the first half of 2021, or cancel them. Several cultural institutes shared their experiences with special calls that were issued in response to the current situation, such as the Finnish Institutes, Arts Council Malta and Culture Ireland.
Members have also found different, effective working solutions when it comes to coordinating their networks and programming cultural content. For example, Czech Centres has reorganised the way it is working by coordinating 70% of the content from headquarters in close contact with all of its branches abroad. The Danish Cultural Institute remarked that having centres around the world has enabled them to share experiences quickly: for example, the branch in China was able to share with colleagues around the world what it went through and how it adapted accordingly, as it was the first to be affected.
Many members are working a lot on digitalisation: moving to digital tools for language courses, events and working together. Some colleagues mentioned limitations of moving content to digital platforms based on infrastructural challenges in certain contexts, such as lack of adequate equipment: access to computers and internet or access to equipment to produce good quality content. This has led to the use of other resources and formats by producing content through smartphones and broadcasting content through radio.
On one hand, moving cultural content to digital formats has enabled access to new and broader audiences and colleagues agree that digital content will continue in the future. On the other hand, colleagues also expressed their concern about oversaturation of online content. Therefore, it’s important not just to offer content online, but to think about the tools used and who is granted access to them. Physical formats should not be forgotten while we are overwhelmed with online offerings. In order to tackle possible competition online, collaboration of EUNIC members should be encouraged in order to reach wider audiences by shared promotion of activities.
Another large area of work is upgrading virtual libraries and archives. Goethe-Institut created a digital archive of all cultural events from all around the world (KULTURAMA) where anyone can add events and invites all EUNIC members to add their events and disseminate the platform with their own local cultural stakeholders. Czech Centres launched an internal call to its network in order to generate new online project formats. The Romanian Cultural Institute is working closely with the EUNIC cluster in Romania to bring the European Film Festival to an online platform. Also, fake news is identified as a current topic which is relevant e.g. for the French network.
Support to cultural scenes
Several members stressed the importance of fair remuneration of artists who provide digital content, and support to artists through fees and commissions (as expressed by e.g. the Austrian MFA, Italian MFA, Czech Centres and ifa). There is a tendency to offer digital content for free, but this puts artists in complicated situations and in these times, it is important to practice solidarity. For example, the Austrian MFA pays the same fee for digital content that was initially supposed to be presented physically. Other challenges of the cultural sector highlighted were uncertainty of international mobility of cultural professionals and artists and uncertainty of potential budget restrictions of some of the members and their partners in the future. The need – as well as the duty – was identified, for instance by the French MFA, to support the cultural sectors in both our home countries and our host countries. It was expressed that the EUNIC Cluster Fund could be used to address this issue, supported by several members. The idea was expressed to involve actors from the cultural sectors and give them visibility in our work, e.g. by co-hosting webinars with them, or by asking artists to ‘take over’ social media channels to present their work, as has been done by the Lithuanian Culture Institute. We should gather evidence that culture has proven so important for the livelihood of people during crisis as well as for economic growth, that funding must not be cut. EUNIC should liaise with other organisations on this cause.
The 5 April EUNIC webinar in French showed that clusters have come up with creative ideas on how to assist local organisations and sectors in combatting this crisis. EUNIC members’ headquarters could and should learn bottom-up from the experience of clusters.
Moving forward together
Looking into the future, members expect to work in more hybrid formats: digital is there to stay, but it will not replace the physical. This year can be treated as a trial period for digital programming, where new formats can be explored. Colleagues shared that over the past period they all have been building skills on working digitally. More online training in this area is needed, also in digital cultural relations – EUNIC could play a coordinating role in this. More data and knowledge exchange is needed, particularly on how other members are moving on with the Covid-19 crisis. EUNIC is already providing an important platform through its webinars and collecting of practices and more is appreciated in the future – ideally done as a mix of physical and digital meetings. If we as a network can focus on such efforts and develop our capacity collectively, we can do fantastic things digitally. This requires us to think beyond the current crisis: digital solutions are exercises to prepare other agendas too, such as the climate agenda. The crisis brings momentum to think about the way we work and work together. Looking at e.g. travelling, future practice should involve contemplating whether a trip is truly necessary or not. It seems that the response to the crisis is mostly national-based and not many cross-country initiatives are taking place. What is missing in member states’ and European's advocacy is a cross-country emergency fund and a call for transnational co-creation. EUNIC could address this gap, though more information from clusters will be needed to assess the different initiatives and to find ways how we as Europeans could address the post-corona circumstances.The groups agreed that now that EUNIC members have moved from survival mode to a more active mode to actively work on crisis repsonses, the time is ripe to get together to learn from each other and move forward together. Slovenian MFA e.g. is moving its large face-to-face culture forum into a digital format. It would be beneficial if EUNIC members could share tips and lessons learned about the organisation of such events, what tools and formats work better than others. The Danish Culture Institute is piloting an event in Ukraine with young people, where they will combine online meetings of participants with offline tasks to be implemented.The EUNIC Global office can serve as contact point to put members in touch with each other.