The impact of Brexit on the cultural scene brought new challenges, uncertainties on the freedom of movement, loss of access to some funding, danger of lessening ties with partners in the EU. The COP26 in Glasgow showed an acute need for urgent decisions, and served as a reminder of the importance of collective action resulting from increased dialogue between parties concerned. The European Night of Ideas and Books For Thought set out to create a dialogue between local audiences and those - scientists, thinkers, artists, civil society activists - who generate new scheme of thoughts.
The European Night of Ideas took place on the 27th of January at the Institut français in London and included 15 events both online and onsite. Over 40 guests from Europe and the UK participated in the event.
BOOKS FOR THOUGHT was a series of 8 talks with European authors and British co-speakers that took place from the 18 Feb- 12 Oct on the following topics:
- “A Decolonial Ecology. Thinking from the Caribbean World” with Malcom Ferdinand and Shela Sheikh
- “One Planet, One Health” with Barbara Stiegler, Kate Pickett and Jean-François Soussana
- “New Ways of Writing History” with Patrick Boucheron and Olivette Otele
- “Hidden Libraries as Landscapes of Resistance and Survival with Laimonas Briedis, Lara Lempret, Richard Ovenden and Jean-Marc Dreyfus, British Library
- “The Great European Novel” with Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, Alan Bilton, and Georgina Godwin, Cheltenham Festival
- “Yell, Sam if you still can” with Maylis Besserie, Cliona Ni Riordain and Sinead Mac Aodha, Cheltenham Festival
- “Grave New World: Dystopias Around the Globe” with Ann Morgan, Kristin Omarsdottir, Abdourahman Waberi and Jessamine Chan, Cheltenham Festival
In terms of young audiences, pupils from the Lycée Charles-de-Gaulle acted on stage during a performance entitled Mapping controversies, named after philosopher Bruno Latour’s concept, and addressing the question “What status for statues”. A strong collaboration was also created with local universities, including King’s College London, University College London and their European Institute. Students who attended the Night conducted short interviews with guests, filmed the event and led public Q&A sessions following the roundtables. Following the nights, they created an entry piece on the event which the Institut français du Royaume-Uni and UCL published. This success is thus already showing promising future academic partnerships. British born Cypriot poet Anthony Anaxagorou wrote 5 powerful poems inspired by the general theme “Rebuilding together”, also published on the website of the Night of Ideas.
Participating speakers to the Book for Thought series also had the chance to present their work at Cheltenham Festival, benefit more exposure and increase book sales
The Night of Ideas is an on-going project since 2016 initiated by the Institut francais that will continue in 2023 independently of financial support of the EUNIC Cluster Fund. Where possible ownership will be transfer to local partners like academic institutions and EUNIC London members. The event organised in partnership with British Library as part of the Books for Thought Series has led to further collaboration with the British Library, who will be hosting and co-curating our European Literature Festival, taking place in May 2023.
The French Presidency of the EU 2022 was the opportunity to create and strengthen partnerships between EUNIC members and other local cultural istitutions and organisations.
Challenges and Learnings
The talks and panel discussions and all events went as planned with the participating speakers and local organisations working together to facilate and promote the project. The diversity of the events and the the structure of it gave the audience the opportunity to attend multiple events and make the most out of it. At the same time, this was also the challenging bit as it was impossible for the audience to attend all events. In the case of the Books for Thought series, it was a bit difficult to draw attention to all events, promote the series brand name and disseminate info more widely (mainly because of the distance between events). The cluster did their best to promote the activity to the EUNIC members and provide them resources to further amplify the work. Having established local partners (e.g. Cheltenham Festival) helped to attract specific audiences – e.g. interested in literature and also gave more visibility both to the participants and to EUNIC. The commissions that eventuated form the project, inspired both the audience and participants, added to its value and had a positive overall impact.
I was happy to be invited in London and Oxford as part of the series BOOKS FOR THOUGHT to discuss new ways to write history with Cameroonian historian Olivette Otele. Researchers and writers’ mobility plays a key role in creating multicultural dialogue.Patrick Boucheron, Collège de France