Farewell ECCE! Welcome ECIA!

Let’s start with explaining those inevitable EU acronyms!

ECCE (i.e. Economic Clusters of Creative Enterprises – you can see why we needed an acronym!) ) is the title of two successive EU Interreg programmes, the first, set up in 2006 to help strengthen the creative economy in the partner cities, and the second, ECCE Innovation, set up in 2009 primarily to strengthen the ‘spillover’ impact of the creative sector on innovation in other sectors and also to help increase access for creative entrepreneurs to other EU markets.

ECIA (i.e. European Creative Industries Alliance) is the new funding framework for the creative industries, the result of an innovative and unusual collaboration between the DG for Enterprise and Industry and the DG for Education and Culture in which the former has finally acknowledged the potential of the creative sector as a spur and a model for innovation in other sectors.

And finally a caveat:  the Eurozone may be dead by the time I actually get to publish this piece!  I acknowledge that, of course,  but I write “in hope of success instead of fear of failure” as they say.  I am an entrepreneur!

Now read on!

The ECCE programmes are now completed and the ECIA programmes are just being announced and will start imminently. It felt ironic for us in Cida Co that the two events were taking place more or less simultaneously.  When we were invited to become involved in the first ECCE in 2005, it was our first transnational programme and one of relatively few in the UK.   Over the years, it has been a constant puzzle to us that more UK local authorities didn’t take advantage of these opportunities – most UK regions use the ERDF and the ESF programmes but the take up on the transnational programmes such as Interreg and Urbact etc, has been relatively low.   When you walk into the offices of local authorities elsewhere in Europe, you often find banners in the reception areas, celebrating their involvement in different transnational programmes.  It’s rare that you find any such thing here. I can’t help feeling that this situation is highly regrettable.

It’s true that the partnerships are not always easy – cultural differences can really take their toll. In addition, and almost inevitably, achieving success with both original ambition and bureaucratic metrics can sometimes seem impossible! But, despite all the difficulties, there is also much joy, much fun, much achievement.  It is genuinely interesting actually to work in different countries as opposed to just visiting them.   You discover the unexpected, you learn new ways of thinking, you develop interesting relationships – and you really start to uncover the infinite capacity of the English language!  Additionally, you discover parts of Europe you’d never otherwise even hear of – last week, on another project, I was in Hassalt in Belgium: had never heard of it but it was both pretty and unexpected and it had the most amazing conference centre I’ve ever been in!  So I regret that we don’t do more – and now, of course, the sadness is that it is almost impossible to get match funding in England.  No Local Authority we have talked to has yet been able to find the funding to participate in new programmes.

The real sadness of this for us in Cida Co is that we have enjoyed a good history of working closely with local authorities on these programmes, where they have put the match funding on the table, and we have done the work. It’s been an effective and creative use of the European funding, with the communities in the different local authority areas benefitting from enhanced investment that local authorities on their own would never have been able to make.  As a small enterprise, Cida Co has only occasionally been able to match fund ourselves (we did in the first ECCE, for example, although we had to partner with Doncaster Council for the second innovation-focused ECCE.  In the circumstances, Doncaster was an unexpected partner but it proved a highly effective partnership, of which more later.) So the liaison with the authorities has been critical but the financial constraints under which we all currently labour mean that authorities are finding it harder and harder to get involved.  The reason I’m particularly concerned about this is that, for the creative industries, this is an interesting time.  The introduction of the ECIA is a remarkable opportunity.  The redoubtable DG for Education and Culture has long supported and funded the sector but it has to be admitted that the powerful DG for Enterprise and Industry has never taken us seriously.  But now they do.  Not, of course, because they care very much about the art itself – of course not.  Their interest is entirely pragmatic.  They believe (their research tells them) that the creative industries are important in terms of their impact on other industry sectors, especially in terms of innovation.  So, their argument goes, if they invest in strengthening the creative sector, there will be a knock-on effect on the innovation capacity of other sectors.  Well, fine – if they can be pragmatic, so can we.  If they want to invest in us, let’s take the money and make the most of it.  Everything we do , every impact we have, will and can only come from the quality of the creative work we do.  Thus it must be possible to use the funding for the benefit of our artists and creative entrepreneurs as much as for the benefit of others.

So you can see how, when this ECIA was announced, we were very excited:  it seemed to hold a lot of promise.  And, as a Finnish professor remarked to a conference last year, ‘everyone knows that the UK is a world leader in this field.’  So of course the UK should be involved – right at the top, at the policy making group for this programme.  Well, not so.  Sadly, and, in my view, unbelievably, the UK is not there.  The Policy Platform, as they call it in Euro-speak, is led by Amsterdam and includes Catalunya, Berlin, Nantes, Warsaw, Tampere and, I think, Tallin. All really great cities, doing fabulous stuff and I love them all, but…………………I wish the UK was represented among them. However,  we didn’t even participate in the bid.  It’s so frustrating – I really wish we had a greater understanding in this country of how significant it is that we are recognised overseas as a leader in this field.  Not just in Europe but everywhere – whether I’m working in Singapore or Lagos, (both places which, by the way, are coming on leaps and bounds in their different ways to challenge our leadership), and even there people talk about the UK creating the model and giving the lead.  The only people who don’t seem to recognise this is us!

Still, it’s done now and we have to move on.  I think it will be interesting and even exciting as they move into gear and start doing things so we need to watch what happens.  And let’s see if somehow, somewhere, we can actually get involved!

Anamaria Wills  November 2011

E:   Anamaria@cida.org    W:  www.cida.org     Twitter: anamariacida