Productivity of Culture

Hatto Fischer

Hatto Fischer is Philosopher, Poet und Co-ordinator of Poiein kai Prattein



categories: Culture and Economy + Conclusions + Kids' Guernica Exhibition at the Zappeion Megaron Athens


From productivity to creativity: the cultural economy in the making - by Hatto Fischer

Presentation at the ECCM Symposium
“Productivity of Culture”,
Session: Culture and Economy
held in Athens
Oct. 18/19, 2007

This ECCM Symposium “Productivity of Culture” wants to respond to the study published by the European Commission about the growing importance of culture to the economy. There have been already in use since the 1990’s concepts like creative clusters and cultural industries to indicate the transformation of industrial society into one relying much more on the creative sector to take things forward. However, Kulturdocumentation in Vienna under the directorship of Veronika Ratzenboeck, experiences that cities still have difficulties in recognizing the value of the arts and culture. As a matter of fact, A.J.Wiesand from the research centre Ericarts has in the discussion leading up to the EU Conference ‘Culture empowers Europe’ held under the German Presidency in Berlin, June 2007 warned about over estimating the contribution which can be made by this sector. Consequently some thoughts are needed to comprehend if there is something like a cultural economy in the making and what deeper implications this has for European Capitals of Culture insofar as the crucial question here is if the relationship between culture and economy will have changed due to the city having gone through this one designated year.

Before taking up that double question, two different but related matters have to be discussed. One has to do with the concepts of productivity and creativity since they are obviously understood quite differently today compared to the times when Marx wrote his criticism about Capitalism or Adam Smith talked about ‘division of labor’ as key to productivity. It means in a second step some things have to said about ‘economic theory’ or the very concept of ‘economy’ has to be reconsidered in the age of globalization.

Productivity has been always achieved by altering the labor/capital relationship while the introduction of technology has enhanced and increased the productivity of people employed. Added to that criteria has been the efficiency of management and therefore of the organization. As Cornelius Castoriadis has pointed out, it means in reality a growing dependency upon technology being no longer just a tool, but representing a new logic of organization and therefore by implication a ‘theory of society’. In such a context it becomes crucial to understand why increasing emphasis is being put upon ‘innovation and creativity’. The importance of innovation has been so far a key argument for governmental policy with emphasis upon research. Although claimed to be mandatory, ongoing research has unfortunately often been neglected. If now creativity is added, then newer policy implications are in store. There is a risk that an economy driven viewpoint will sideline all other arguments for creativity taken from the arts and culture in general.

Oversights and shortcomings in policy and research are incurred since even interdisciplinary approaches cannot easily bring together poets and planners as was done by the ‘Myth of the City’ conference in Crete. Moreover only certain approaches and systems allow for innovation to work itself through all phases. It requires above all that people can experience themselves as becoming not merely productive, but creative as well. The latter is attributed towards finding new and novel solutions.

It should not be forgotten that innovation entails as well cutting down the time it takes to implement a new idea. Economic deficiencies are often attributed to the long delay it takes to get things done due to centralized, highly bureaucratic governments. Hindrance in setting up business is one example, another, much more difficult one is how government can develop the art of policy to let an innovative process work itself through freely. It always requires of both people and administration cultural adaptation. As evaluation reports of Agenda 21 showed any successful implementation required an administration able to reform itself by decentralizing power in order to let people participate. It means for the discussion about sustainable development that there need to be heeded not only criteria for economic and environmental sustainability, but as well the ones for institutional and cultural sustainability. People can only adapt to changes if they have the cultural tools. Bernd Fesel stressed that the transition to be experienced in the Ruhr 2010 region towards the new creative economy entails a collective learning process. It includes processes by which people learn new methods of perception. Such ‘cognitive development’ needs to be promoted if the economy is to face the challenges of globalization and of world wide competition. Self evidently productivity is linked to innovation made possible by cultural adaptation but it would be a mistake to neglect the importance of informal learning processes by which cultural actions become community based participatory forms in collective forms of expressions as exemplified at this ECCM Symposium by the Kids’ Guernica exhibition and the experiences which go with such a bottom-up world wide action.

In describing the innovative process there was mentioned creativity as making possible new solutions. Of course, the word reappears also in a negative context e.g. ‘creative accounting’. As always there is implied something made possible but not real. Creativity goes beyond the given and is as Bart Verschaffel said in the session about cultural planning of this ECCM Symposium something exceptional, something which cannot be planned. I would also quote here the recognition which Andre Breton, author of the Surrealist Manifesto, gave to Picasso as the only one who does not need to follow the Manifesto since “he follows his own morality of creativity”. This deep insight into what path an artist takes (and such a path differs from what careers professionals pursue within respective companies, international institutions or think tanks) should at the very least make evident that creativity is no magic fluke, but comes about due to some very clear insights. It can begin with a clear description of the problem i.e. how to draw the hands as did Albrecht Duerer and does not end with Picasso painting Guernica by going beyond enemy pictures usually produced to denounce the perpetrators but unable to reach out to human pain as did Picasso.
Creativity is a highly moral task since mankind has to answer to challenges of life in a very humane way. Hence every creative act entails a possibility of becoming more human. Above all it has nothing to do with violence and coercion. As a matter of fact philosophy recognizes that intuition is the only logic which complies to that ethical prerequisite. Of interest is here as well the arguments George Krimpas developed at the outset of this ECCM session on ‘culture and economy’. It adds to another way of understanding how creativity can be brought about, namely by ‘the art to set limits’. For instance, artists can become very creative, if the curator gives them all the freedom to express themselves, but sets just one simple constraint: all expressions have to be made on or out of wood.

Now, prior to linking productivity and creativity by understanding how innovation works itself through as a learning process so that people can adapt themselves to ongoing searches for solutions to outstanding problems, economy does play here a role in the way resources can and are brought together. Consequently something has to be said about evolving economic theory or about the forgotten sense of economy as dealing with scarce resources to achieve maximum output at lowest costs. The loss of a true economic theory has been accompanied by a loss of governmental responsibility for a society facing unresolved economic issues, in particular those exprienced by people living below, at or just above poverty line. To start with Keynes was replaced by the Milton Friedman theory. The latter is based on the claim that consumer spending is no longer dependent upon weekly or monthly, but on life time income. This includes expectations to inherit something. It makes sense when one thinks people purchase maybe only once in their lives a home. (Of course, as made evident by the presentation of Costa Carass at this Symposium on how to preserve cultural heritage and therefore a need for a vigorous campaign against the spread of second homes in Greece as it leads to over consumption of natural and cultural landscapes, people are apparently no longer satisfied with but one home).

Still, Milton Friedman’s importance is that it freed the governments from any fiscal responsibilities. It handed over the running of the economy really to the central bank who oversees the circulation and therefore value of money. It is thought that flow and quantity of money in circulation affects effectively consumer behavior. No wonder then that consumer confidence has become one of the main indexes whether the economy is doing well and share prices will climb. The extension thereof is literally management of income expectations and has led due activities in the banking sector to people taking up all sorts of loans to consume ever more. They do it on the assumption that they can cover the interest rates in time while enjoying now, not later, a higher quality of life. The credit crunch on the housing market entails, therefore, a highly structured crisis linked to state deficits and therefore the need of governments like the United States to borrow money to retain confidence in the overall economy. That has many more implications in need to be covered elsewhere more thoroughly than here possible.

Why is this said? By all talks about the growing importance of the cultural industries, cultural tourism and culture, the dependency upon money flow and life time incomes should not be forgotten. Most crucial is what Schumpeter said, namely the most powerful voice in history has after all the ‘budget’. At a recent presentation by NGOs in the European Parliament about their views of the EU budget, they advised rightly so not to talk about increasing the budget, if politicians cannot guarantee that money made already available is not used wisely but instead squandered. Moreover, they warned not to fall into the trap of arguing for a cut in the agricultural budget in order to relocate the money somewhere else. While it is true that right now the agricultural subsidies are given straight forward and therefore difficult to control, future developments, in particular due to climate change and expected draughts, will require that many more fine measures are taken so that the agricultural sector adopts to a very wise and anticipatory environmental policy.

In short, budgetary matters linked to how resources are allocated in order to get things done, defines the kind of economy we will have in future. That is said with a note of caution about the coming of the cultural economy. It is all the more the case given the short comings of a global economy where money flows are nowadays managed by digital technologies so that billions of dollars or Euros are traded within seconds and no one really knows what shall be the impact of these shifts in purchasing powers.

Someone arguing for a cultural economy in the making has to realize anyone without a penny in the pocket is the weakest in any negotiation round. Moreover money itself depends factually on how purchasing power is gained and defined through economic growth rates. Louis Baeck, economic historian, has pointed out a 4 to 5% growth rate can translate itself for power holders into an increase in value of their wealth by up to 40%. This significant shift in power is usually not commented upon nor really related to. It may only hit the headlines when Gasprom in Russia threatens to turn off the gas flow to Ukraine while the justification given to such a threat is that Gasprom in Russia wishes to get away from politically set prices of the past and operate more according to market prizes. What can be done or demanded, in terms of the prizes in need to be paid, reflects ongoing shifts of power in economies restructuring themselves. A prime model in this process of change is the much preferred private-public partnership but it lets the tax payer carry in the long run the burden of the state ensuring initial investment risks are covered. With private companies holding shares up to 40% as Hochtief in the case of Athens International Airport, it means income returns to initial investments made are covered in the long run. Profits are no longer calculated in terms of only short term gains but what income flow is secured over a period of 20 to 40 years. All financial deals need to be understood in these new terms. For example, Hochtief calculates things in terms of Europe’s entire infrastructure as being an asset. Out of such an understanding of assets there evolves a new type of management. Needless to say the cultural factor is only then considered when marketing of products need to heed local tastes and customs e.g. Pepsi Cola selling with their brand drink local chips which have a different flavor in Taiwan than in Greece.

There is no need to become a cynic when arguing basically for caution about a cultural economy in the making. Already at the 1994 conference “Culture, Building Stone for Europe 2002” organized by myself for the Flemish Government when Greece had the EU presidency, the economic historian Louis Baeck reminded that there exist two opposing models: the Mediterranean versus the Atlantic tradition. While the Mediterranean integrates the economy into the household as Homer would describe Odyssey's, the Atlantic tradition means a sharp separation of culture and economy. Obviously in the latter case culture has no role to play. A similar note struck Michael D. Higgins when he said at this ECCM Symposium, that culture is much wider than the economy. He added that creativity depends upon cultural policy making available such cultural spaces in which people can become and stay creative. Of equal importance he considers integrity of memory as a way to safeguard continuity in creativity. Clearly it opposes a world of the 'eternal present' based on forgetting the old in order to consume the new.

A lot more can be said about how memory plays a role in any type of economy, but as Polanyi would say, the real proof is what can uphold complexity and still ensure an economy managed in a way that besides productivity a fair distribution of resources is ensured in order to attain social justice. In that sense, he considered a society based on reciprocity a more favorable one than the one relying on money as decision carrier and as answer by the global economy to the woes of the world. Definitely a new type of cultural governance is needed especially when politicians and international institutions fail to ensure fair distribution. Basically the argument in favor of cultural governance is about handling complexity in such a way that a sense of truth and honesty can be retained. Otherwise corruption is rampant everywhere. In the arts it is recognized that the simple is the most difficult to attain. If, however, Bill Clinton got elected with the slogan, “it is the economy, stupid”, any argument in favor of the cultural economy in the making cannot insult people by calling them stupid if they do not follow arguments in favor of a culture steering the economic process. Something more is needed as it requires another culture.

Karl Marx said in this respect something very specific. In the introduction to his dissertation he made the important observation that people need to address each other in such language that they can attain thereby human self-consciousness. It matters, therefore, how they address each other; they attain self-consciousness if treated as human beings. It is only possible, so his observation, if the language they use to address each other contains categories of both productivity and creativity. Bringing about such a language can already entail the cultural economy in the making: no hierarchical structures so that people can freely discuss issues and decisions to be made in human terms.

The cultural economy in the making will prove to be successful if it keeps that constraint of language needed to bring about human self-consciousness in mind. But as Abdelaziz Kacem from Tunesia cautioned, the dialogue between cultures might no longer be possible in a world beset by permanent war. The impact of the ‘war against terrorism’ at global level has to be taken serious. It has lead to a condition described by Kacem as various cultural tributes no longer feeding the great stream of humanity but rather at great risk to dry out. That can be observed onhand of numerous misunderstandings being reproduced and what ends up in silence i.e. people unable to participate as there is no more open communication process. Although the European Commission has declared 2008 as year of intercultural dialogue, there has to be added to Kacem’s caution another, more reflective thought. The world cannot enter dialogues if people have no empathy for one another. If Takuya Kaneda is right that freeing the imagination of not only children, but adults as well is a prerequisite for that to happen, then the task of a cultural economy may well be described in more nuanced forms. For with the freeing of the imagination as creative power goes the emancipation of every individual in a collaborative work process in order to be able to overcome not just shyness to speak out in public, but also to leave behind some deeper seated traumas. The latter fix people’s souls due to mistrust, hatred, envy, etc. to walls of silence against which then the others are slammed out of revenge and rage mainly due to having betrayed their dreams while blaming others for that. That is especially the case when people are without cultural orientations based on feed-backs to their thoughts while governments have more practice in mendacity than in giving honest information to ensure practices result out of real knowledge.

A cultural economy has to be able to fulfill that minimum prerequisite of a human language. Political culture has to ensure that people do retain the ability to talk about problems rather than fall silent. Otherwise they give merely explanations by which they affirm what is taking place anyhow on the ground and without their doing. Once resigned, they cannot anticipate anymore things to come and thereby loose abilities to avoid looming dangers in time. Indeed, the greatest failure of culture would be the lack of anticipation. It was the case in Ancient Greece when the Athenians decided to enter the war with Sparta and this despite voices warning that they will never come home as victors. Even Pericles had by then forgotten his own funeral speech; that is when he said Athens needs no protection by armies, but active citizens.

The crucial question of the ECCM Symposium needs to be developed further out of what has been articulated in the various sessions, namely what European Capitals of Culture have to undertake if the relationship between culture and economy is to be taken in future to another level of quality. If culture is to be the key orientation, then it must be culturally inspiring and become a European wide, equally ongoing innovative, indeed creative process. It should entail all people capable of recognizing the contributions everyone, young and old, can make. So far the European Commission has only capitalized in on the success story of the concept of European Cultural Capital Cities by promoting and profiting from a growing competitiveness between cities eager to attain the designation. That is modern Capitalism in reverse. It means in reality little investment and just following the routine of principled instigations made to set off a process without having to learn from it but demanding the cities deliver the proof that the policy adopted is a most successful one. Rather the European Commission must undertake steps to prove it can successfully support and follow-up the stories created by European Cultural Capital Cities.

In order to keep the economy going, while culturally refining the inputs and distribution, future policy orientation has to be seen in terms of voices heard when discussing the maps of cultural resources. It is about creating potentialities for the future. Here Descartes said something of importance when defining economy as doing something according to the least number of rules. Business people and investors complain always about bureaucratization hindering investments, but no one seems to address the issue of over complication by numerous rules when it comes to identity formations. In that sense it is important that Bart Verschaffel in his concluding paper reminds that it should not be forgotten that Europe is a mere fiction and no single culture is good if it means exclusion of others. Louis Baeck would add as long as only one set of references is used, the Islamic view of globalization shall not be understood.

Introduction to the Kids' Guernica Exhibition at the Zappeion Megaron:

This is a special Symposium because a joint event of discussions and exhibition. Shown will be peace murals painted by children all over the world on canvases the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m). The focus of the Symposium is how responsive are Cultural Cities to the global challenges to culture, and what will be the role of cultural institutions, including museums, in such a context. All the more important is how children respond to such concrete challenges as war, abuse, poverty, AIDS, lack of education and limitations due to special needs not recognized by society. Here alone the Blind Boys’ Guernica mural can be related to what the philosopher Bart Verschaffel would like to point out when speaking not only about how cities organize public and private spaces according to their interpretations of truths, but most references and orientation marks are visual metaphors. It leaves out that other knowledge needed by blind people.

The purpose of this joint event is to illustrate but also to find new ways of networking in-between different levels, actors, institutions and ongoing actions leading to new experiences as demonstrated by Kids' Guernica. The latter is starting to collaborate with schools and various other institutions, in particular museums to ensure these works of art by children done in a collaborative work will be recognized in future as big letters carrying all sorts of messages by children. Insofar as freeing the imagination is a prerequisite to overcome lack of understanding in order to start a peace process, the dialog envisioned engages also adults so as not to forget they too were once children with a rich imagination.

Poein Kai Prattein – Kids’ Guernica

Poiein Kai Prattein (to create and to do) started off by being a group of poets. At that time they called themselves ‘touch stone’. Out of these workshops on ‘poetry and mythology’, there followed the Fifth Seminar, “Cultural Actions for Europe” in 1994 and “Myth of the City” (a discussion for one week throughout Crete between poets and planners with people from villages, cities and universities) in 1995. Then came the Article 10 – ERDF project CIED (Cultural Innovation and Economic Development) through which contact was made with the poets in Ireland, including Michael D. Higgins. Then came the preparations for the Olympics in Athens 2004 for which Poiein Kai Prattein published ‘Poetry Connection: Poets and the Olympic Truce’. Together with Peace Waves in Torino, there was organized a Olympic Truce Youth Festival in Torino at the start of 2005 where first contact was made with Kids’ Guernica.

It was decided to create the painting “The War is Over” and to send it over to Ubud, Bali where Kids’ Guernica coordinated by Takuya Kaneda was celebrating its 10th anniversary since having been created in Japan 1995. Upon hearing the request of Kids’ Guernica International to hold a workshop in Greece, Poiein Kai Prattein has organized workshops with exhibitions of peace murals first in Kastelli, Crete April 2006 to coincide with Greek Easter and in May 2007 in Chios. Chios was followed up by taking 8 children to Izmir, Turkey to have together with pupils from the Takev School and students from the University of Economics complete a peace mural which had been started in May. The contact to Izmir came about thanks to Deniz Hasirci and Gulistan Banu Cel, while from Chios side Efi Lipari (tourist officer working for the Prefecture of Chios) and Maria Serra (art teacher) made possible this action. It underlines one main theme of the Symposium, namely the dialogue between cultures.


Born 1945 near the Starnberger Lake in Bavaria, Germany, Hatto Fischer emigrated to Ottawa, Canada, with his parents and sister in 1957, where he later studied economics and political science at Carleton University before continuing his studies in philosophy and sociology at the London School of Economics (1969–70). After further studies of philosophy at the Philosophical Seminar in Heidelberg, he wrote his Ph.D. on “articulation problems of workers and the tradition of the German Trade Union” in Berlin. Since 1988 he has lived in Athens, Greece, is married and has one daughter. As a writer and coordinator of European projects, including the Article 10 – ERDF project CIED (Cultural Innovation and Economic Development), he has explored the field of articulation in many facets. As an advisor for the Green party at the European Parliament Committee of Culture, Media, Sports, Education and Youth, he produced a study on the potential of Internet Radio to further European Debate. Currently he is coordinator of the Non-Profit Urban Society POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN (“to create and to do”) in Athens and has undertaken two studies for the city of Volos as part of the Interreg III B HERMES project, one on successful cultural planning strategies and the other on the use of multimedia in museums.

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