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Andrew Manning, director of EUNIC

We believe the cultural relations approach can to unlock so much potential for EUNIC, its members and the broader European project.

Andrew Manning is the Director of EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture). With members in every EU country and over 133 ‘Clusters’ worldwide the organisation believes in the power of culture to build trust and understanding between countries. Within the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU), EUNIC and the Institut français are teaming up around projects such as a communication campaign to promote multilingualism. 

Updated on 09/05/2022

10 min

Image
Andrew Manning, director of EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture)
Crédits
Andrew Manning © Pauline Caplet

Why was EUNIC originally founded and have its objectives changed over time? 

As a network we were founded in 2006. At that time it was a smaller association of six national institutes that were based in Brussels. The Institut français was there from the start, as was the British Council and the Goethe Institute. They were also joined by the Danish, the Dutch and the Austrians. The cultural relations approach, as opposed to cultural diplomacy, was always key. This essentially highlights culture as a means to build trust and understanding, focusing on mutual benefits and reciprocity, as opposed to culture being a means to project or to advance national political interests.

Initial objectives were to create effective partnerships and networks between the different cultural institutes in Europe and promote cultural diversity and understanding between the peoples of European countries. There was also the goal of strengthening cultural dialogue and cooperation beyond the EU. All of these goals continue today, but what has changed is the scale, scope of ambition.

In concrete terms we now have EUNIC members in every EU member state as well as associate countries, such as the UK. We now have 133 regional chapters across the globe which are part of our EUNIC cluster structure.  Beyond this global network we also have an official strategic partnership with the EU in the field of cultural external relations. 

 

How is EUNIC working with European institutions to strengthen European cultural policies? 

We work really closely with EU institutions both at headquarter level here in Brussels but also on the ground with EU delegations and their missions abroad. That relationship is acknowledged and structured through a range of policy papers and agreements. A milestone moment was the 2016 joint communication entitled ‘Towards an EU strategy for International Cultural Relations’ which enshrined elements that were in many way informed by, and in dialogue with, EUNIC.

We’re talking about aspects such as the cross-cutting approach to culture - not just seeing culture as the arts but as topics with more cross-cutting potential such as digitization, sustainability and so on. It also explicitly speaks about a paradigm shift towards cultural relations. What’s really vital is that we put these words and intentions into action and that’s what happens with a range of our projects. 

 

What are the main projects that you are working on at the moment? 

European Spaces of Culture is one of our flagship projects (initiated by the European Parliament) which seeks to identify new approaches for the EU to engage through culture beyond the EU’s borders.  We also continually support the development of our EUNIC clusters around the world and have funded about 20 projects this year. We always try to support and nourish the governance of our clusters and this spring have a regional seminar with the presidents of all the clusters in the Middle East and North Africa to look at what we can do together and how they can be complimentary to the actions of the national players on the ground and partners such as the EU.

We offer a range of capacity building opportunities for our members including a series of knowledge sharing workshops. We just held one in November with the Swedish Institute on Artistic freedom of expression and combined the workshop with a visit to UNESCO to deepen the conversation. The next is with Ifa in Germany. The topic there will be Afghanistan and what we can do to support professional perspectives for diaspora cultural practitioners who have been able to leave the country. It will also explore what we might be able to do support those remaining on the ground who find themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. 

When we come together as a network through EUNIC, each member can all be surprised by and learn from elements which might not be the at the core of their own national approach but in which other members have experience and expertise.

EUNIC has a particularly broad understanding of culture which embraces everything from the arts and creative industries to social inclusion and sustainability. How does this translate into the projects you are involved with? 

The broad list that we have reflects the real lived experience of our member institutes. That’s interesting as it reflects the different role, history, mandate and approach that different EU countries have towards engaging with culture in international relations. When we come together as a network through EUNIC, each member can all be surprised by and learn from elements which might not be the at the core of their own national approach but in which other members have experience and expertise.

Part of our mission statement is about making culture count in external relations and expanding that definition of culture and its impact is an important part of that mission. For example two research papers we published recently were on culture’s contribution to both sustainable development, and peace and stability. These studies received considerable interest from the EU institutions and was presented in the Cultural Affairs Committee of the European Council.

Two projects from European Spaces of Culture that we are just starting are on the disability arts agenda in China. Another in Brazil links the topics of gaming, youth and climate activism. Both reveal our broad approach to culture’s transformative power. 

 

How does EUNIC work with the Institut français within the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU? 

The French authorities and the Institut français have really maximised and harnessed their membership and the approach of EUNIC to good effect within the presidency. They have made a special investment in the cluster fund so in the name of the French Presidency we have been able to deepen on the ground projects across the globe and put into action all these principles of cultural relations, supporting projects ranging from Senegal to Pakistan.

A second element has seen us in dialogue with the Institut français to create a big push around multi-lingualism within the French Presidency. We are supporting the communication tool kit that the Institut français is leading around the promotion of language learning in Europe as many of the EUNIC members are actively involved in language teaching of a broad range of European languages. 

 

Are there particular areas that EUNIC would like to focus on with its projects and partnerships in  the years ahead? 

There are many questions around the post pandemic landscape of the cultural sector and what we can do to galvanise that. Linked to pandemic recovery, but not exclusively, is the ongoing evolution of what digital cultural relations will look like. There is a commitment to unpick questions around social injustice and racism on a structural level. A key thing for us is to take the European Spaces of Culture project from a pilot into a permanent instrument in the EU’s external culture. 

Ensuring we have shared understanding and are able to maximise the potential of the cultural relations approach is also really important, and it is an ongoing process. I think if we can get to the point where we truly have an approach based on mutual listening and learning which is really focused on reciprocal benefits, it could transform not only the EU and EUNIC members cultural activities, but also become a huge part of the approach the EU takes in its wider international relationships beyond the strictly cultural. We believe that the cultural relations approach can unlock so much potential for EUNIC, its members and the broader European project. 

The Institut français and the EUNIC network

The Institut français is a member of the EUNIC network, headed by Andrew Manning. 

Within the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU), EUNIC and the Institut français are teaming up around projects such as a communication campaign to promote multilingualism

L'institut français, LAB