Paul Dujardin, CEO & Artistic Director at BOZAR : Europe is a state of mind and a cultural space
Via projects like 'Next Generation, Please!', exhibitions like ‘Imagine Europe' and BOZAR's cultural programmes in the framework of the European Presidencies, we try to contribute to the cultural diplomacy between the European municipalities
- January 23, 2019 11:30
- Olya Georgieva
You are General Director of BOZAR since 2002. What is the most interesting change you have observed regarding the way Europe looks on art?
Giving the actual European context, I would say that what is the most interesting change is the awareness among European leaders and citizens that culture must be at the core of the European project, you see with for European initiatives such as “Erasmus of Culture” an Erasmus programme for artists and cultural workers. Indeed, recent events forced politicians and decision-makers to come to terms with the need for a Europe of culture: Brexit, the rise of populism in Poland and Hungary, restrictions on freedoms – speech, press, … A union based on a community of citizens and not merely on a shared economic union of nation states. Populism, nationalism, Euroscepticism, fear of the other, lack of European adhesion share the same foundation: lack of a sense of belonging to a community. Culture is the binder between citizens and gives individuals the missing narrative: the construction of a common future with common horizons. New political movements in Europe address the question of culture in Europe, specifically pan-European movements (e.g CIVICO, Volt, DiEM, Place Publique, ..). They acknowledge and valorize culture as a core component of Europe. Citizens also see cultural heritage as crucial: a 2017 Eurobarometer survey has revealed that 80% of Europeans believe cultural heritage is important to the EU.
You must feel very much related to the Centre for Fine Arts. Please tell us more about its history, the building and of course its impact on society over the years?
Around the turn of the XIXth century there was a need for an exhibition space for visual arts in Brussels. Organizing temporary exhibitions was not a key priority for the existing Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Additionally there was a need for a multidisciplinary approach: uniting various disciplines including the visual arts, music, cinema and performing arts. The founding fathers deliberately decided that the CFA would not be a collecting museum. Emancipated from a permanent collection the CFA was designed to be flexible, outward looking and oriented towards the present and the future rather than anchored only to the past. We are multidisciplinary by nature, and have always been from the very beginning a discussion forum for social changes.
As society changes, so must the public institutions that serve them, that is in essence their role. The last two decades, the CFA has adopted its new brand, BOZAR, transforming itself from a house of many disciplines into a interdisciplinary space: we are making connections between sectors such as education (obviously), foreign affairs, social sciences, natural sciences, formal sciences, technology, ecology, … Today, art museums, Kunsthalles, Concert Halls have a lot in common: a constant need to innovate and respond to social change, to continue to be relevant and prove their valuable position in society.
The Center of Fine Arts, inaugurated in 1929, has been named the first house of culture in Europe. What is the role of such cultural hub like BOZAR then and now?
In recent years, renowned cultural institutions, biennales like the Vienna Biennale for Change 2019, festivals, have begun to address social issues from the climate change to the digital revolution. Indeed, XXIth cultural institutions are becoming spaces for discussions and build a sense of belonging to a community using empowering methods to turn individuals into active citizens through the arts.
Like other art centres, BOZAR is also addressing social issues by uniting experts from different disciplines, thinkers, philosophers, artists, scientists, … to discuss and find transversal methodologies and solutions. For example, in 2019 BOZAR will focus on Renaissance, both Renaissance in the historic sense of the word but also the need for a New Renaissance: a European one, social, holistic etc. Cultural institutions like BOZAR can work from a political and a grassroots level, they are both important and needed to build trust and foster a democratic society. Advocacy has become a key role for art centres, thus art centres endorse new responsibilities on new subjects: education, science, migration, the environment.
This change would not be possible without committed artists. Artists offer different tools, perspectives and point of views to understand today’s world. They are closer to people’s concerns and try to translate them into artistic solutions. Artists show and tell at the same time. They are poets who translate the ‘undiscussable’ into material form. Artists humanize research. They use science and technology for the common good. Houses of culture are closely connected to the public, the visitors, the citizens. In the months and years to come BOZAR wants to make the leap from the city to the civic, and strengthen the triangle between the arts, science and urbanity.
What would you like to see accomplished until the end of your third mandate as General Director at BOZAR?
BOZAR is undergoing a very interesting transition. We are evolving into a European house for culture. Through a more thematic approach we would like to contribute more to the building of a real European community. This approach forces us to adapt our procedures and structures. Coproduction and co-creation are central.
We are also eager to work with partners from the scientific world to give more substance to our artistic research. The relation between arts and well-being will also be an integral part of our policy (staff, public, artists). It is a long term project as we identify innovative ways to serve our community.
Thus, BOZAR’s horizon is not the next season or the next election. Our horizon is 2030. That year it will be two hundred years ago that the Belgian Revolution began in Brussels, not far from where the Centre for Fine Arts now stands. Many have forgotten that the spark that ignited the revolution was the confinement of a journalist: Louis De Potter. He was the man who declared the Belgian independence and wrote the draft of the first constitution. This constitution was so progressive that it was copied by many new countries that came into existence after 1830. The protection of free speech and the separation of church and state were revolutionary at that time. Today, they are again put to the test. The celebration of Belgian independence has to be more than a nostalgic party. It is an opportunity to celebrate and reconfirm the values on which the country was built. Brussels hopes to become European Capital of Culture again in 2030. The negotiations for this have begun a while ago. BOZAR is obviously an enthusiastic partner in this process. But for us the process is more important than the result. Moreover, this is the ultimate opportunity to break down walls. If the is only takes place between cultural institutions and cultural workers, the effect will be minimal. If we want to become European Capital of Culture, we have to do that together with entrepreneurs, teachers, youth workers, hospitals, universities and ... the countless politicians in our capital. Local and European. Then we have to bridge the gap to neighbouring cities, also across the border. Without them, we should not even consider continuing the process.
The Centre for Fine Arts is the most visited cultural destination in Brussels thanks to its vast multidisciplinary and diverse programme - from concerts, exhibitions, cinema and theatre to dance performances, debates and workshops. How you manage to maintain such level of excellence in all these spheres of the art?
At BOZAR, it is all about teamwork, transparency, coproduction and artistic excellence. My team and I, we all work hard to place people at the centre of everything we do the visitor, welcoming change and build projects together.
Co-productions is a truly European way of working. They are not anymore the model which only aims at having exhibitions, concerts and performances as end-products. Supporting co-creation and reciprocity have become essential values to develop visions that transcend than one directional showcasing. We are becoming an organisation shifting away from a result-driven logic one that is to process driven. An exhibition or a concert should not be a static, one direction proposal; it can become an interactive experience. We should also give time to artists and researchers - offer a space where the process and experimental journey matters as much as the final show. It can lead to new artistic formats, debates and publications.
What’s on at Bozar this year?
Renaissance ! Indeed, after celebrating Revolution & Contestation in the framework of the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1968, in 2019 BOZAR will focus on Renaissance in a broad sense. From XVIth painters to European elections, BOZAR will address the dichotomy between heritage and contemporaneity which embodied in the word “renaissance”. Heritage will be celebrated through exhibitions featuring the work of Van Orley and Bruegel complemented by interventions of contemporary artists. Contemporary challenges and recent changes will also be addressed by artists in the light of coming political changes such as Brexit and of course the European elections.
Do you think art can straighten relationships between the countries in the EU?
Yes, yes, yes ! And also between the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. The last 15 years BOZAR has set up European projects originating from countries all over the continent. Everybody is talking about Europe, yet during every project you notice how the focus changes, as if you are holding a looking glass above the European map. The centre is sharp, but the borders move and the total picture becomes larger. The centre is in the periphery. West becomes East. Geographically speaking the centre of Europe is in the so-called East. But also recent history has changed the perspective. Europe is a state of mind and a cultural space. But it is of course also an economic project and a political body. The Centre of this political Europe is ‘Brussels’. It makes this city a true centre of diplomacy. It gives Belgium a lot of international advantages and a big responsibility. As a federal cultural organization the Centre of Fine Arts Brussels takes this cultural responsibility seriously, together with many partners throughout Europe and beyond our continent. It has led to truly European projects such as ‘Trauma & Revival. Cultural relations between Eastern and Western Europe’, to name just one ongoing example. This cooperation between many international partners, including the Pushkin State Museum of Moscow, is bringing together artists, intellectuals, decision makers and citizens from across the continent, from Russia and Finland in the North to Italy in the South. A stronger EU policy on cultural external relation is not a luxury anymore. It has become an urgency on a local, national and European level. That’s why I am very happy the Council of the European Union adopted strategic approach to international cultural relations in 2016.
What do you think about a unified platform for European municipalities and its main goal to make and keep European citizens better informed about what is taking place in the European Union? How BOZAR and other European culture centers can collaborate with such a platform in order to create better European present and future?
Every platform that brings together European citizens is a step further towards a sense of European citizenship. A large portion of the problem is that the European Union is struggling with nowadays, originates from the fact that we do not know each other well enough. Via projects like 'Next Generation, Please!', exhibitions like ‘Imagine Europe' and BOZAR's cultural programmes in the framework of the European Presidencies, we try to contribute to the cultural diplomacy between the European municipalities. All the cultural projects we set up with partners throughout Europe were welcomed with a strong faith in Europe and facilitate individuals’ engagement for a European future. Indeed, recent conflicts show us there is a need and an urge to reaffirm European values as solidarity, non-discrimination, gender equality, cultural diversity, tolerance, democracy, freedom of speech, … These BOZAR projects defend these European values. A unified platform for European municipalities is in line with BOZAR’s methods and projects.
 NYSSEN Françoise, «Faire de l'Europe de la culture une réalité», Le Figaro [en ligne], 10 Octobre 2017, Disponible sur : http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/culture/2017/10/10/31006-20171010ARTFIG00368-francoise-nyssen-faire-de-l-europe-de-la-culture-une-realite.php