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A New Alliance for Cultural Mobility
 A New Alliance for Cultural Mobility
Writer : Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio_art critic and independent curator 2015.06.02 Europe > Greece

A New Alliance for Cultural Mobility
[Conference] SEAAA Mobility Platform

The Birth of a Transcontinental Alliance

The SEAAA Alliance—a platform for artistic and cultural mobility across Southern Europe, the Arab world, Asia and Australia—was officially launched in Athens, Greece, on March 30 and 31, 2015.

This ambitious project was initially conceived by the Roberto Cimetta Fund, Korea Arts Management Service and the Australia Council for the Arts, supported by the Creative Networks program of the Asia-Europe Foundation.Since its launch, the SEAAA Alliance has brought more than 40 arts and cultural professionals from approximately 24 different countries to the Hellenic capital.

As an internationally minded organization, the Alliance finds its roots in previous meetings between European, Asian and Australian organizations and professionals interested in exploring new possibilities of cooperation and exchange, new funding models and innovative ideas and visions related to cultural mobility (Prague, 2013 – Melbourne, 2014). Beyond the organization and development of specific meetings focused on mobility and international exchange, there is no doubt that humanity finds itselfin an era of unprecedented international cultural cooperation, with a growing interest in forming new partnerships, connections and common projects.

Some of the experts and cultural professionals gathering in Athens acted alongside the main partners and representatives from the Asia-Europe Foundation in speaking for the India Foundation for the Arts (India),the Valletta European Capital of Culture 2018 (Malta), the Russian Theatre Union (Russia), India For Transformation (India), Kultura Nova Foundation (Croatia), the VASL Artists’ Collective (Pakistan), the European Cultural Foundation (The Netherlands), Art Moves Africa, Theatre Entropia (Greece), Zoomaal (Lebanon), the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (the Philippines), More Europe (Belgium), Nabdh/Pulse (Tunisia), the French Ministry of Culture and Communication (France), Al Harah Theater (Palestine), Vyrsodepseio (Greece), the Tamasi Network (U.K./Egypt), as well as several Greek operators.

The first meeting of the affiliated organizations, a group that is committed to artistic and cultural mobility funding and regranting,was intended to share information, methods, models and strategies related to diverse aspects of cultural mobility, as well as create a common fund in order to increase mobility opportunities, expand existing routes and imagine new itineraries.

Mobility grants and opportunities between Asia and Australia, on the one side, and the Arab world and Africa, on the other, are very few; also, the cultural and artistic connections between Southern Europe and either Asia or Australia currently need enhancement. Hence the birth of a new transcontinental platform would help fill in these gaps or, at least, recognize and analyze the urgencies of the sector. This is the spirit of the SEAAA Mobility Platform, which originated from a common desire to develop new partnerships, forge new alliances and explore and better comprehend the cultural maps of other world areas. From this perspective, it is worth mentioning Korea Arts Management Service’s recent involvement in projects such as the Mobility Funding Guide in Arab countries (in partnership with On the Move and the Arab Education Forum); the Cultural Mobility Symposium, held in New York in January 2015 (in partnership with On the Move and Theatre Without Borders); or the forthcoming mobility funding guide for African countries (in partnership with Art Moves Africa). These past projects and events, along with the meeting in Athens, clearly illustrate the growing interest in mobility issues and the changing scenario in the field of international cultural cooperation.

SEAAA Mobility Platform

Mobility, Exchange and the Need for Cooperation

What is mobility? During the two-day intensive seminar at Theatre 104, the participants discussed several perspectives related to cultural and artistic mobility. One of the most interesting issues brought to light by the discussion is the existence of different approaches to understanding the concept of mobility. While in Europe, mobility might be a term that is now commonly used, in Asia, it is not so clear and is easier to speak about “exchange” or “international development.” Unfortunately, I do not have the space here to expand on this engaging question, but I would like to mention that the diversity of meanings and connotations is actually intrinsic to the very nature of mobility. Bearing no geographic or cultural paternity, we could say that mobility is a much more complex concept compared with others that likely define only part of the picture. It includes the idea of movement and travel; it refers to exchange and encounter, but also to personal experience and a process of transformation; it refers to internationalization and globalization, but also to the exploration of the proximity and locality. Moreover, it refers to the issue of diversity, discovery and displacement. It is also connected to knowledge and identity and, at the same time, makes us reflect on the numerous obstacles associated with mobility (or lack thereof). Exploring the concept of mobility would allow us to reach different layers, without conforming to a single meaning.

During the opening of the seminar, Ferdinand Richard, president of the Roberto Cimetta Fund, identified some key concerns of those monitoring the intersection between art, culture and mobility. The ideas he mentioned relate to the following:

-  Getting the truth: the importance of physically meeting and sharing knowledge, shoulder to shoulder. Meetings such asthe one that is occurring in Athens are vital to simulating the empathy necessary to start thinking together and finally generating common projects.
-  The fair-trade approach to culture. We need to practice and advocate for a fair, sustainable and ethical approach in the field of cultural exchange.
-  Addressing and understanding the current changes at local, national and global levels. We need a three-dimensional approach that links culture with different territorial needs, dynamics and methods.
-  Understanding the difficulties of evaluating and measuring the effect, impact and sustainability of mobility actions.
-  The importance of the “pay-back” step: sharing with the community.
-  Comprehending the important contribution of local authorities. According to Richard, a huge part of funding in Europe comes from local authorities.
-  The holistic approach: We need a complete chain where everyone can work together.
Valentina Riccardi, project manager at the Asia-Europe Foundation, speaking on the same introductory panel, recalled the previous steps developed in order to conceptualize the Athens meeting, stressed the task and the deep interest of ASEF in supporting cooperation projects between Asia and Europe and emphasized the current relevance of topics related to cultural mobility.

Several participants presented their projects and organizations in the following session, adding important perspectives and knowledge for the better comprehension of the requirements and realities of international cultural mobility. Collette Brennan, director ofInternational Development at the Australia Council for the Arts, presented the organization’s strategic 2014-2019 plan, highlighting that Australian arts are borderless and indicating the four main points of their plan, namely, exploration, reciprocity, stimulation and expansion. Adeela Suleman, an artist and teacher who coordinates the VASL Artists’ Collective in Karachi, Pakistan, explained her organization’s residency projects and described its operations within a regional and international network. She went on to express the difficulties of working in art and culture in the region, largely connected to security issues and the fact that art is, unfortunately, not on any of the agenda of any of the country’s political parties. Karsten Xuereb and Margarita Pule, from Valletta 2018, discussed the European Capital of Culture project as the biggest cultural event in Malta. Their presentation stressed the importance of mutual exchange and argued that their main challenge is the issue of internationalization.

The seminar’s other sessions included three simultaneous workshops, focused on different areas of cultural mobility: Performing Arts, Operators and Entrepreneurs,and Proximity.

In the Performing Arts workshop the participants discussed how to define the requirements of the sector. They stressed the importance of field research and the need to support the whole process rather than simply focusing on the final result. Mobility is considered a key factor in raising the quality of the performing arts, and its influence on artistic output is a worthwhile area for future analysis. Other concerns raised in the discussion addressed visa issues, capacity building and the need to develop more flexible tools for evaluating the impact of grants. The discussion eventually focused on the importance of understanding the context and necessities of the people in each region before engaging in co-production, hence the significance of mapping being contrasted with its subsequent problems. As some of the participants stated, only mainstream voices are captured, meaning that current cultural mapping often serves the agenda and interests of the mapper. The participants of the discussion proposed an interdisciplinary approach for mapping in order to capture a multiplicity of voices, while highlighting the common issues concerning research that can quickly become obsolete.

In the Operators and Entrepreneurs workshop, the participants discussed how to ensure the sustainability of local cultural development. The topics raised included the importance of the local economy, audience-building, the role of the arts in education, the crowdfunding system, the need to create platforms for the synchronisation of energies, and the issue of documenting and archiving the work done.

Several interesting topics emerged from the discussion in the third workshop dealing with Proximity, including boundaries and frontiers, bridge identities, relations and oppositions between the center and the periphery, golden triangles and magnetic zones, alternative routes and decentralized infrastructures, sustainability and local models. It was agreed that proximity can be a good counter-narrative to that of globalization.

Group Workshop

Mobility Fund and Research : Tracing a Common Future

The last sessions focused on more practical issues: economic models and funding schemes, both those existing and those yet to be invented. Most of the participants agreed on the need to create a joint funding level among all the organizations, with each maintaining its own autonomy, identity and specificity. As argued by Sana Ouchtati, by matching funding, together we can go further than alone.

This collective progression toward the development of a new mobility fund will be a great challenge, a long path constituted both by obstacles and rewards. The first meeting of the SEAAA Mobility Platform was a necessary step for sharing ideas and perspectives, but above all, it represented the first real endeavour to trace and proceed with a common project. There are certainly many different strategies among partners from diverse continents, but there is also a shared commitment and a collective will to cooperate and make the alliance successful and productive. Many proposals are now being considered and, as a starting point for the future mobility fund, the idea is to begin with pilot programs between specific countries and regions.

Research, cultural mapping and information sharing are also viewed as priorities by most of the participants, who commit to sharing knowledge and making mobility issues and needs more visible.

Mobility, as Angie Cotte noted, is oxygen for human development. We need brilliant ideas, alternative routes, new connections, other experiences, stimulating challenges and creative visions in order to enhance mobility opportunities and breathe the oxygen it emanates.

Beyond its practical development, the SEAAA Alliance has the potential to open a new framework of international cultural cooperation, promoting reflections on the value of mobility and its different meanings and implications, both at a global and local level.

ⒸHerman Bashiron Mendolicchio



Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio_art critic and independent curator

Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio holds an International PhD in “Art History, Theory and Criticism” from the University of Barcelona. He is a faculty member at Transart Institute (NY-Berlin) and was Postdoctoral Visiting Researcher at United Nations University - Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility (UNU-GCM). He has participated in several international conferences and developed projects and research residencies in Europe, Asia, USA and the Middle East. As an art critic and independent curator he writes extensively for several international magazines.

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