2. Director’s report

Chapter 2

Director’s report

Coming to terms with a new normal of constant crises.

2022. What a year. Again! After the last two challenging years, we had hoped these 12 months would be a bit calmer – less of a state of emergency. Instead, 2022 became even more extreme with the war in Ukraine, an energy and food crisis, high inflation and an accelerating climate meltdown. We had to come to terms with the new normal of constant crises.

The European Cultural Foundation has proven surprisingly resilient. We have become more flexible, quicker, more focused. The external shocks we faced have pushed us to modernise the way we work. They have accelerated developments that may otherwise have taken longer. In response to Covid and then the Ukraine war, we created the flexible Culture of Solidarity Fund; and we accelerated our sustainable funding strategy.

The Ukraine edition of our Culture of Solidarity Fund was the biggest so far with a budget of €1.7 million and over 100 European projects, with the support of 15 important European partners. The Europe Challenge – our programme for communities and their libraries – has developed an exciting body of case studies and a growing network of libraries across Europe. The EU has highlighted libraries in Europe as important public spaces for sharing, interaction and doing, and we will use this momentum to scale our libraries initiative in 2023/24. We launched the first European Sentiment Compass study and hosted a hybrid Europe Day event. And there is increased interest in our initiative for a European Public Space, in particular with a focus on Migrants in the Media.

What did we learn in 2022?

First, our vision, mission and programmatic focus remain as relevant today as ever, and we should maintain a healthy degree of flexibility in dealing with uncertainty, which we’ve achieved through our above-mentioned Culture of Solidarity Fund.

Second, we’ve successfully advocated with many strong partners from the sector for a Cultural Deal for Europe, which has resulted in a historic €12 billion investment in the European cultural sector. We now need to monitor how these funds are spent and how they affect the European sentiment. The investment of governments and the EU to mitigate the Covid-19 crisis has provided an opportunity for public-philanthropic partnerships, although it is complicated, excessively bureaucratic and needs dedicated and skilled human resources.

Third, we learned that we need a more standardised design and evaluation process for internal cohesion and external understanding. Evaluation is part of our learning, to improve our initiatives and our impact. For this reason, we have developed a clearly defined Theory of Change and a set of five success indicators.

Fourth, for most of 2022 we have worked together in a hybrid digital-analogue office. In-person management and team meetings are important and productive, while desk work can be carried out remotely. There are also advantages to remote working for a pan-European organisation like ours with staff present in other European locations. We are working towards a productive balance between remote and on-site work as well as travel and digital participation, to integrate our climate commitments.

Fifth, changing attitudes towards philanthropy in general and new Dutch draft regulations on cross-border financing in particular can have big implications for the foundation’s core business model. We consider this an opportunity to further define European philanthropy that can improve its transparency and accountability along the lines of our climate commitments. We launched a Task Force on Sustainable Finance, which develops new and innovative funding sources for European foundations like ours. We’ve also learned that partnership building remains a core operational principle, and we should focus on strengthening partnerships that contribute to our mission and impact.

Finally, we’ve faced challenges with our office space in Amsterdam, which prompted us to explore alternative spaces and this allowed us to think afresh and develop the office of the European foundation of the future. Moving our office will fast-track a new culture of work.

Looking to the future

How can we respond to a cycle of never-ending crises? Over the summer of 2022, we carried out a mid-point review of our five-year strategic plan. At the same time as confirming our mission and overall strategy, we have updated our programmes, advocacy, communication and operations in order to remain relevant, agile yet ambitious.

The Culture of Solidarity Fund remains our flexible instrument to enable cross-border European activities in times of war, climate transition and uncertainty. We will continue to advocate for the full integration of culture into EU policies and actions. After a successful review, we will be scaling up two of our most innovative programmes, Europe Challenge and European Pavilion – which uses arts and culture as a platform to investigate, explore and discuss Europe’s burning questions.

As part of our long-term commitment for empowering a European Public Space, we will pilot a European platform of independent media actors. We will continue our campaign to make Europe Day an occasion to celebrate European unity, solidarity and purpose. The second edition of the European Sentiment Compass will be published on Europe Day – 9 May 2023. Operationally, our priority is to mainstream our climate pledge across our operations.

These challenging times are a reminder that the founding narrative of modern Europe – peace through exchange and sharing – is as relevant now as it was in the 1950s. In this spirit, we will continue to do what we do best – working together with all of our brilliant partners to imagine and build a better Europe.

André Wilkens, Director, European Cultural Foundation

Annual Report 2022 Please visit this website on a larger screen.