Accessibility note: if you have trouble reading this post, I advise you to enable the Read Aloud plugin in Chrome or read it using the Reader View in Firefox.
Name: Pablo Barrios Martínez
Country of residence: Belgium
On the web: Linkedin
Short bio: Pablo Barrios is an international consultant and manager of innovation, public relations, management, fundraising, and EU projects; he’s worked in Senegal, the Netherlands, Cuba, France, and Spain. His passions and professional interests include events coordination, public relations, cultural international relations, European cultural diplomacy, creative and cultural industries, EU funding, and European policy. Pablo completed his studies in Business Management and Administration and Sociology, and holds a Master’s degree in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship.
Culture is a broad field, in my humble opinion. What are the key factors and tools for understanding it? Would broadening its definition make sense, in your opinion?
From a theoretical point of view, culture accepts both a wide array of definitions and, at the same time, it’s a very abstract concept. In addition, culture is present in our daily lives, so we don’t really notice it until, for example, we live in another country. Perhaps, we would use the term of creative and culture industries instead of talking about culture like an abstract concept or following the definition of the 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Studies. “Cultural and creative industries” is a more concrete and feasible concept; it can be measured in detail, and it can be divided into the different sub-sectors, such as editorial, publishing, cinema, performing arts – among others. In addition, culture can be measured and quantified from an economic and social perspective. We are leaving behind the concept of creativity or what stands for the core heart of artistic production by using the term "cultural and creative industries". Nevertheless, it’s more related to intangible values and the way that we experience it. Therefore, using qualitative performance indicators and measurements based on a value-based approach is a better way to approach it – and this is what cultural institutions should do.
You have a fantastic professional portfolio. Do your favorite projects have any common characteristics?
Thank very much for your appreciation. The department of creative and cultural industries, where I’m working on, is still very small and just starting to have a better starting position. As a creative and cultural consultant, most of the projects on which I’m working are related to the implementation of sustainable and digitalized processes applied to the cultural and creative industries. As a technical assistant for the coordination of the Patio Project which is a small-scale European project approved by the Euroregion of New Aquitaine, Navarre, and the Basque Country, we have created a sound map and articulated training webinars for the LGTBI+ community in the local music industry.
In addition, we have elaborated a European project proposal for the lines of financial actions developed by Creative Europe, such as, Innovation Labs, Medium Scale European Cooperation Projects, among others. The former ones are more related to the cross-fertilisation of different artistic practices related to the music industry by using digital tools, such as, applications, gamification, creative platforms, among others, to reach new audiences and to improve their sustainability. In general, we are working to apply the values that define our times.
Which regions have you been working in (or for)? What are the differences in cultural policies you see from one member state to the other?
I have been mainly working inside the Euroregion of New Aquitaine, the Basque Country, and Navarre. As a cultural manager and a journalist, I have had to mainly compare the different cultural policies between France and Spain. It must be stated that I have always been very much impressed by the high level of quality of French practitioners and authorities. You can get a glimpse of the high level of articulated performance just by checking their speeches on their websites. I would also say that the French ecosystem supports much better the persistence of artistic creativity and practices, such as the interim statutes, artistic and cultural subsidies – among others.
Working on EU projects requires a wide set of abilities and juggling tasks from research and proposal writing to project and events management. Which aspect are you enjoying the most?
I enjoy all of them. Each one has its own challenges. Elaborating is like being an engineer, and it’s a technique that you need to learn to apply. Once mastered, you can apply it many times. Researching and evaluating are the most knowledgeable parts and the ones that make you think. Once you have shared the results with others in conferences and/or dissemination events, you are creating a more resilient community that strives for the creation of a better society based on knowledge and cultural economy. Events management is thrilling but also frustrating. In sum, you need a complete set of different skills to become a good EU Project Officer.
In your opinion, which European countries have been championing culture-related policies?
As I have stated before, I have always been very impressed by the French – even though the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union showed in the very recent Summit in Cultural and Creatives that they are leading the way on issues such as the sustainability of cultural heritage. Nevertheless, I would say that Germany is the champion in the implementation and development of creative and cultural Industries; we just need to notice the portfolio of European projects that the Goethe Institute manages in Brussels, Belgium, which oversees the recently launched cultural program “Culture on the Move.” In addition, the Interim Chief Executive Officer of EIC Culture & Creativity and the former Director of European Creative Business Network, Bernd Fesel, is German. However, I would say that Belgium is the fascinating one when it comes to the development of cultural policies that support artistic practices. It has one of the most effective legislations on law enforcement related to artistic statutes.
Which do you think will be the most urgent challenges that the EU cultural industries will face the next years?
Culture and creative industries are a strategic sector that is going to play a higher role in the European economy, as per recent academic research. Its percentage in terms of market share and employment is growing more and more among the continent's most dynamic sectors. According to Eurostat figures, cultural and creative industries employ 8.7 million people in the EU, equivalent to 3.8% of the total EU workforce, representing 1.2 million enterprises. It represents a very important added value and asset for the European society and its identity. It’s an industry that can’t be delocalised to other world regions and it’s going to play a higher role in the coming years in Europe. It’s a fundamental asset for the development of European economies.
From my point of view, it’s a sector to bet on. Nevertheless, it faces great challenges, such as digitalisation (copyright issues, high-tech platforms, innovation, artificial intelligence – among others) and sustainability (within its wide array of acceptance).
How has the pandemic impacted the industry you are working on? Did you see it as a threat or an opportunity?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the industry. The unemployment rates have grown; companies have been crushed, and the comeback to previous levels of economic growth hasn’t been easy. Nevertheless, it depends on the sub-sector we are talking about. The pandemic has had dramatic consequences on the music sector and the performing arts, for example; in other words, the ones that are related to the distribution of cultural artefacts in theatres and concert halls. The pandemic has also accelerated the digital shift. Big new players are changing the consumption patterns by interrupting digital platforms on the markets in different sub-sectors, such as, the movie industry and the publishing sector, among others. From my point of view, this is an opportunity to favor the cross-fertilization of sub-sectors, in order to create new business models that are more sustainable, and apply the benefits of the digitalisation process to the new cultural artefacts that are being developed.
As our societies become increasingly diverse, especially in the age of migration, how can policy makers ensure that citizens identify with the culture they are living in, but they also stay in contact with the culture of their country of origin?
The answer to this question goes beyond the concept of culture as introduced previously in this interview. The answer is mostly related to the construction of a nation. Firstly, I would highlight the importance of maintaining double citizenship; this will allow citizens to maintain their relationship with their country of origin. Then, I would propose a number of suggestions:
1. Create a Migration Museum and host events or exhibitions in cultural institutions that are related to memory and past events; this would allow to treat dramatic events, mostly related to colonialism, in a novel and innovative way.
2. Develop cultural, social and research initiatives that integrate immigrants into our society by creating jobs and making them proud of their identity; these initiatives must include people from areas with high level unemployment rates, delinquency, and addiction problems – among others.
3. Call upon policymakers to take better care of our public spaces, such as street statutes, street names, and so on, because they represent democratic spaces where we live as a nation.
Nevertheless, our common history should be mainly treated by historians, which would apply a scientific and objective methodology to the past. Memory is subjective, and it has a political objective in the present.
Are culture-related initiatives a priority for the EU? What is the funding available?
They are increasingly becoming a priority for EU institutions and for national, regional, and local governments. This is evident in the New Framework of the European Union and its priorities for 2021-2027. The European Commission has adopted the 2022 work program of Creative Europe with a budget of around 385 millions of euros, nearly 100 millions of euros more compared to 2021. Nevertheless, we only tend to think that Creative Europe is the only agency that provides a European funding program for Culture and there are more than 35 European funds (Interreg, Poctefa, Social Funds, H2020, EISMA – among others) that allow you to access funding for culture. One needs to be creative to access those funds. For example, you can use a line of financial actions developed for sustainability to create a European project that will safeguard, protect, and conserve cultural heritage and, at the same time, to activate local tourism in a depopulated area.
How can culture contribute to resolving urgent societal issues we are currently facing?
Culture is mostly related to intangible values. It can help everyone by showing an exemplary conduct towards society. For example, cultural institutions can apply their sustainability principles in their daily management process and, therefore, make people more conscious and aware about the challenges faced by the mitigation of the effects of climate change. In addition, cultural institutions and, mainly, museums can act as intermediaries between artists and society to treat societal issues, such as colonialism and memory. They can create experiences that make us reveal our contradictory feelings and thinking positions, and make us face the traumatic events of our society in a positive attitude.
Images c/o Pablo Barrios
Do you have any suggestions about who I should interview next? Send them my way!