Cultural mobility for the empowerment of the Cultural and Creative Sector - Interview to Marie Le Sourd

Cultural mobility for the empowerment of the Cultural and Creative Sector

Interview to Marie Le Sourd, Secretary General of On the Move for the past 10 years, on cultural mobility and professional development.

Interview by Roberta Capozucca

Following the success of the pilot project i-Portunus[1], the European Commission signed a new agreement with the Goethe-Institut to provide artists and cultural professionals with a new mobility scheme – Culture Moves Europe. With a budget of €21 million, this new programme will become a permanent action under the Creative Europe programme. During the next three years, Culture Moves Europe will allow around 7,000 artists, creators and cultural professionals to go abroad for professional development or international collaborations, co-producing, co-creating, and presenting their works to new audiences.

With the launch of the first call on the 10th of October 2022, we interviewed Marie Le Sourd, Secretary General of On the Move for the past 10 years, on cultural mobility and professional development. On the Move is the cultural mobility information network active in Europe and internationally, that counts more than 65 members in over 25 countries. It is co-funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Culture (France).

How has the meaning of cultural mobility changed over the years based on your own experiences?

When I started with On the Move in 2012 I already had 12 years of experience working in international cultural cooperation, so I thought I somehow had a good idea of what it meant to work internationally. But joining OTM made me realise that ‘mobility’ is something much more complex and subtle than one first assumes. The act of moving across borders is always in relation to a broader cultural, social, political and economic context – is entangled with it, and impacts it. It is also about individual people and their lives, in all their complexity. This means that we need a more nuanced definition of mobility that goes beyond a pragmatic accounting of logistics and financial benefits, and that we should become more aware of how mobility itself affects our societies. Realising this deepened my understanding of cultural mobility. It also helped me understand that mobility is not always voluntary. This fact is one of the most urgent issues we will have to face as we try to protect and relocate artists escaping from natural and social calamities, political repression, or war.

I now see cross-border mobility as a way to create an ecosystem that overcomes national boundaries, as a space to work on our skills together and face our shared challenges – profes-sional and personal. Mobility is not just a way to go somewhere new, get something, show something. It is a way to feel less alone, and a means to engage in peer-to-peer exchange and learning at all stages of the value chain, from creation to the dissemination of works.

What is the role of On the Move?

On the Move was created as a website by IETM – International network for contemporary performing arts in 2002, became an independent association, and then was structured as a network from around 2010. On the Move doesn’t directly fund mobility but supports artists and professionals to operate internationally while working to reimagine mobility as fairer, greener and more inclusive. Drawing on the expertise of our network and partners, we identify open calls to provide clear information on cultural mobility, support artists and cultural professionals to participate in mobility, and point to external guidance on specialist topics like visa and tax law through the Mobility Info Points (MIP). Through these activities, we also gather resources and data to design mentoring programmes for artists and organisations, helping to shape a more responsible and sustainable mobility in Europe and worldwide. 

What are the big topics you work on?

Advocacy is always an important issue. It was when I started ten years ago, at which time there was a newly created position within the organisation (held at the time by my former colleague Elena di Federico) that focused on communications and advocacy – and it is just as important today. Working with other networks and organisations like Pearle* or Culture Action Europe, we try to create spaces for exchange between our members, the sector, and policymakers, whatever their level of knowledge of the mobility field. Visas have always been a key issue and despite some progress (particularly through the work of the MIP), this remains a key challenge in the so-called post-Covid world. Another area of activity and advocacy is the question of mobility and environmental sustainability. Here, we work particularly on the need for mobility schemes and policies to recognise the complexity of different regional contexts, and against the danger of measures that would create exclusionary bubbles or zones of exchange. Finally, the question of involuntary mobility is a crucial topic that we have increasingly been dealing with. It’s one that involves situations of incredible urgency, but that also requires a long-term perspective to put the right systems in place for the future. On all these topics we try to collaborate with our members and with partner networks and organisations – to share resources and to avoid repeating one another’s work.

What do you think of the new European mobility scheme?

First, I think it is great that we finally have an accessible mobility scheme at European level – one that is easy to understand and easy apply to, even for people unfamiliar with EU grant procedures. It follows on from the i-Portunus pilot – a scheme that was very successful but limited by its resources, with only around 10% of applicants receiving funding. With this new expanded programme, I also hope it will be possible to reach a greater diversity of artists and cultural professionals, particularly among groups who are usually underrepresented.  

All that said, it’s important to remember as well that the European Commission’s role isn’t to replace resources that should exist at local and national levels. Their role is more to add value. Culture Moves Europe is a very interesting model to take inspiration from – both in terms of its format and the core values it’s structured around. It can be part of the solution to the issue of mobility funding in Europe, but it is not the solution as such. This is a point we’ll reinforce in our advocacy, aiming to encourage more mobility funding at various levels of competencies that engages with a greater diversity of artists and cultural professionals, and that respects the environmental, societal, economic and ethical complexity of mobility itself. 

I think it is great that we finally have an accessible mobility scheme at European level – one that is easy to understand and easy apply to, even for people unfamiliar with EU grant procedures.

[1] First phase: 2019-2020 coordinated by the Goethe-Institut with the Institut français, Izolyatsia, Nida Art Colony and then second phase : 2021-2022 with two consortia: 1) Goethe-Institut, the Institut français and Izolyatsia, and 2) European Cultural Foundation, MitOst and the Kultura Nova Foundation.

Publication: I-Portunus Houses Volumes on Mobility: https://on-the-move.org/resources/library/i-portunus-houses-volumes-mobility

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