Artistic Interactions and Intercultural Competences in the Mediterranean

Jerneja Rebernak

Euro-Med Young Artists Network

Islam Muhammad

Euro-Med Young Artists Network

Can young artists contribute in achieving intercultural dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean region? Will the new approaches of the newly established Union for the Mediterranean be able to create, support platforms for the young artists of the region to innovate and interact? Are the current cultural policies being carried out by the both governmental and non-governmental institutions in the Euro-Mediterranean region create a haven space to foster and encourage the creativity of the young artists in the Euro-Mediterranean region? Based on the work of the civil society and with almost zero budget, the Euro-Med Young Artists Network has developed some good practices of how young artists have been able to contribute in achieving intercultural dialogue.

A stable informal process of (cultural) policy exchange can find a compromise amongst the political, social and economical diversities across regions by managing a process of dialogue that has the power to transform democratic societies. Fostering creativity across borders, enabling cooperation, building of common frameworks and understanding, sharing of experiences and knowledge are all mechanisms that contribute to a peaceful conviviality and become key factors for intercultural dialogue. Learning from the acts of minimizing classifications and segmentation within artistic approaches, and the process of transformative itself, artists recreate practices for positive integration and cooperation mechanisms in their everyday practice. Therefore art as practice for cultural dialogue becomes a natural integration to political processes and become a vehicle for positive changes in society. However how are the current cultural policies being carried out by the both governmental and non-governmental institutions in the Euro-Mediterranean region in creating a haven space to foster and encourage the creativity of young artists?

This article will be an attempt to showcase key cultural initiatives and artists’ programmes created by and for youth, which are currently reinforcing artistic development in the Euro-Mediterranean region. A strong necessity to highlight current endeavors undertaken by civil society in the field of arts and culture has been recognized as a step to further trigger reflections, which will accompany the second part of this article.  There we will try to summarize here key documents as recommendations for new media art policy and artistic mobility for the future.

As recommended during the previous Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Ministers meetings1, it is essential to establish elements encouraging and sustaining the creativity of the young artists of the region and to maintain concrete partnerships with the civil society. However there is still a considerable gap between the levels of development for mechanisms of cultural policies implementation among non-EU countries if compared to the EU countries. The need to develop active cultural policy in the non-EU Mediterranean countries is essential to level up with the EU countries and to create a joint Euro-Mediterranean cultural framework.

Were the Past Approaches of the Barcelona Process Successful in Paving the Road for a Constructive Collaboration between Young Artists of the Region?

The Barcelona Process has produced a number of programmes that facilitate cultural exchange between the countries of the Euro-Mediterranean region. The collaboration of the young artists of the region was mostly supported within these programmes. Outside of these frameworks and when it comes to direct collaboration between young artists of the region; obstacles of mobility and funds for young artists coming from the south still remain an issue.

Such initiatives and programmes have encouraged us to establish the Euro-Mediterranean Young Artists Network (EMYAN)2 with more than 60 member organizations joining from all over the Euro-Mediterranean region that is now entering its third year of activity. The general objective of the network is to provide valuable networking opportunities within the field of young artists’ empowerment, promote the value of artist-driven initiatives, and serve as a voice for the young artists in forums that debate issues of cultural policy. This network comes as initiative from the south to increase the sense of ownership for the non-EU members to represent their contribution in reinforcing the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. With almost zero budget, EMYAN (Euro-Med Young Artists Network) has achieved almost all of the general aims and objectives3 on its own in the past three years.

Will the New Approaches of the Newly Established Union for the Mediterranean Be Able to Create, Support Platforms for the Young Artists of the Region to Innovate and Interact?

By looking at the conclusions of the last Culture Ministerial Meeting, we understand that there is an intention to create such framework of a bilateral and multilateral cooperation and positive mentalities, focused on conflict prevention and cultural/artistic exchange. The Ministers of Cultures of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership have met and discussed thecreation of a joint Euro-Mediterranean cultural strategy. However conclusions of this meeting should be actively integrated into a modus operandi and not be left on paper. There is still a long road ahead out in order to create continuous programmes and exchange among the young artists of the region.

A number of key factors have to be put into consideration when drafting a new concrete cultural and artistic strategy approaching the needs of the young artists of the region and their efforts in creating a sustainable peaceful space for creativity and innovation. Hence comes the importance of establishing of a cultural programme, which would support and building capacities of young artists, young curators and cultural activists of the Euro-Mediterranean region promoting intercultural dialogue through professional exchange. Such programme would need to stimulate the cooperation among civil society members, educational institutions and involve the community by offering capacity building and networking process among the cultural operators.

The idea of the Online Arts Festival is to nourish the values of social and cultural coexistence of the cultures of the Mediterranean via new media technologies

The Education Factor: Informal Education

Practice and experimentation are incubators for expression mechanisms and should be regarded as part of the artistic process of creation. The process of creativity needs to be stimulated and appreciated as much as the final performances or artwork exhibition. Often, arts education institutions are limited to wealthy students acting as a gate-keeping creativity. The art of the peripheral instances is being supported via informal structures of art practice in communities based on traditional knowledge, but also open to new potentials of creative development. By experience diversity and creativity, a slow process of self-recognition at the margins flourishes through a constant activity and readiness to develop artistic formats through grassroots capacity. Furthermore to use the arts and intercultural learning create inspiration for a culture of peace and hope and educate for non-violent alternatives to create a sustainable, equitable, and harmonious society.

The New Media Factor

New Media tools have created a global communication phenomenon, which has expanded, rapidly in the past few years. Subsequently mobile and new media technologies are transforming the reception of the making and reading media. Still one of the main infrastructural disadvantages between the countries in the Mediterranean is the access to media and digital technologies. Communication technologies are enabling connectivity that creates a de-isolation factor in the cultural arena of the Euro-Mediterranean region. Thus the field of artistic practice is connected more than in any other context.

One of the reasons EMYAN network has chosen to focus on new technological tools and social networking platforms, is because of their extreme popularity among youngsters. Stepping aside from formal education models of knowledge exchange, the informal communication processes of the internet has proven to create a fast-paced learning society. Somehow attempting to leap the literacy divide, the oral traditions benefit as well from the display of visual and aural materials made available online. While EMYAN attempts to become a voice for the young artist in the Euro-Mediterranean region, it also wants to see itself as a reference space where debates on cultural politics can move in parallel with the policy makers. By creating an Online Arts Festival4 and integrating networking sites as platform for showing artworks, the EMYAN network has establish itself as an initiative enabling access to a different expression, often invisible in the arena of public media.

Individual youth expression is not the sole objective the Online Arts Festival rather it aims to contribute in the arena of cultural cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The idea of the Online Arts Festival is to nourish the values of social and cultural co-existence of the cultures of the Mediterranean via new media technologies. One of the fundamental aspects of enabling a platform where young artists can participate with their creativity within the Mediterranean arena is the fostering of the knowledge, values and perceptions of each other in the region. EMYAN has given a good example in the field of virtual mobility and the use of new media in creating and promoting artistic works of the young artists of the Euro-Mediterranean region by annually organize this Online Arts Festival under almost zero-budget.

The arena of new media policy is still a somehow new terrain, which should be integrated in current cultural policies. One document, which can be helpful to Ministries of Culture are the new media arts policy recommendations presented by the Asia-Europe Foundation in collaboration with the international Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies5. Both intergovernmental organizations have joined hands, organized a meeting with experts and opened the arena of new media art policies for the future.

The European countries need to make visa and work permit procedures and the general access to the European market for artists more flexible, transparent and homogenous

During the process of drafting the recommendations, it has been recognized that “there is an urgent need to bring new media arts funding and support mechanisms to a sustainable level locally, and to substantially increase the support for international collaborations through events, networks, residencies, and productions”. One of the key perspectives coming through such endeavors has been also to recognize the localized needs for new media arts based on each countries’ social and economical conditions. EMYAN suggests that these recommendations would be further endorsed by the Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Programmes and lists two key recommendations here:

  • Media arts and cultural policies should be sensitive to the diversity and the long-term impact of networks and organizations, and accordingly, recognize their funding needs as being long term and strategic rather than project based. To foster sharing amongst trans-locally based initiatives, while founders are endorsed to participate in helping to build ‘common platforms’ for the documentation of knowledge, ethical codes, terminology, resources, training and education, and policies and practices to inform and promote intercultural and transnational exchange, dialogue and policymaking. This could also be done through supporting collaboration between existing platforms.
  • Policy should recognize the creative tension between independent and primarily state-supported practices, so as to ensure that marginalized voices find a space, and that practice that challenges the existing frameworks of knowledge generation and exchange – within and between national-cultural contexts – finds adequate support. Often in these situations the role of foundations that operate across borders has been crucial. National funding bodies should collaborate with, and learn from, these foundations.

The Mobility Factor

Even if are available, national programmes for mobility are not transparent or easy to access, therefore creating a blind spot – both for the governments and civil society. Due to lack of regional and inter-regional incentives, artist mobility and cooperation is at stake in the Mediterranean region. Initiatives such as the European Cultural Foundation Step Beyond programme, Roberto Cimetta Fund and Safar Arab Mobility Fund has enabled practitioners from the cultural sector to move across borders. However funds aimed for artistic cooperation and cultural productions do not find themselves rooted in stable mechanisms. In this light, EMYAN as network has shown that as an alternative virtual mobility could also be treated as inclusive practice, but should also be reflected in the sector where networking opportunity, capacity building and models for cultural interaction should be undertaken as programmes and activities of and for the civil society.

Art is a window into the continuous development of the individuals to intuit, symbolize, think and express themselves disregarding the barriers of languages and background

One of the challenges is being mobile which is a constant challenge for cultural and artistic professionals coming from the south. We hope that UfM could establish a new approach into finding solutions for the mobility problems. A challenge for the EU: If the European countries are serious about honoring their ratification of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity and the support of the successful establishing of the Union for the Mediterranean, they need to make visa and work permit procedures and the general access to the European market for artists more flexible, transparent and homogenous6. The ERICarts institute carried out a six month study entitled ‘Mobility Matters’7 for the European Commission between April and October 2008 on mobility incentives in the cultural/creative sector in Europe. This study has resulted in a pilot programme for mobility. The study has also a number of recommendations which are very interesting and can be adapted to the Euro-Mediterranean region towards establishing productive cultural mobility programmes which can be useful to highlight here:

  • Adopt a developmental approach to mobility.
  • Adopt a cultural diversity dimension to the overall mission and activities of mobility programmes and grants.
  • Pursue mobility programmes and schemes that support productive mobility experiences.
  • Re-examine cultural diplomacy / international cultural co-operation programmes .
  • Concerted efforts to address mobility at the European level.

Can Young Artists Contribute in Achieving Intercultural Dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean Region?

Art provides an insight on how people communicate their perceptions, responses and understanding of the world to themselves and to others. It is a window into the continually evolving exhibition of the individuals to intuit, symbolize, think and express themselves disregarding the barriers of languages and background and with smart and intelligent approaching methods. Art is not only contemplation, it is also an act, and all the acts change the world, at least a little. Art is really important to be developed as tool of changing the reality not only of the artists but also the people touched by art. Youngsters that will absorb diversified artforms will in a way or in another, change their prospective about things (even if it’s most of the time a really small change, it’s still really important) it’s way of looking at things, at life and at society.

Artists are of great importance and their artistic productions have a noticeable impact on their communities. Being young offers lots of opportunities to learn, express and share. Being Young makes oneself the key of change if it’s not now, certainly it will be in the future. Seeing the world with their own eyes and forging their identities. Being able to communicate and understand with ability of adapting new techniques and methods widening their horizons for creativity. Art has been and will be the most understandable and common language between different cultures. Here we are presenting a list of few good practices of how young artists were able to contribute in achieving intercultural dialogue:

Cross Border Art Project8: The Cross Border Arts Project aimed to promote inter-cultural dialogue in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel through the participation of four artists/performers from the Euro-Mediterranean in an endeavor to explore the possibility of using artistic expression as a means of dealing with experiences of conflict and war and – whenever possible – trying to establish constructive relations within and among the involved communities.

Don’t Border Me9: The Don’t Border Me Project aimed at establishing solid bridges for cultural exchanges and collaborations between creators committed in an artistic, positive and unifying endeavor, but separated by rigid geopolitical borders, making the circulation of individuals and their ideas both complex and essential.

Mare Nostrum10: Youth from 11 countries on both sides of the Mediterranean came together in Ghar El-Melh, Tunisia a Mediterranean fishing village. The youth met in, to share the different cultures and heritages of the people of the Mediterranean. Participants discussed the similarities and the shared influences between Mediterranean cultures, in order to achieve intercultural dialogue between the people of the Euro-Mediterranean region. They also discussed ways to make local communities more aware of their environments and able to protect it. The interaction between the participants of this youth exchange themselves and the local communities were visualized in artistic workshops consists of painting, photography, theatre and sculpture workshops and some jam music.

Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean11: The Biennale is one of the biggest cultural events in the Euro-Mediterranean region. BJCEM is a moving biennial takes place every two years in one of the Euro-Mediterranean cities since its beginning in 1985 in Barcelona. The Biennial is a multidisciplinary manifestation that proposes creations of seven different artistic disciplines: Visual Arts, Applied Arts, Show, Music, Images on the Move, Literature and Gastronomy. The event lasts for 10 days, during which exhibitions, concerts, dance shows, theatre pieces, gastronomy performances urban acts and literary readings follow one another where young artists from allover the Euro-Med region come together in a multicultural atmosphere.


[1] Conclusions of the Athens Culture Ministerial Meeting:


[3] EMYAN Aims & Objectives (



[6] Freemuse White Paper on visa issues, Europe & artists’ mobility