Press Room

'Culture As an Ambassador To Connect People' Roundtable

'Culture As an Ambassador To Connect People' Roundtable

29 April 2015 the European Foundation Centre, located in Brussels, hosted Culture As an Ambassador to Connect People roundtable organized by the Foundation in partnership with Robert Bosch Foundation.

The event brought together philanthropy and culture professionals from Europe. The networking initiative of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation received a positive response both from the participants and the hosts, and it is expected the dialogue will continue. The next meeting point will take place in Milan 20 – 22 May 2015 where the EFC will convene its 26th Annual General Assembly and Conference.

Among those present at the roundtable there were representatives of ENCC, 'la Caixa' (Spain), Centre for Fine Arts (Belgium), Bozar (Belgium), Elena and Gennady Timchenko Foundation (Russia), Austrian Cultural Forum, Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Brussels, Permanent Mission of Russia to the EU, Goethe Institute, Salzburg Global Seminar, etc.

A brief report on the event with some highlights from the participants is below.

Oksana Oracheva, the Vladimir Potanin Foundaiton: What is the role of culture today? What kind of programs do we need to deliver to achieve positive impact? These are the major issues behind the idea of holding this discussion. Culture can be an effective ambassador to connect people despite many barriers which only keep growing. Today we have got an opportunity to discuss the issue from different perspectives taking into consideration a wide range of participants and work out how we can increase the visibility of cultural programs and projects.

Markus Lux, Robert Bosch Stiftung: What is so special about this roundtable is that we have managed to bring together people not only from Europe and the Russian Federation, but also from foundations, cultural umbrella institutions and also official representatives of the countries. This the first roundtable concerning the topic of culture and impact investing in art and culture programs for months and maybe even years.

The EFC chief executive Gerry Salole opened the discussion by pointing out the necessity of disseminating information about foundation’s work and achievements and sharing priorities of EFC operations.

Gerry Salole, EFC: Governments, community and sometimes even NGOs do not understand the work of foundations. The latter are often seen essentially as big bags of money available to be approached. But very little do understand that foundations have their own agenda and policies on how they handle their resources. Europe has foundations that the US can only dream of. There are no foundations in America, for instance, that own an international company like the Bosch Foundation or Carlsberg Foundation. In EFC membership there are foundations which have been in existence for nearly 500 years. This is a complex story that needs to be told well.

Then the representative of the Goethe Institute, one of the leading organizations serving as cultural ambassador took the floor. 

Mona Sefen, Goethe Institute: For us at the Goethe Institute cultural diplomacy is a big issue. Cooperation between neighbouring countries and Russia is one of our top priorities, and the highest level we can get to with our programs is for young people to establish new contacts across borders.

As part of the day of discussion and debate the participants were joined by the film director Margy Kinmonth whose own films, frequently with a cultural focus, have helped spread knowledge and ignite enthusiasm about the arts. The participants later watched Margy’s film: ‘The Hermitage Revealed: 250 years in the making’, which told the story of the heralded St. Petersburg institution through objects and voices across its dramatic history. The film director and producer shared their own experience of expanding cross border activities.

Director Margy Kinmoth: A ‘cultural’ camera can take you anywhere and bring you to places you have never been or simply have no opportunity to be there.

Producer Maureen Murray: Making a film about culture is in fact a key to any door. The film will be seen by thousands of people and in terms of public good this is a huge responsibility. The key thing here is that without a good partnership the project will not happen and this relates both to international relations and creative processes as well.

The expert overview of Russian charity sector engaged in culture support was delivered by Natalia Kaminarskaya, executive secretary of the Russian Donors Forum. Natalia stated that many Russian foundations are no longer focused exclusively on internal activities and they start looking for international partners.

Natalia Kaminarskaya, Russian Donors Forum: The fact that this event is organized already as an international partnership is a good sign that individual and instructional connections are profound and they will develop and continue notwithstanding any complicated political situations. Support for culture has been one of the most popular and longstanding areas of philanthropy in Russia. It did not stop even during Soviet times when charity did not exist as a name. First private collections in museums and galleries took place due support of Russian philanthropists and maecenas. At the moment culture is a very popular topic and if you look at the foundation world there are four types of support: a) support of young talents (Spivakov foundation, Gergiev foundation), b) sponsorship of big institutions (the Bolshoi theatre, Kremlin museums, the Hermitage, etc). c) support of innovations and developments in the field (e.g. the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, Timchenko Foundation, etc). d) creation of endowments remains a still unknown animal in Russia (the first endowment was formed in Russia only 4 years ago).

Simon Mraz, Austrian Cultural Forum: I do not believe that partnerships with states, institutions and big organizations can bring about change. We are successful because we work with artists personally. It is connecting with individuals what matters. It also makes the private sector very important.

Marco Franco, EU-Russia Centre, University of Antwerp: International relations have significantly changed and it is no longer the monopoly of diplomats. Public opinion gets increasingly involved due to globalization, social media, media development, etc. NGOs, foundations, all kinds of different organizations now play a role in international relations. Cultural diplomacy as part of public diplomacy is a very important component of evolution of international relations today where everybody has got a place. It has automatically a wider dimension which affect countries, public opinions, diplomat relations on every level.

Sylvine Bois Choussy, ENCC:Culture creates a context for democracy and also for autonomy of people and their capacity. All over Europe we see initiatives from cultural actors and cultural centers to come out of their central venues and to start participatory work in those smaller villages, sometime with the accent on community ‘art’, sometime more on social cultural work and processes. Only a few of those initiatives develop from project work to structural work; from one-shot initiatives to real networking and systematic support. Mapping all initiatives, debating on best practices and involving universities for the framing of the overall relevance of the work, is the real challenge of our program ‘Vital Village’.


The roundtable was followed by the opening of the Fostering Leadership​ exhibition curated by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation at the European Foundation Centre which showcased success stories of a few of foundation grantees’ projects.