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Culture as a transversal tool

Cultura leire martiarena
Leire Martiarena

Leire Martiarena

Social Innovation Knowledge Area Leader

Culture is one of the most complicated terms to define (it has more than 164 definitions in English alone). Therefore, when writing this article, we are faced with a first conceptual challenge: how do we define this term, which of the definitions do we use?

If we look at the etymological origin, we will not find greater clarity, since the word culture comes from the Latin verb “colere”, which has several meanings, such as to cultivate or to inhabit.

If we look to history for an answer, we will not find a unified term either, since culture has been used to refer to various concepts over the centuries, from agricultural cultivation during the late Middle Ages, to the process of training artists, philosophers and the elite in general during the Renaissance, to being used as a synonym for civilisation or the process of reasoning during the Enlightenment.

In this case, we will opt for a mixture of current definitions, both from the RAE, UNESCO, and the European Commission (EC), which emphasise culture as “the set of ways of life, customs, knowledge and artistic, scientific, industrial and economic developments belonging to a group of people”.

This definition gives us an idea of the potential of culture to promote innovation and technological, economic and social transformation in various fields. It is this transformational power that has been highlighted in recent years and is to be reinforced through various initiatives, including European funding programmes.

Culture in the framework of the EU: a New European Agenda for Culture

The mainstreaming of culture, and its growing role as the backbone and cohesive element of society, is reflected in the New European Agenda for Culture, published by the European Commission in May 2018, which aims to “fully harness the potential of culture to help build a more inclusive and fairer Union, supporting innovation, creativity, and sustainable growth and jobs”.

The agenda presents three axes of action, which will be promoted through both the EC and the Member States, which have the competence for cultural policies:

  • Social dimension: using the potential of culture and cultural diversity for well-being and social cohesion.
  • Economic dimension: support for culture-based creativity in the fields of education and innovation, and jobs and growth.
  • External dimension: strengthening international cultural relations.

Creative Europe: the EU’s flagship programme for the cultural and audiovisual sectors

If we focus more on the economic sphere, the main support for the cultural and creative industries at the European level is articulated through the Creative Europe programme, which has a total budget of 2,440 million euros for the period 2021-2027, increasing by 65% the budget of the previous period (2014-2020).

This budget increase is due to two main factors: the authorities’ commitment to enhancing the cohesive and developmental role of the cultural and creative industries in European society and the support to these sectors which have been particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme is divided into three sub-programmes:

  • Culture, focusing on development, mobility, competitiveness, and cooperation between the cultural sectors: painting, plastic arts, performing arts, music, and literature.
  • Media, dedicated to the audiovisual industry, promotes the production and distribution of film and television works, as well as supporting the video game industry.
  • Intersectional strand, which promotes cross-cutting actions of political collaboration for the strengthening of the cultural sector, the promotion of innovation in the sector and the reinforcement and modernisation of the media.

This programme, which publishes more than 20 calls per year, places special emphasis on the sector’s creators and professionals. A clear sign of the EC’s commitment to revitalising the sector is reflected in the budget increase for 2022, which has a total amount of €385.6 million, almost €100 million more than in 2021.

Transversality of Culture: the New European Bauhaus

However, culture, or cultural and creative industries, have transcended their field of action to highlight their cross-cutting nature and the need to integrate these disciplines in the development of other fields.

In this context, the New European Bauhaus, announced in September 2020, seeks to create a bridge and a space for collaboration between technology, art, and culture. This initiative, promoted directly by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, has as its main objective to bring the European Green Deal closer to citizens, with the intention of creating a “sustainable, inclusive and beautiful” future. These three dimensions form the cornerstone of the New European Bauhaus, which promotes multidisciplinary work, encouraging the participation of artists and creative professionals in the processes of territorial transformation.

The new European Bauhaus, which completed its co-creation phase in September 2021, involves rescuing multidisciplinarity as a way of working and affects a large number of European funding programmes, including calls dedicated to its development in Horizon Europe, LIFE, or Creative Europe itself.

In addition, the initiative organises its own awards (New European Bauhaus Prizes) for the recognition of local projects that serve as examples of the materialisation of the triangle “Sustainability-Aesthetics-Inclusion”, and offers opportunities for collaboration between diverse actors through its platform.

Added-value of culture and creative industries as promoters of innovation

Finally, and returning to the main objective of this brief account, we highlight the potential of art and culture, as a transversal discipline, in technological and educational innovation projects.

The Horizon Europe programme, the main source of funding for research and innovation, requires in this new period the effective integration of the humanities and social sciences in projects in all sectors: from health to energy, digitalisation, manufacturing, and transport. Effective collaboration between disciplines, which is becoming increasingly important, aims to generate new thought, work, and research processes, and the contribution of the cultural and creative industries in this reinvention process is particularly noteworthy: the application of creative development and design models allows innovation to be fostered from its earliest stages. Projects such as FEAT (Future and Emerging Art and Technology) demonstrate that the combination of science and art helps to obtain better, more innovative results that better reach the end-user.

Moreover, art and culture appeal directly to emotions, making them a great tool for effective communication and engagement of end-users and stakeholders. The emotional factor is especially important in the field of education, being advisable and effective in the inclusion of creative techniques in projects of the ERASMUS + programme, which promotes innovation in the education sector.

As a final message, it only remains to return to culture and art as tools applicable to all areas of development. And no, we are not saying anything new: we need only look back to the Renaissance figures who cultivated both scientific and humanistic knowledge. And, fortunately, we do not need to reach the heights of Leonardo da Vinci, because collaboration between professionals from different disciplines allows us to combine diverse knowledge to enrich processes and offer better solutions to society.


Expert person

Leire Martiarena
Leire Martiarena

Bilbao Office

Social Innovation Knowledge Area Leader

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