“Tools for an Unknown Future” – or how to realise a project with international partners


ABSTRACT: Realising a cultural project with a multitude of partners over a long period and with a good amount of money involved is not an easy task. Nevertheless it should be a pleasure to exchange, to think jointly, to deal with artists and to get in touch with cultural differences. Therefore here are some bullet points condensing the experience of a project called ECAS taken as an example of multilateral, global, cultural interaction.


© Oliver Baurhenn. ECAS project meeting in Berlin in 2013

© Oliver Baurhenn. ECAS project meeting in Berlin in 2013

In the beginning: Some remarks

Leaving your comfort zone is nice and often heard advice not only in your private life but also in your life as a cultural worker. I won’t talk about whether this is necessary or not as it might be quite nice at home – I know. Setting sail in an international project demands quite a lot of effort but you will be rewarded; therein lies the old wisdom that you won’t only get to know others or the Other, you will also get to know yourself better. You will encounter what is inherent to international projects; there will be joy if all goes well and you will be filled with relish. Then again…

The future is contingent. One never knows what is going to happen or when, how or what the outcome will be, especially in the process of organising an event that is funded by public (taxpayer) money. The sword of Damocles hangs like a pendulum, constantly swinging over your head. Are the expenses justified, did I get enough tenders, can I pay friends to do something – I know they are among the top in their field – but isn’t it corruption? You can rarely approach a funding body with these questions, as they have the same sword over their heads.

A publicly funded event, for instance a festival that has no institutional funding as do museums or opera houses, is always rooted somewhere. It is clear to everyone that you need roots so as not to lose your character, your point of view, your attitude towards your event’s core spirit. If you step away from your ethical and moral backbone you will be easily interchangeable.

Within Europe there are many funding schemes in diverse countries. These sources allow you to realise your ideas, such as a festival. Nevertheless, most funding schemes are national. Some funding might come from your city council or your borough. Of course you wish to organise something unique, especially as yours is a festival that reaches out beyond the realm of the local/national funding territory. But, where does your festival’s territory end, and where does it begin?

I am sure that you’d love to invite the whole world to explore and share in your ideas and your perspective, something that is only magnified the more you strive to generate dialogue and ideas that address the future. You of course now find yourself on the edge of your funding scheme’s territory, a treacherous position as you shouldn’t forget that you’re using your region’s taxpayer money. Often the funding stops at your national borders – but of what use are these borders if you are acting globally?

An example: ECAS. European Money for 5 years, Constant struggle, Amazing people, sometimes bumpy pleasures

The project ECAS – Networking Tomorrow’s Art for an Unknown Future started as an idea shared between 9 partners from 8 different European countries.1 We wanted to submit a multiannual application for a 5 year European Union funded project that would receive up to 50% funding for a maximum of 2 million Euro. And we did submit it. It took three attempts but then in January 2010 our efforts were rewarded. Our applicant group decided to put a strong emphasis on co-operative working structures, thus the core of the application was written together by all partners and mirrored a shared range of pressing ideas at that time (2009). The aim was to realise the project on a transnational European level, actively ignoring national boundaries within Europe. Each partner had the same voice and the same responsibilities. This idealistic approach meant that constant exchange, openness and training in communication skills were persistently demanded of each partner. The quality of artistic presentation was as important as the exchange of ideas, tasks and responsibilities between the partners (the process).

Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world: the effects of the financial crisis post-2008 affected many of the organisations within the ECAS group: cultural funding cuts of 30% in the UK; nearly the same cuts in the Netherlands; huge changes, restructuring and of course financial cuts within the Austrian national broadcasting service; political insecurities affecting the level of city funding in Kraków, Poland; the devastating effects of the last financial crisis on a small country like Latvia; the political standstill in Belgium… Only in Norway and Germany did the struggle remain a fairly “regular” one, although with Norway’s transition to a more nationalist government and Germany’s specific cultural funding system, difficulties were also encountered when searching for ways to generate the necessary funds to match the European Union grant money.

It was also definitely not helpful to see a return to old-fashioned notions of nation-states in Europe. As we all wish not to be affected within the cultural sector, these poisonous ideas sometimes diffuse slowly in people’s minds – also in the minds of your project partners. We had to fight against increasingly national cultural agendas, which also created quite a challenge within the network as all partners tried to balance new demands from their respective countries while at the same time exploring new ways to cooperate on a European level. Often we searched for the strengths in the situation of each country, which sometimes meant that our project members with easier access to funding took on more responsibilities for some parts of the project than others. As much as we tried to make the best use of the different structures within Europe to the advantage of the project, it is a new and challenging way of doing things. The problems we encountered were not on a curatorial level nor on the level of artistic output. Rather the challenge was working on a pioneering supranational level that still hinges on outdated (national) structures that we, as a project, can’t easily abolish but are only able to find time consuming work-arounds for. Naturally this challenge sometimes created tensions within our working group.

ECAS started as a loose assembly of likeminded festivals with the aim to reflect on their public and societies, examine links to other fields of art beyond the core of sound, and investigate the festival format as a processual format (Laboratory) that changes the more we gain insight into what a festival was, is and can be.

The ECAS project had an impact on several levels:

1. Evaluation, re-thinking and transformation of organisation and festival formats

2. Development of low-threshold access to our initiatives and events for a diverse public without losing strong standards of curation and quality

3. Introduction of new diverse publics to the niche of contemporary sound cultures and broadening the knowledge of this realm to diverse milieus all over Europe

4. Production of challenging new artistic productions and strengthening artistic mobility via tools for organisational and artistic cooperation

5. Fostering a deep exchange of knowledge within Europe and beyond, which itself was stimulated because of the project’s challenging, non-hierarchical mindset (collective curatorial discussions and decision-making processes)

6. Creation of best practices for European and international co-operation based on mutual understanding and respect

Lastly, and perhaps most telling of the project’s successes in the long-term, is the creation of an international network of festivals and organisations, called ICAS. Sparked by the ECAS project, the International Cities of Advanced Sound network has become a global agent of change, creation, mobilisation and connection within the realm of sound, music and related art forms.

The essential value of such a network is not measurable in economic terms. The value rather lies in the “environment” such initiatives create; spaces in which innovative projects can be developed. Moreover, the network became a system that embodies some of the ideals of a European culture. It created a dynamic and inclusive structure of cooperation, where members are equally valued regardless of their status, where communication is horizontal, and where cultural differences are appreciated as an asset and not as a threat.

The final question within the ECAS project was: What are the tools for an Unknown Future? Interestingly, while writing the application in 2008/09 we were thinking of digital or online tools without realising that these are only numeric facilitators of communication, knowledge sharing and exchange. What online tools don’t do or foster is reflection on social relations, individual approaches, or contexts and methods of creating intriguing environments of learning, experience and advancement. We thus realised that there are other, more socially-oriented, skills needed to deal with the Unknown and to create a collaborative environment as a mixed European group that was stretching out geographically from three hundred kilometres above the polar circle (Tromsø), southward over the alps (Graz), and stretching eastward from Manchester and The Hague via Berlin, Dresden and Krakow, up to Riga.2 Additionally, we involved partners for special actions from non-EU regions as Kyiv (Ukraine), Montevideo (Uruguay), Montreal (Canada), and Boulder (USA) and included them in our joint environment.

© Oliver Baurhenn. ICAS meeting in Montreal in 2016.

© Oliver Baurhenn. ICAS meeting in Montreal in 2016.

A toolbox: 10 things you should keep in mind

Following the experience of working closely together in a group made up of nine diverse partners over five years, and in the ICAS Network with around 30 further partners from all over the world, I’ve attempted to summarize this endeavour into some bullet points that might be seen as a little toolbox and guide for a successful global project:

  1. It is always good to know one’s enemy. Partners can become enemies if you don’t make an effort to get to know them a bit better beforehand. It is definitely advised to strive for an equal and balanced partnership. If you know what you can expect from each other, then you can start developing a shared vision of what you want to do together.
  2. Now that you know your partner(s) you can start to develop a shared vision. Take care with your communication tools and always remember that it is better to meet in person than only via telecommunication tools. The latter are of great use in the implementation process but if you want to sketch-out bigger ideas and plans, then meet face to face.
  3. If you are working with different organisations then make sure the representative you are working with has the full support of his or her colleagues or higher ranks to negotiate on their behalf. Nothing is more annoying than to develop ideas and agree on things, only to have them spoiled by non-present persons.
  4. Be patient! Especially when you work with partners from different backgrounds. Try to find common ground, and don’t forget to ask questions if your gut tells you that something is wrong. Get to know your differences! It greatly helps the whole project if you can “surf” on different cultural policies or funding schemes that can be accessed by your different partners. If you get annoyed then use humour to get rid of your frustration. Your partners will be more open to mirror your clichés if you use humour, and everyone will feel less offended and be open to better understanding one another.3
  5. Pidgin English: Do you understand me? In international collaborations it is quite rare that partners learned English as a first language. Besides being patient in order to understand what other non-English speakers are telling you, also listen carefully and don’t hesitate to ask again if you don’t grasp the idea. What the hell is s/he talking about? Take a deep breath and don’t be too shy to ask them to repeat their idea.
  6. Now that you’ve gained a mutual understanding and commitment from all sides, don’t forget to involve colleagues from your partner organisations here and there! Create an environment that makes them feel welcome to join and add to the multifaceted voices. Ensuring organisational commitment should not only be considered as work, it is an ongoing work in progress that needs to be nurtured throughout the duration of the partnership.
  7. Don’t be afraid to formalise things! You are very good friends now but culturally friendships have different definitions. Some respect friendship as something that should not be burdened, other cultures ask for the opposite. Then another is asking you for endless trust and forgiveness – nobody is without fault. I would say that this wonderful challenge will bring you many rewarding moments. Nevertheless, it is always good to lay out a pathway if there is conflict. Agree on guidelines! Formalise the relationship, put the tasks and responsibilities of administration down in written form and integrate what you decided into your organisation’s policy.
  8. Discover what synergies between partners can be created. Use the different strengths to deliver more than what was promised. Realising a joint project should be fun and a learning process. There is always potential for conflict, but use that energy to find interesting solutions and don’t insist on your ideas if they are not viable. Keep in mind Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom: If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking. Speak about your experiences with your partners and share results and knowledge. Moreover, don’t forget to continuously monitor the partnership using both quantitative and qualitative indicators. Facts help to support your proposals.
  9. Envision your partnership’s sustainability. Aside from continuous evaluations and adaptations to your working process, imagine that your partnership could go on beyond the project’s lifetime. Go over all the things that went well or have been well done and of course also check what went wrong and ask why. This seems easy, but oftentimes partners are too exhausted from their joint project and forget to evaluate the good, the bad and the ugly. Concerning new project ideas, it is always easier to work with a core of good old partners to which a few newcomers are added, than to start completely anew. The journey is the goal and you want to do it with people you know.
  10. Money makes the world go round – or not! Financial capacity and sustainability can be seen as both a concern and prerequisite for sustaining the partnership. However, while this is important and should be considered, motivation and interest are crucial and these do not always cost money. Partnerships require time and effort. Healthy partnerships operate on a basis of equality and mutual recognition. The parties should be both compatible (equal enough) and complementary (different enough). Throughout the partnership, all involved must be willing to work and make it last. It is all about co-operation and not competition.

The future is contingent – but this does not mean it can’t be fun!




1 The ECAS project: European Cities of Advanced Sound – Networking Tomorrow’s Art for an Unknown Future was proposed by 9 European Organisations (DISK-Initiative Bild & Ton e.V./ CTM Festival, Berlin; Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau e.V./ CynetArt Festival, Dresden; ORF musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst, Graz; Fundacja Tone – Muzyka i Nowe Formy Sztuki / Unsound Festival, Krakow; The Generator Foundation/ TodaysArt Festival, The Hague; Cimatics cic, Brussels; FutureEverything, Manchester; Stiftelsen Insomnia, Tromsø; Biedrība Skanu Mezs, Riga) to the European Union funding scheme Cultur. The project started on June 1, 2010 and ended after 60 months on May 31, 2015. It had a provisioned budget of 3.6 mi Euro of which 50% were European Union subsidies and 50% were funds raised by all organizations. See more: www.icasnetwork.org and www.ecasnetwork.org
2 European Union provides a culture grant scheme for all 28 member states and all associates from the European Economic Area and additionally most of the applicant states (e.g. Albania, Serbia, etc.). 30% of activities and of the budget can be spent outside of EU on activities in non-European Union or associate states.
3 I wanted to say that we are each attributed clichés = Germans are always on time or the like; and there are attributes that are clichés but actually exist, so sometimes being German means that you are acting like a German for the people that you are talking to. So, they will probably mirror this. Often you only see it in their eyes and they don’t let you know, so you have to create an atmosphere where these clichés can be mirrored and you can make jokes about these or the clichés of the others.



Ecogeographic Cultural Production? Appropriate Networking in Pixelache Helsinki & Network


ABSTRACT: This article introduces the issues of aligning ecology and sustainability in the cultural production of Pixelache Helsinki’s Festival and network. It focuses upon what might be an ‘appropriate’ form of cultural networking, and argues for an ecogeographic approach in the future. The ecogeographic case example given is that of the Eastern Baltic Sea.


Adaptation by Andrew Gryf Paterson of graphic illustration in Westing, A. H. (1989)

Adaptation by Andrew Gryf Paterson of graphic illustration in Westing, A. H. (1989)


Short distances between cities surrounding the Baltic sea means that locals have been busy with trade and cultural exchange for centuries. At different times the cultural, linguistic, economic and political formations of their surrounding nation-states have both eased and made more difficult that process. There are several regional and transnational high-level cooperative frameworks which focus on the Baltic Sea Region, such as the European Commission’s HELCOM and The Union of Baltic Cities.1 Furthermore in recent years Oleg Koefoed from Cultura21 Nordic was commissioned by Nordic Council of Ministers to undertake research on the relationship between cultural production and sustainability in the region (Aidt, 2013; Koefoed, 2013).2

In this short essay I focus on one cultural association from Helsinki, Finland—Pixelache Helsinki—with the example of its year-round educational programme which I coordinated and facilitated from the beginning of 2011 until 2014 – three intensive years of related cultural exchange around the Eastern Baltic Sea. In that position I argued for a renewed effort for mobility and exchange around the eastern side of the Baltic Sea region, re-invigorating the concept of the “Gulf of Finland Community,” and introducing the concept of an ‘ecogeographic’ approach to cultural production.

I write from the perspective of an artist-organiser in the cultural field, who has adopted different approaches from network culture and applied them to temporary collaborative productions in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus during my years based in the Baltic Sea region. I am also interested in writing narratives about these experiences, and connect them to practice-led cultural research, as well as to cooperative-minded research and pedagogy. At the beginning of 2011, I was employed part-time by the Finnish non-profit cultural association known as Pixelache to facilitate and coordinate an informal outreach and pedagogical programme called ‘Pixelversity’ as part of Pixelache Helsinki activities. I have written elsewhere on the same topic in a longer and more detailed article (Paterson, 2012), on which this edited version is based. As my proposal emerges from this work, I will first elaborate briefly on the underlying motivations of the Pixelversity programme and give an overview of my proposed orientation towards the Gulf of Finland as the basis for appropriate networking for cultural production, hinting at future aspirations and connections.

Paterson presenting 'Pixelversity' at Plektrum Festival, Tallinn, Autumn 2011. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Paterson presenting ‘Pixelversity’ at Plektrum Festival, Tallinn, Autumn 2011. Photo: Antti Ahonen

“Appropriate networking” for cultural production borrows a concept from permacultural development and appropriate technology applications, with creative applied design and technology for sustainability issues, such as renewable energy, clean water filtration, bio-remediation, or compost systems. The global Permaculture movement started by David Holmgren (b. 1955) and the recently deceased Bill Mollison (1928–2016) in the late 1970s in Australia is an inspiration as it is imperative to work with, rather than against nature; “of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor” (Mollison, 1991). Its online equivalent may be the Appropedia.org network, initiated by Lonny Grafman, that brings a similar spirit to networked knowledge-sharing practices around the world. Grafman is inspired by the economist E. F. Schumacher, who over 40 years ago developed the concept of intermediate or appropriate technology, or “technology with a human face” (Schumacher, 1999). In general, according to Grafman, the consensus is that such technologies are those which can be maintained, used, repaired, operated, retrofitted by the actual stakeholders, “a technology that’s not just designed for but [..] designed with the stakeholders” (Grafman, 2016).

Context of Pixelache Helsinki

Pixelache Helsinki is a trans-disciplinary platform for developing and presenting experimental art, design, research and activist projects since 2002. However, it is also an organised network of people – currently approximately 30 association members, 1 full-time coordinator and 1 part-time staff member year-round, plus a handful of fee-based staff during the festival period or funded projects. About one third of members are regularly active in Helsinki; approximately one third are active but based remotely or often travelling outside Finland; and about one third are less active members; as well as a network of regular friends or unaffiliated associates in the Nordic-Baltic region or further afield. Many participants in this network use Pixelache Helsinki as the main way to present their recent professional practice, research or approach to art, design or technology; for others it is a fun, hobby-oriented event to test or experiment with prototypes; while for some lucky handful it is a mix of both.

Recycling Olympic Games award ceremony as the last event of Pixelache Festival 2016. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Recycling Olympic Games award ceremony as the last event of Pixelache Festival 2016. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Although it is true that as members we have become good friends, collaborators and peers in the development of Pixelache Helsinki, academically one could interpret it as a cluster of several communities of practice, who share concern and passion for what they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 1998). Included in this regular interaction are processes used with each other, with other organisations and institutions, as well as with other publics and communities in the format of a cultural festival or via other projects/processes. Early in Pixelache Helsinki’s development, a social science paper by Katri Halonen identified the strong co-relations between open-source ideology and the thematic and organisational structure of the festival (Halonen, 2007). However, the interests within this organised network are broad and not always easy for outsiders to understand.

Pixelache Helsinki is and has been part of a regional and international network of similar practitioners, organisers and producers, with qualities that Ned Rossiter claims characterizes networks: “fluid, ephemeral, transitory, innovative, flowing, non-linear, decentralized, value-adding, creative, flexible, open, collaborative, risk-taking, reflexive, informal, individualized, intense, transformative and so on” (Rossiter, 2006: 46). Rossiter refers to organised networks as “loose affiliations where participants have the freedom to come and go” (ibid, 2016: 22). Most often cultural networking happens via sharing information about events and ideas online, as well as with travel to attend gatherings or festivals. I argue that this should ideally be done in accordance with the synergetic relations of “natureculture” with protracted and thoughtful observation and (net)working.3

In coordinating and facilitating the Pixelversity programme between 2011-2014, discussing regularly with key participants, I considered relationships between different activities, imagining how they may build up cumulative knowledge and skills towards future Pixelache Helsinki activities. For example, in the first years there was an emerging interest from Piknik Frequency association members related to energy use, knowledge sharing, social engagement, and towards ‘transition/resilience’ themed activities and events. Considering the Baltic Sea regional scene, these interests have also found inspiration, company and informal collaboration with partners in Estonia and Latvia.4 The holistic vision of Green Economics, as presented by Molly Scott-Cato (2009), was also a strong influence at the time, leading to further research.

The topic of sustainability I argue is firstly not just relevant as a subject in our fields of practice and theory, but also relates to personal economical sustainability in a period of financial uncertainty, and specifically within cultural funding structures. Secondly, it is important in relation to our practice in our particular locality, in this case our region of the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea region, and North East Europe. What are appropriate ways to work within organised networks, as part of the increased interest within our scenes for topics of transition/resilience, renewable art, technologies and sustainability?

Considering the ecogeographic region model

In early November 2011, I presented Pixelversity 2011 activities at the RIXC Centre for New Media Culture Art+Communications Festival Conference in Riga, and with this review, I also introduced the concept of an ‘ecogeographic’ approach to cultural organising and production, which was later published by the same organisation (Paterson, 2012).5

This perspective was originally inspired by conversations from 2007 onwards with marine biologist, artist and activist Richard Thompson Coon, resident of Suomenlinna until 2013, in Helsinki, where we first met. Coon founded and chaired the environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Gulf of Finland Environment Society SULA, which was active in the 1990s and early 2000s in the Eastern Baltic Sea. Through a multi-faceted, trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary environmental agenda and activism, his colleagues regularly gathered people together in educational events. For example, in 1996, natural scientists, musicians, artists and school children from Finland, Russia and Estonia gathered on Suomenlinna, a historical island fortress in Finland, to address the environmental situation of the Gulf of Finland. Many years later, he still advocated for continued grassroots, trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary initiatives related to the Baltic Sea region, and the Gulf of Finland in particular. Key from his point of view is the need to continue invigorating the idea of a “Gulf of Finland Community”. This community, according to Coon, should be understood as including not just humans, but also animals and plants; the whole ecosystem. The idea of a community which spreads over a geographical territory, based on ecological principles, may be called an “Ecogeographic community.”6

As political theorist and peace researcher Arthur Westing defines it, an “ecogeographic region” denotes a “geographical area that is unified in an ecological sense, gaining its integrity from this cohesion”; by extension, an ‘ecogeographic region’ is “an ecological system, or ecosystem.. a unit made up of living and ‘non-living’ components of the environment that interact to form a life-support system”. For example this may be “seas with their associated drainage basins (watersheds, catchment areas), major rivers with their associated drainage basins, major mountain ranges, major islands or peninsulas, insular aggregations, deserts, tundras, and permanently ice-covered areas” (Westing, 1989: 2). Hence, an ecogeographic approach would mean, in the case of the Gulf of Finland, not just the ecosystem population around the coast, but also that extending all the way to the edge of its water drainage basin. Westing opens his thesis “Comprehensive security for the Baltic: An environmental approach” with the question: “[T]o what extent does regional cooperation on environmental protection and nature-resource utilization serve as a confidence-building measure for the purpose of fostering comprehensive international security?” (ibid: 1). In other words, how does it help develop further shared common value and interest among stakeholders?


Image of Participants at Camp Pixelache 2013 on Naissaar island, Estonia. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Returning to the cultural organisational field, as an artist-organiser, I believe in the necessity to develop trans-disciplinary capacities to engage on/in Commons issues; that cultural workers and producers can contribute to environmental protection and sustainable nature-resource utilization/management, and that active cultural organisations should lead the way by example, especially those with network-building and facilitation experience.

This approach raises a set of questions and thoughts that are relevant to consider: What will be the effect on cultural organisational work if we do our networking mostly within our ecogeographic subregion of the Baltic Sea, that is, the Gulf of Finland, including portions of Finland, North-West Russia, and Estonia? For example, this could include cultural exchange and co-production between the 3 ‘capital’ cities of Helsinki, Tallinn and St Petersburg, as well as with population centres and regions as broadly circumferential as Lahti, Jyväskylä, Kuopio in Finland; Petrozavodsk, Veliky Novogorod, Pskov, Russia; as well as Narva and Tartu in Estonia. What have been the challenges in the environmental NGO scene across the region, and how can we learn from their experiences? Where do we—in the trans-disciplinary media arts and cultural scene—find the resources and finances to support networking? Should the funding instruments support this from the top-down? Can we or will we have to raise grassroots support from the bottom-up? If so, who would be good partners and collaborators?

In answer to the above questions, I argue that it is necessary to include—beyond experimental art, design and technology, individuals and various organisations—cross-sectoral collaborations with the environmental NGO scene, including institutional scientific research, cultural associations and activist groups, schools and educational/participatory science groups. An example from the latter sector from outside the cultural scene is ДРУЗЬЯ БАЛТИКИ (Friends of the Baltic), who have organised the Baltic Sea Ambassadors project that compiled and presented ecological knowledge about the Baltic Sea and related sustainable practices, in schools around the region (Senova, 2011).

Concluding remarks

Reflecting upon our friendships, partnerships and collaborations that have developed over the years of Pixelache Helsinki, as well as upon attempts to collaborate beyond the art and cultural field(s), I argue that from an ecogeographic perspective we should be engaging with our human and non-human peers with whom we share the most fundamental Commons. In other words, develop appropriate networks among those who rely upon and live with the same constraints and affordances. Acknowledging the work of Gulf of Finland environmental networks and cooperation, what is absolutely shared and shared in common, despite the variable cultures, languages and political-state differences, is the Eastern Baltic sea, its extended hydrosphere and water-drainage basin on surrounding land areas, and other related environmental, atmospheric systems; essentially the watershed of the Gulf of Finland. In relation to this network, social and economic sustainability of practice can also be considered. The increasingly urgent and fundamental challenge in future regional cultural productions, collaborations and conflicts will be to take these commonalities into account as the basis for cooperation, as the basis for strengthening the appropriate networking vision of ecogeographic cultural community.



Much gratitude goes to my peers at Pixelache Helsinki in helping to test the practice of appropriate networking with me between 2011-2014, and especially to Richard Thompson Coon for challenging me with his pioneering work in the late and post-Soviet socio-political environment to develop the ‘Gulf of Finland Community’ concept, which was still an urgent vision that he could share a decade or so later in the early 2010s. In addition to acknowledging the influence of Molly Scott Cato’s vision of Green Economics, I add the shared work developing pedagogy titled ‘Green Economics and Management’ undertaken by Olga Mashkina and myself at Aalto University School of Economics Mikkeli Campus, from January 24 to February 11 2011, which contributed to shaping the combination of perspectives presented here.



1 See: European Commission (1992-). The Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. Webpage. Accessible from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/international-cooperation/regional-sea-conventions/helcom/. Also see: The Union of Baltic Cities (n.a.). Webpage. Accessible from http://www.ubc.net
2 Disclaimer: This author was also a contributor to the related research as an interviewee, and was a presenter at the Nordic Council’s seminar in Copenhagen in which Cultura21 Nordic presented the research commission report on April 29, 2013. Further information is accessible from http://www.norden.org/en/news-and-events/news/culture-will-play-key-role-in-development-of-the-baltic-sea-region
3 ‘Natureculture’ is an anthropological term which contests that there is a dichotomous relation between Nature and Culture, recognising continual living and biotic relationships between both, and conceptually counters the alienation of Man and Nature. Further reading on this alienation can be found in El-Kamel Bakari (2004).
4 In particular the ‘MIM goes sustainable’ project in Tallinn between 2009-2011 (accessible from http://mimproject.org) and RIXC Centre for New Media Culture’s ‘Renewable Network‘ project also from 2009 ongoing, accessible from http://renewable.rixc.lv
5 RIXC Centre for New Media Culture. (2011). ‘Techno-ecologies’ Conference. Art+Communications Festival. 4-5.11.2011. Riga. Accessible from http://rixc.lv/11/en/conference.info.html
6 Note there are many similarities in this concept to what Peter Berg in collaboration with Raymond Dasmann in the early 1970s described as “Bioregionalism” (Berg, 2001).



Aidt, M. (2013). Cultura21: How can culture lead transformations. Blogpost. Culturefutures.org, June 16. Accessible from http://culturefutures.org/2013/06/16/cultura21-how-can-culture-lead-transformations.
Berg, P. (2001). The Post-Environmentalist Directions of Bioregionalism [Lecture transcription]. Planet Drum. Webpage. University of Montana, Missoula. April 10. Accessible from http://www.planetdrum.org/Post-Enviro.htm.
El-Kamel Bakari, M. (2014). Sustainability and Contemporary Man-Nature Divide: Aspects of Conflict, Alienation, and Beyond. Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development. Vol. 13, Iss. 1, Pp. 195-216.
Grafman, L. (2016). Interview with Lonny Grafman. In Erik Moeller (ed.). Passionate voices. Weblog. February 19. Accessible from http://www.passionatevoices.org.
Koefoed, O. (2013). Culture and Sustainable Development in the Baltic Sea Region: 8 findings, a number of opportunities, and a way forward… Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers. Accessible from http://norden.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A701355&dswid=-8076.
Halonen, K. (2007). Open Source and New Media Artists. Human Technology: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Humans in ICT Environments . Vol. 3, Iss. 1. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä. Accessible from http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:jyu-200772.
Mollison, B. (1991). Introduction to permaculture. Tasmania, Australia: Tagari.
Paterson, A. G. (2012). Pixelversity 2011-2012: Towards an eco-geographic perspective, In Rasa Smite, Armin Medosch, Kerstin Mey, Raitis Smits (eds.), Acoustic Space #11: Techno-ecologies, Peer-reviewed Journal for Transdisciplinary Research on Art, Science, Technology and Society, Riga-Liepaja: RIXC-MPLab.
Rossiter, N. (2006). Organised Networks: media theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions. Institute of Network Cultures. Amsterdam: Nai Publishers.
Schumacher, E. F. (1999). Small is beautiful: economics as if people mattered: 25 years later … with commentaries (originally published 1973). Vancouver, BC: Hartley & Marks Publishers.
Scott-Cato, M. (2009). Green Economics: An introduction to theory, policy and practice. Oxon UK: Earthscan, Routledge.
Senova, O. (2011). International environmental camp of the Baltic Sea Ambassadors. ДРУЗЬЯ БАЛТИКИ (Friends of the Baltic). Webpage. St. Petersburg. Accessible from http://www.baltfriends.ru/eng_events2811.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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A study on sustainability and festival networks


ABSTRACT: A study on sustainability and festival networks: Are festival networks a strategic asset for small-scale, non-profit, arts festivals to achieve a more resilient sustainability? A study based on the ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound) network and its foundational project ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound).


© ICASnetwork / Katharina Meissner

© ICASnetwork / Katharina Meissner


Festival networks have been the structure under which non-profit arts festivals, among others, join forces through international collaboration and cooperation in face of a fast paced and vulnerable industry. These networks bring different benefits to their members and can consequently help them enhance their capacities as well as increase their competitiveness, but are they a strategic asset for small-scale, non-profit, arts festivals to achieve a more resilient sustainability?

To determine whether festival networks enable members to develop their sustainability, it is necessary to analyse the benefits offered to members in relation to the elements that support the sustainability of these types of festivals. In order to focus this analysis, a festival network and its foundational project were taken as case studies: ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound) and ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound).1

Analysing the ways in which festivals can strengthen sustainability is crucial. As Foccroulle (2009: 16) points out in his article “At the heart of European identities,” ‘The amazing diversity of festivals reflects Europe and its culture’. In a time when funds for culture are scarce, when resources are harder to grasp, it is fundamental to think creatively, in order to attain sustainability (Arts Council Chicago, 2013: 1).

About the sustainability of small scale, non-profit, arts festivals

Sustainability can be defined as the ‘ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself’ (LandLearn, 2015). Historically, non-profit arts festivals have struggled to achieve sustainability. This is because they ‘are driven by a mission and not by profits making, they are quite dependent on public funding, they have difficulties to generate surplus from their core activities and they are undercapitalized’ (Rodríguez, 2015: 11).

The core teams of these festivals are charged with obtaining all the necessary resources to develop the festival. How is it possible to access these resources? In the case of non-profit organisations, ‘many organisers are dependent on contributions from donors or on exchanges with sponsors. In other words, they have to mobilise resources through other actors’ (Getz, 2005 cited in Elbe, 2009: 232). Non-profit festival organisations access resources through the relationships they establish.

Managing to finance a festival exclusively from its own revenues, meaning tickets, merchandise and, if possible, bar sales, is hard to imagine. Generally, festivals are expensive to produce, their sources of revenue are limited, and the time span in which they are active is quite short. In most cases, festivals cover two-thirds of their global budget with public and private funding.

Despite the negative connotations that public funding and sponsorships may have, there is no doubt both are valuable resources. The problem is that most non-profit festival organisations rely too much on these sources of income. Festivals must lower their dependence on these sources of funding and rethink their business models because at the moment, ‘everything points out to the standard arts festival model becoming harder to sustain in an increasingly competitive market’ (Palmer and Thelwall, 2013: 3-4).

There is no precise formula for non-profit arts festivals to become more stable and sustainable, not only because each festival is organised and managed differently, but also because festivals are affected by their context and the place in which they develop, making each case unique. Nevertheless, there are some assets that are indispensable to strengthen sustainability: innovating (Carlsen, et al, 2010: 121), achieving strategic partnerships (Klaic, 2009a: 103-111), collaborating (Rodríguez, 2015: 9), being flexible enough to cope with change (Getz, 2002 cited in Carlsen, et al, 2010: 123 – 124), having demanding programmes and expanding audiences (Krijanskaia cited in Pejovic, 2009: 193).

How participating in a festival network can support a festival’s sustainability

To understand how being part of a network can help festivals to enhance their sustainability, this section correlates the benefits of network participation (based on the information collected from the ICAS and ECAS research) with the assets that can strengthen sustainability.

Strategic partnerships

  • The gathering of like-minded organisations working within the same field and sharing similar interests under the umbrella of a network lends strength to the group that can facilitate lobbying in order to support this specific sector of society.
  • As Elbe (2009: 232) points out, legitimacy is an indispensable asset for the development of any kind of festival. For young festivals, this is a particularly delicate issue, as they have not yet gained recognition by their own means. Joining a festival network such as ICAS brings legitimacy to its members. It is the legitimacy of the network and its most established festival members that expands and consequently ‘legitimates’ the activities of the younger members.
  • Through the gathering of international festival organisations, festival networks enable the mobility of artists and artistic programmes at an international level. The different festival members create a circuit that facilitates the touring of different artists and projects. This expansion in mobility naturally increases the visibility of such projects, at both local and international levels.
  • Festival networks can also enable the mobility of cultural workers, generally in the form of cultural residency programs. According to Oliver Baurhenn, co-director of CTM, this is the best way in which cultural workers can learn from other organisations and share their knowledge in return, because residencies give enough time for people to get to know each other and to assimilate and apply that knowledge.
  • As Klaic (2009a: 104) points out, the more international a festival is in its programme, the more aware it must be of its local context. Local support is essential for the successful development of festivals. Most of the interviewees confirm that being part of the network has increased their local profile. For both partners and local funders, an international network represents the possibility to promote and give visibility to local talent abroad.
  • Most of the interviewees confirmed that being part of the network facilitated access to new funds: locally, regionally or internationally. The reasons for this vary depending on the festival and its context. In some cases, the network legitimated an organisation in the eyes of potential funders, in other cases promoting local talent abroad aroused the interest of public institutions, and in others the international character of the network helped to access funds abroad.
  • Festival networks support and promote the development of new collaborative projects and exchanges between organisations at different levels. At this level, the network works as a space of encounter, where cultural workers can meet with others and identify potential partners for their projects.


  • Constant exchange with people from other countries allows the network members to better understand and appreciate different contexts and realities, and increases the international and intercultural competencies of cultural workers.
  • Some of the network members are organisations that have more than fifteen years of experience, whilst others are young festivals run by young entrepreneurs. Sharing knowledge across generations, nations, and organisations of different sizes, is an asset that is not always easy to grasp outside of this type of structure.
  • Joining a network of like-minded people working to achieve similar goals and facing similar challenges gives the members a sense of community and solidarity within their field. This sense of community gives internal strength to the network and its members.


  • Exchange with like-minded professionals from different backgrounds is the perfect incubator for new ideas and exchange of information, and organisational knowledge facilitates the development of various projects.
  • Getting to know different points of view allows festival organisers to question themselves.
  • The connections between people in the network generate a stimulating collective intelligence, which is enhanced when members physically meet.
  • In a fast-paced industry, the network represents a space where members can stop and think about where the network and its members are heading, what they are doing and why.
  • Trust among individual members of the network allows people to be open about their thoughts and to give critical and honest feedback to others, provoking reflection on the work developed by different organisations and cultural workers.

Demanding programmes, expanding audiences

  • The intercultural diversity of the network can have an important effect on the uniqueness of the programme and the international profile of the audience. It increases the international profile of its members, especially the less established or younger ones, and promotes the discovery of international artistic talent.
  • Festival members involved in co-productions with other network members emphasized the network facilitated and enriched the process of creating new artistic work. Exchange within the network gave them access to expertise, a wider artistic choice, a wider touring network, and access to different types of support.
  • Joining an international network can also raise a festival’s profile with its local audience. As Tim Terpstra, former curator of TodaysArt, affirms, working with a variety of festivals from different countries allows for unique programming. For a curious and bold audience, having access to a unique programme is of great value.

Flexibility to cope with change

  • Through networks, festival organisers are able to gain organisational knowledge by learning how other festivals operate and by sharing strategic information, which allows them to rethink the way their own organisation operates and to find diverse alternatives when faced with different challenges.
  • Having the capacity to find different solutions to potential problems by learning through the experience of others also enhances the flexibility of these organisations, an indispensable asset for facing the changing nature of the festival industry.
  • By being exposed to different realities and ways of doing things, it is possible to recognise things that could be lacking or failing in one’s home country. This intercultural exchange makes it possible for cultural workers to recognize and evaluate models that could potentially be imported and applied in their home countries.


Although the present study has its limitations and is not representative of non-profit arts festivals or of festival networks overall, it is a small sample aiming to measure the different benefits that festival networks bring to their members. It also demonstrates the importance of further research in this area.

Festival networks are platforms that can allow festivals to achieve a more resilient sustainability. Nevertheless, these networks can only offer tools to make this happen. Sustainability is a hard thing to accomplish, and relies heavily on the creativity and the ability of festival organisers, with shared effort and open collaboration between sectors. As Rodríguez (2015: 9) affirms, ‘the new contemporary paradigm requires all type of organisations –public, non-profit and for-profit–to cooperate and work across sectors and working fields in order to have a more holistic approach to reality and more efficiently tackle the pressing problems that our societies are currently facing at all levels’.

It is important to acknowledge that the benefits a network can offer will also depend on the specificities and operation of each network. ICAS is a medium-sized network that facilitates communication and encounter, which is not always the case. There are, for example, larger, extensive networks where communication and organization are not always easy to establish and maintain.

Nevertheless, festival networks can be agents of change, of creation, of mobilisation and connection. Their essential value is not measurable in economic terms, since it lies in the ‘environment’ they create, in which innovative projects can be developed. They are dynamic and inclusive structures of cooperation where communication is horizontal, and where differences between cultures are appreciated as an asset and not as a threat.

We are living in a time when nationalism is expanding. In times such as these, where exclusion is becoming the norm, inclusive structures like festival networks where creation is collective, knowledge is shared, and diversity is cherished, are not only beneficial for cultural workers or the organisations of a specific industry, but for society itself. As Foccroulle (2009: 16) points out in his article “At the heart of European identities,” ‘The amazing diversity of festivals reflects Europe and its culture. Yet are we aware enough of that wealth? Will we be able to help it to grow and take advantage of all of its promises? Will we be able to gather into dynamic networks and leverage all its resources?’’ Festival networks are great structures to collectively rethink and reinvent not only the festival model, or to shape the future of an industry, they are also a strategic place to rethink the way in which we want to influence the world we live in.



1  ICAS is an international network dedicated to advancing sound cultures, music and related arts. ECAS was the project that initially triggered the creation of ICAS and later on became a project of nine partners of the network. Both developed from a natural collaboration among independent festivals and dedicated persons that shared an interest in promoting and creating projects related to experimental music, sound and new technologies with a trans-disciplinary approach. ICAS has been working as an informal network for over nine years and is formed of thirty-one active members across Europe, America and Australia. ECAS was a five-year initiative co-founded by the Creative Europe programme that ended in 2015. It was formed by nine partners of the ICAS network.
In order to analyse the benefits that the festival members have achieved through participation in these networks, a qualitative study based on interviews with nine of the festival members was developed. This research is based on the study developed by IETM – Informal European Theatre Meeting (2001) in relation to the importance of artistic and cultural networks, How Networking Works.



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