Interview with Helene Skikos, Programme Manager in DG EAC

 Mobility of artists and culture professionals seems to be an extremely important initiative. What was the starting point for I-Portunus programme?

This initiative was introduced in response to the need identified by stakeholders.  Several studies convincingly illustrate the importance and impact of mobility for the professional development of artists and those working in the cultural sphere.  The Operational Study conducted by On the move experts in 2019 mapped the shortages at national level of a demand-driven scheme to fund artistic mobility. In the Council’s Work Plan for culture 2019-2022 it is highlighted that the mobility of artists and cultural and creative professionals is an issue of specific interest for research and exchange at European level. The New European Agenda for Culture, submitted by the European Commission in May 2018, defines three strategic objectives that mention promoting cultural participation and the mobility of artists. Moreover, the mobility of artist is strongly emphasized in the objectives of the  Creative Europe programme 2021-2027 in that the mobility of artists and cultural workers can contribute to a better linked, stronger and more sustainable cultural and creative sectors, as well as to accelerate skills development and the learning curve within the sectors. Finally, mobility is strongly supported by the Member States and the European Parliament, and the European Commission was asked to trial such a scheme.

What are the main goals to be achieved within the I-Portunus programe? What impact the project will bring among the artists and professionals?

After the 2019 i-Portunus trial, two more projects will further test how the Creative Europe programme can best implement the funding of mobility for artists and cultural professionals. One project headed by the Goethe Institute has already launched three Calls for Applications to fund those working in the areas of music, literary translation and architecture.  As of mid February another two Calls will open to fund the music sector (again) and those working in cultural heritage.  This is a slightly different trial from the 2019 project. The applicable cultural sectors are different as is the duration and funding provisions.  The other project is headed by the European Cultural Foundation and will be experimenting funding the mobility of individuals via hosts or hosting institutions.  That is, the consortium will select a number of hosting organisations which apply for i-Portunus funding to bring in artists (or cultural professionals) from abroad. The organization, in collaboration with its visiting artists, will need to submit a project outlining the objectives of this type of mobility, justifying their choice of individuals and what they plan to achieve during their collaboration.  This approach is being experimented for the first time and it is meant to give the opportunity to cultural organisations, which usually do not have the means to attract international collaborations to be able do so with i-Portunus funding. The experimentation in all three projects will help us define the parameters of the permanent mobility scheme in Creative Europe 2021-2027.

It is difficult, and even too early, to fully answer what impact such mobility will have.  However, we know that there was very high satisfaction from the grantees of the 2019 trial where 97% said they acquired new skills/knowledge, 94% developed new audiences/outlets, 94% developed new co-productions/creations, and 49% received a job offer. This is a most impressive impact considering the limited financial support provided by the EU, e.g. only 1.500  to 3,400 euros per individual. We await the results of the two new projects this year to learn more.  I continue to hope that working, performing, co-producing in a different country will contribute to the personal development of artists and cultural professions; maybe give them access to different markets, help them attract new audiences or followers, start new or strengthen existing international collaborations, open their career perspectives, etc.  We hope it will also enable citizens across Europe to discover artists (and their works) from other countries and, in doing so, contribute to the emergence of a common cultural area in Europe, characterized by cultural diversity. As witnessed with the Erasmus programme, the impact of international mobility at the personal level is usually profound, often called life-changing.  We hope that this will be the case for those participating in i-Portunus.  That their experience can provide more, and often unplanned, opportunities as well as other long-term collaborations and relationships.

What conditions must be met to take part in I-Portunus? Who can apply?

All artists, creators and cultural professionals from countries that are taking part in the Creative Europe programme are eligible to apply. What makes this support extremely interesting is the fact that it is oriented towards individuals and not organizations or other cultural structures. It’s predominantly aimed as a direct support for artists and cultural professionals or in some cases for a smaller team of such individuals. They can apply with an easy, short, electronic application form found on the i-Portunus website.  The applicants must submit a small project, with a well-defined objective, such as to develop an international collaboration, to engage in a production-oriented residency, in professional development activities, to present work in the destination country or to develop projects with their counterparts there. The Call for Applications provides more guidance as to what is expected and there is also a list of frequently asked questions which are answered on the website. The current i-Portunus projects provide support via individual applications or, as is the case with the second project, via a host/hosting institution.  More details on the latter will be available in the coming months on the website.

Who, in your opinion, is the biggest beneficiary of the programme?

Our experience relies on the 337 successful participants funded by i-Portunus who travelled in 2019 and is rather limited.    However, based on the numbers of applications alone (>3200), women seem to have an advantage having submitted 61% of all applications.  Also, i-Portunus was most popular with younger people aged 25-34 who submitted almost half of all the applications and who, together with the next age range, 35-44, account for 80% of all applications.  In addition, the scheme was extremely popular among emerging artists and those with lower incomes.  In view of the pandemic’s fall-out, I expect that trend to continue and even increase.

Are there any advices you would give to the applicants, so that they benefit from the programme more effectively?

I would advise them to reflect and prepare their project carefully so that it will have an impact on their development and career, and maybe try to find synergy with past or future work. I think searching for a host who will be engaged in your project is very important.  Equally important is taking up opportunities that may come along the way.  Try not to let this be a one-off collaboration.  Make plans to continue your collaboration with your host after the project ends.

I-Portunus was the pilot mobility programme of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. What kind of mobility activities are planned in the future?

Yes, i-Portunus projects so far are pilots, testing how to best organize a future mobility scheme.  We are waiting results of the two new pilot projects running this year and next. Once these experimental projects are completed, we will examine the experience of all three pilots and their recommendations.  Then, we will finalise the parameters for a permanent action under the Creative Europe programme that will offer regular mobility opportunities and financial support to artists, creators and cultural professionals.  We hope to start this permanent mobility scheme towards the second half of next year.

How does the interest in the programme look, geographically? What are the countries the most applications come from and what are the most popular destination countries?

We only have results from the 2019 project.  As would be expected, there were more applications and selected artists from larger countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK) then smaller ones.  However, there were very good results from certain countries such as Ukraine, Serbia, and Portugal for example. In terms of popular destination countries, again France, Germany, Italy and UK were at the top of the list but Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain and Serbia fared very well. The complete statistics are available on the i-Portunus website:  https://www.i-portunus.eu/about-the-programme/i-portunus-statistics/third-call-2019/

Since we are facing COVID – 19 pandemic situation, there are some alternative rules envisaged for upcoming calls. Could you please elaborate a bit and give some examples of blended mobility options?

Unfortunately, this is a very pertinent question.  We hope that travel may be possible this year or at least in the second half of this year.  However, we have to be realistic that this may not materialize and is at least still unknown.  Therefore, we can be flexible in providing funding collaborations that would achieve the objectives of a physical mobility project. What this would entail and how this would be put in place is still under discussion with the two projects as is possible prolongation, if necessary.  The first option of course is physical mobility, as planned. However, we will need to look at alternative means in engaging and increasing digital cross-border collaborations in the near future. So, no definite decision taken to alter the planned mobilities yet but we will try to be as flexible as possible.

[interview by Creative Europe Desk Poland, reviewed by Creative Europe Desk Croatia]