Poti, 10 October 2015 (Meeting 11)

The Project’s 11th working meeting was held in Poti on 10 October 2015 and covered the following topics:
– Exercising the right to equal participation in cultural processes and benefiting from the results
– Economic use of cultural aspects for urban development
– Conditions of and for artists
– The importance of culture for social cohesion

Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the 2005 Paris Convention to the participants, who represented the Poti Municipality’s Education, Culture and Monument Protection Service, Municipal Non-Commercial (Non-Profit) Legal Persons and the non-governmental sector, including members of fine arts organizations. The presentation was followed by a discussion.

Meeting participants discussed the role and importance of culture for the development of society and the important role of constructive criticism of cultural processes, and how to encourage artists. Several felt that access to resources in the cultural sphere is not equal. This inequality hampers the creative expression of local artists. The status of “independent artist” should be created and individual expression facilitated.

It was noted that, despite stable jobs in cultural institutions, infrastructures must be improved, for example, a new building is needed for the art gallery, book collections need renewing in the library, etc. Fundraising tools should be diversified in view of developing cultural products and services. It is crucial to improve communications between cultural institutions so that exchanges are possible.

Participants drew attention to the problems in the city’s cultural life and specifically the need for cooperation between educational and cultural institutions, improving the distribution system for theater tickets, and attracting the public. Main challenges included low attendance at puppet theater productions, distributing tickets in schools and kindergartens, and difficulties staging off-site shows. It is urgent that professional studies in art education be restored, and that the music college function fulltime. Musical instruments need to be renewed. Participants pointed out that a regional centralized arts and culture management system should be re-established.

Employees working in the cultural fields today are from older generations, while younger generations appear to lack motivation and professional qualifications. There is a shortage of human resources especially in such areas as art pedagogy, music teaching and more specialized professions such as puppet-making.

The issues of the cultural and social cohesion was raised. In this context, participants noted the difficulty of integration for IDPs because of their isolation, caused in part by compact settlements where they were placed.

A lively debate addressed the issue of priorities in the cultural sphere. The existing relations between the city and the port and an ongoing neglect of local needs were identified as key problems for creating priorities. Unemployment, low incomes and the lack of benefits for those employed in the cultural spheres cause younger people to leave these professions and the region.

The need for artists to be mobile, to get better training and qualifications, and to develop a culture of volunteerism was also discussed.

Monitoring and quality assurance require a qualified, expert approach. Participants considered that quality assurance is a must, and that external control mechanisms should be developed that include project planning. They also recommended that municipal resources be increased by donations from the private sector. To facilitate this, a legal framework needs to be elaborated that includes legislation on donations, philanthropy and tax deductions.

Tbilisi, 8 October 2015 (Meeting 10)

The project’s tenth working meeting was held at Europe House Georgia (Tbilisi) on 8 October 2015 and covered the following topics:
– Issues of state cultural policy based on the sovereignty principle
– The environment most conducive for implementing the Convention
– The role of media in the development of cultural spheres

Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the 2005 Paris Convention to the participants, who were experts in a variety of cultural spheres– sociologists, journalists and staff from state bodies such as the Tbilisi State Conservatory and the national Ministry of Reconciliation and Civic Equality. The presentation was followed by a discussion.

Participants expressed great interest in the development of the Cultural Strategy currently being developed by the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia. They discussed the implementation of the Paris Convention and the potential for tangible results, especially the significance of including the Convention principles and goals into the national Cultural Strategy.

Points raised included how implementation of the Convention can be monitored if the state has not yet developed an implementation plan. The tools to ensure implementation must be clarified in order to fulfill the obligations of its signatories. Related issues included how Georgia can benefit optimally from preferential treatment for developing counties, as declared by the Convention, and the best way to request favorable treatment from developed countries. Is it even possible to benefit from the Convention yet–are state bodies and the Georgian public ready for it?

The lack of a budget of the national Strategy and Action Plan was also identified as a difficulty, according to the participants. It is difficult to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a cultural policy when its budget is not known. The same holds true for implementing the Convention, as it does not have funding—since it was signed into force in 2008, there have never been funds budgeted to implement it. Some participants pointed out that in this context the conditions for monitoring the Convention are not met. A partial solution would be to create a coalition to develop a monitoring action plan. This would include monitoring the Culture section of the Association Agreement signed between Georgia and the European Union.

The coverage of culture by the media has not improved over the last two decades, according to some of those present, and there is still no TV channel or a print media outlet dedicated to culture. The educational environment necessary for becoming a professional cultural journalist is still lacking, and no stable institutional development of this profession is funded by the state or facilitated in any way.

Institutional and organizational difficulties prevail in the sphere of education. Issues raised included specific and negative changes resulting from insufficient cooperation between government structures, such as the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and the Ministry of Education and Science. These continue to cause unnecessary difficulties in arts education. The participants agreed that particular attention is needed to promote education in the arts, and that the Ministry of Culture and professionals in the field should make greater efforts to cooperate with the Ministry of Education when developing qualifications frameworks, standards or curricula. It is necessary to harmonize the cultural professions to comply with international standards, especially for interdisciplinary areas such as cultural management, art history, etc.

In conclusion, participants recognized the need to conduct interdisciplinary research on the cultural needs of ethnic minorities, IDPs and refugees living in Georgia, and to address their needs for intercultural education. Staff members of the state Ministry of Reconciliation and Civic Equality pointed out that–despite the absence of systematic research–there are some advisory documents available that address some of these concerns. The issues of endangered languages in Georgia, including Abkhazian and Ubykh as well as Chechen, were also discussed in this context.

Tbilisi, 23 September 2015 (Meeting 9)

The project’s ninth working meeting was held at Europe House Georgia (Tbilisi) on 23 September 2015 and covered the following topics:

– The essence of identity
– Problems of intercultural dialogue
– Conditions of/for artists, including issues of mobility
– The importance of culture for social cohesion
– Increased media diversity to protect and promote the multiplicity of cultural expressions

Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the 2005 Paris Convention to the participants, who were undergraduate and graduate students in Sociology and from the Academy of Arts, as well as activists in the non-governmental sector. The presentation was followed by a discussion.

The students believed that one of the most important issues in the context of cultural expression is a lack of tolerance, especially in schools. The Church was also identified as one of the factors that reflect intolerant attitudes, particularly against the LGBT community.

The participants discussed the role of the media. They pointed out that the Georgian media does not sufficiently cover issues of cultural diversity and that there is a lack of qualified journalists in the sphere of culture. The discussions that followed revealed there is a low level of professionalism in general (in various spheres, including journalism) and that professional qualifications should be increased.

The participants made the following recommendations:

– Informal education that starts in primary school is needed to develop tolerance;
– Increased professionalization will ensure that problems and issues are covered objectively in all sectors, especially in the media. An ongoing exchange of communication with the public is essential for generating tolerance;
– Intercultural camps for children and teenagers could be a tool for cultivating tolerance, and could take place–with the help of volunteers–even with limited resources;
– Cultural activities and products need to be accessible in all of Georgia’s regions.

Batumi, 5 September 2015 (Meeting 8)

The eighth working meeting of the project was held on 5 September 2015 in Batumi, and covered the following topics:
– Exercising the right to equal participation in cultural processes and to equal access to cultural products
– Using the economic dimension of culture for urban development
– The issue of conditions of and for artists
– The importance of culture for social cohesion

Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the Convention to journalists, officials from the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara, the local non-governmental sector–including members of youth organizations–as well as to academic circles. The presentation was followed by a discussion.

Journalists raised the issues of the role of culture and its importance for the development of society, noting that Ajaran media outlets always try to raise cultural issues, including news, from the culture sphere. However, due to a scarcity of resources for cultural journalism, public media cannot take the lead to initiate and inspire the public to attend cultural events to the same extent that leading private media can.

Participants raised problems that dominte the sphere of communication (specifically PR), and their opinion was that organizers of various cultural events do not pay sufficient attention to informing the public. They also believe that regional public media do not have comprehensive information on international obligations at the governmental level, for example that agreement under the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and, correspondingly, its implementation.

An intense discussion centered on priorities for the sphere of culture. According to the participants, these are unclearly defined by the central and regional governments, thus decision-makers often plan cultural events without considering professional criteria, usually making choices according to their own personal tastes and preferences, and show insufficient regard for other cultural needs, initiatives and processes going on in specific sectors. All this limits decision-makers’ choices. Within this context, discussions revealed flaws in budget spending, which is frequently chaotic and spontaneous, and using unclear criteria.

Some participants believe there is unequal access to resources in the cultural sphere, which prevents self-expression by local artists. In Georgia both the conditions for creating cultural products and the possibilities to create the environment necessary for offering cultural services largely depend on personal connections. This is especially true when it involves the use of municipal infrastructure or funding from the regional budget!

Participants had animated discussions on the role of commercial media, including its obligations and responsibilities. The importance of media in forming public taste and opinion was underlined, while–as opposed to public broadcasters funded by the state–discussants recognized that business interests and profit-oriented commercial media inevitably function to address mass culture.

Those present underlined a need to strengthen and promote a culture of volunteerism.

One very important issue was that of monitoring and quality assurance, which require a qualified, expert approach, especially when public funds are used to create cultural products. The meeting participants considered quality assurance mechanisms as very necessary and made recommendations to create an independent mechanism for quality assurance and to carry out relevant evaluations.

Zugdidi, 26 August 2015 (Meeting 7)

The seventh working meeting of the project was held on 8 August 2015 in Zugdidi, and covered the following topics:

– Exercising the right to equal participation in cultural processes and to equal access to cultural products
– The importance of language and facilitating linguistic diversity as a main element of cultural diversity
– The issue of conditions of/for artists
– The importance of culture for social cohesion

Zugdidi City Hall officials, non-governmental cultural organizations and a local LEPL (Zugdidi Theater Head), actors, musicians and activists participated in the meeting. Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the Convention.

All the participants were actively involved in the discussion that followed the presentation about the processes underway in cultural spheres in Zugdidi and the Samegrelo Region in general. Issues included the Megrelian language, the lack of local efforts to organize, difficulties with funding and bureaucratic obstacles. Positive examples were mentioned as well.

The participants debated the issue of the Megrelian language with opinions varying on the state’s role in protection and preservation, teaching, use and promotion.

Scarce resources available to local government and dilapidated infrastructures in the city were identified as significant problems, for example funding for the renovation of the local theater building still remains unsolved. The local theatre plays a key role by encouraging culture in conflict prevention and promoting social cohesion.

According to the participants, Georgian culture also has the potential for being an excellent export commodity and therefore needs greater financial support. This is developed for a lack of donor involvement in the sphere of culture and the absence of a legal framework to encourage donor activities and patronage of the arts.

In the opinion of the participants, the sustainability of qualified initiatives in the sphere of culture is very important, making sure that initiatives are long-term rather than one-off projects. It became clear that the state was usually considered a guarantor of such sustainability, while the level of confidence in the efforts of non-governmental and self-organized groups in this regard remains low. The participants believe the need for state support is essential for traditional areas of arts, such as classical music and folklore, and that without such support development impossible because of the prevailing economic situation.

Insufficient involvement of the government in the cultural sphere was criticized at the meeting. One of the participants stressed the importance of understanding the connection between culture and economy as well as the need for active participation by civil society to encourage the government to acknowledge the connection between culture and sustainable development. The importance of individual effort was also stressed and illustrated by historical examples.

Participants pointed out that– despite the problems–various events, concerts, poetry evenings and theater shows are regularly organized in the region. Some believe the region’s cultural life could become more active with the organizational efforts made by youth. However, the migration of young people out of the region for economic reasons remains an important problem, while there is a lack of mobility and opportunities for artists from the region.

Akhaltsikhe, 8 August 2015 (Meeting 6)

The sixth working meeting of the project was held in Akhaltsikhe on 8 August 2015 and covered the following topics:
– Exercising the right to equal participation in cultural processes and benefiting from the results
– Problems of intercultural dialogue
– Intercultural dialogue and heritage
– Economic utilization of cultural aspects for urban development
– The importance of culture for social cohesion in general, and using its potential in particular to improve women’s status and role in society
– The importance of language and facilitating linguistic diversity as a main element of cultural diversity
Representatives of Akhaltsikhe City Hall’s Culture Service, non-governmental organizations working in the sphere of culture, local government-funded LEPLs and N(N)LPs (Puppet Theater Head), activists and students participated in the meeting. Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the Convention.

Discussions where all participants took an active part followed the presentation, and subjects included the processes unfolding in the cultural life of Akhaltsikhe, past and future events, and prevailing problems.
According to the local authorities, various events for youth are being organized such as concerts, discos, visits to historical sites, poetry nights and charity events. There are volunteer clean-up actions carried out by young activists, for example in historical sites.

The process of planning events funded from the municipal budget was discussed, and participants suggested improvements such as modifying the following year’s plan based on feedback on the ongoing year’s activities.

The meeting participants identified inadequate infrastructure as one of the main problems (absence of suitable buildings for the theater, Culture House, venues for public gatherings, and the absence of funds to repair the existing ones). Participants maintain that inadequate infrastructures hamper the generation of income necessary for the existence of various cultural institutions.

In discussions on social cohesion, participants noted that there is no tension in Akhaltsikhe’s multiethnic society. For example, Georgians speak or learn Armenian, while Armenians (the largest ethnic minority in Akhaltsikhe) speak the state language. Younger people today speak Georgian better than the older generation. There is also an Armenian culture and language center funded by the Armenian Diaspora where singing, dancing, information technologies and Armenian language are being taught. Along with ethnic Armenians, Georgian language specialists use the Armenian language program to perform their work more efficiently, by teaching Georgian in Armenian villages of the district. Despite this, language barriers still exist, which impedes public participation to some extent.

A discussion was held on the connection between supply and demand for cultural products, services and activities, as well as the expertise in managing these (e.g. whether the events organized by the local authorities are adequate and relevant, whether young people can be involved in the decision-making process, and whether the plan of cultural activities correspond to citizens’ wishes or the desires of young people). There was also a debate on whether various cultural demands of the public are met, for example, those related to places for public gatherings, a space for children’s theater, entertainment and even replenishing book collections in the library. It proved difficult to reach a consensus on these issues.

General recommendations made at the meeting included resolving the issues of decentralization, and promoting cultural democratization.

Tbilisi, 31 July 2015 (Meeting 5)

The fifth working meeting of the project was held at Europe House (Tbilisi) on 31 July 2015. The following topics were covered:
– Facilitating increased media diversity to protect and promote a variety of cultural expressions
– Issues of state cultural policy based on the sovereignty principle
– Environmental issues conducive to the implementation of the Convention
– Problems related to information exchange, analysis and dissemination related to implementing the Convention

Journalists working in the cultural sphere participated in the meeting. Nino Gunia-Kuznetsova presented the project and the Convention. Participants discussed problems related to covering the cultural sphere that prevail in the media, and pointed to the lack of professional cultural journalists and the problems linked to the work of the Public Broadcaster. A serious deficit of professional training for regional media personnel was underscored.

Discussions on TV news programs included the fact that they have none dedicated to cultural themes, and participants discussed the need to motivate culture coverage by the media, the role of the state and indirect measures that can facilitate such coverage.

Participants noted that media coverage of cultural life concentrates mainly on the capital while such information should include all of Georgia. More decentralization was identified as a useful measure in this regard. They also noted that the presentation of any given cultural subject in the media is frequently determined by the taste and personal priorities of the management of a given media outlet, rather than by priorities established as a result of systematic research or based on existing media policies on culture.

Procuring state funding for media projects remains an important problem as it mostly depends on political will and personal connections. When discussing the issues of education and professional training, participants supported a recommendation to establish a training center for journalists working in all regions.

A pessimistic outlook prevailed in discussions on funding for contemporary art, or for any media attention to this field.

Another issue discussed was the role and responsibility of the media as a tool for introducing and promoting high culture, and the conflict between financial profitability and the cultural value of various media.

The lack of art publications—including printed and internet-based editions or platforms—and of serious critique in the art spheres in general was identified as an important problem.

A discussion on the importance of culture for social cohesion, including internally displaced persons’ subcultures, underscored the fact this is not being studied or adequately covered.

The participants emphasized a need for sustainable, long-term cultural projects and for concerted efforts on the part of the state and the public, to encourage and facilitate media diversity.