Autumn 2014 is not just another autumn. For those of us who work in the cultural and creative industries, it marks the start of the first projects funded under the new Creative Europe programme.

A key part of Creative Europe (2014 – 2020) is the funding that supports Larger-Scale Cooperation projects – some of the most interesting and ambitious projects. Twenty-one projects have been selected and are funded with 31.9 million Euros, which amounts to approx. 50% of their total costs. Creative Europe kicks off an additional 30 million Euro Investment, summing up to 60 million Euros, with support to “transnational cooperations aiming to improve access to European culture and creative works and to promote innovation and creativity.“ (1)

The first projects are pioneers. They carry the burden of embodying the visions and the expectations of the Creative Europe programme. So we should ask whether these twenty-one projects fulfill expectations to be twenty-one pioneers, not only for their individual projects, but for the Creative Europe programme itself. And most importantly, whether they are able to become a role model for the economic and societal challenges that Europe has to face.

Blood + Chocolate / Pilot Theatre

The cultural sector is now asked to contribute solutions to the major challenges facing us, such as mass unemployment, the impact of mass migration, and mass destruction of wealth. It is our obligation as cultural stakeholders to focus our attention on these projects and make them a success.

Because of these factors, these projects deserve scrutiny: are these the right choices that will help the sector make its contribution? This blog picks out two out of twenty-one projects for an ex-ante thought experiment about the impact of Creative Europe on innovation in the arts and cultural sectors as well as in the economy and wider society. This blog is not about a balanced overview of all projects or a review, or even critic, of the jury decisions. It only aims to learn about innovation by analyzing two exemplary cases ex-ante.

Landscape of Projects

Here is the landscape of projects that were funded under the programme. Of the twenty-one, three are from the music sector, four from performance art / theatre, one from digital art and one from the cultural heritage / archives. It is astonishing that no projects are included from architecture, design, games, BMX, street art or even the new cultural trend of Do-It-Yourself, the maker movement. Are contemporary forms of culture losing out to more traditional ones? If so, are we bound to lose out on contemporary cultural expressions that generate innovative processes and products and the drive social change – from pop-up libraries to the gamification of education?

Alternatively, one can argue that these change-makers must not be part of any public funding scheme. According to this philosophy, public funding must focus on support of projects which are not supported by the market or which might not take place otherwise. One of the criteria of the Creative Europe programme could be to ask which of the projects or, more precisely, which of their innovation impacts might not take place otherwise.

Pioneering Opera

One pioneer is the European Opera Digital Project: “Together with Arte and 15 partnering operas, the project Opera Europa was selected to establish a web portal which offers livestreams of operas – for free – supplemented with interesting, entertaining and exciting extra material, such as interview with artists, backstage views, costume sketches, archive photographs. The European Opera Digital Project will offer audiences a single, authoritative, accessible, ‘go to’ online destination for discovering the whole world of European opera.”

“Opera Digital” is an example of how traditional arts can develop audiences using digital media. This might be new audiences, but can of course include the traditional audiences which may be unable to attend, for instance, as they are too old to go physically. Opera Digital also has the capacity to reach non-audiences, as in people who have not yet attend an opera. While all these aims comply with the criteria of the Creative Europe programme, the question still remains of whether this opera platform could have been realized by ARTE and its partner opera houses without the Creative Europe funding. Isn’t it an aim of each opera house to reach out to its audience, especially the next generation with the next media generation? Isn’t it the obligation of each opera to teach its staff digital skills? Thus, would local funding be more appropriate than European funding? And can European funding heal such local gaps to deal with the digital shift?

There is also a question about the additional value this project brings. Isn’t it easy to reach new audiences who do not attend opera by using existing tools like YouTube – the biggest search engine on the web which comes at zero cost? The so-called relevant platform the multi-annual project wants to establish will probably be mostly founded and used by YouTube or the ARTE Creative Facebook account, in any case.

For an opera to reach new audiences, it might be an option to allow filming by the audience, cutting and editing and publishing on its own webpage or Facebook. Opera audiences would turn into interactive media producers, visitors would probably become prosumers in the future. All of this could take place today – with no cost- and without having to keep control of the media echos of opera productions. Of course, crowdsourced communication and filming are not an option for an opera if it is selling film rights of its productions to commercial television stations. And of course it is the right of each opera house to follow such a value chain, and this should not be criticized.

But is it the aim of European Funding to safeguard this traditional non-digital media value chain of leading world opera houses, financed with approximately 20 to 40 million Euros per year – against the new digital culture of DIY and sharing? What if European Funding – aiming for innovation and new audiences – supports the transformation of the traditional opera value chain by taking into account the new cultural habits of the next generation of more creative and culturally active audiences? But what if not? Will there be a next generation of opera audiences at all if they are not allowed to cut, edit and be creative in their own right, to live the predominant interactive culture of our time in opera houses? (2)

Pioneering Theatre

Contrary to Opera Digital Platform, the project SHIFT+ takes on the new culture of our times – and is also one of the twenty-one pioneers. “PLATFORM SHIFT+ will develop 40 theatre productions based on newly developed plays/concepts, correlated to the reality of the digital age. In more than 50 activities, it will connect theatre makers directly with young people in an artistic dialogue.”

It starts with new culture production – not with new channels for traditional culture as with Opera Digital. But is this project prepared to promote innovation and creativity as well as fulfill the aims of Creative Europe? Is it ready to be more than an innovation of theatres? Can it inspire the wider society to invest in more innovative production processes based on the contemporary culture of today?

SHIFT+ will hold up to 10 Creative Forums all over Europe “to offer training programmes and tools for sustainability of progress and ambition.” While this is of great ambition and the right thing to do, the question remains why a project inspired by contemporary culture is not living up to contemporary media. Why not present SHIFT+ in a TEDx Conference – again at zero cost? A TED licence is available without fee, and the outreach is tens of thousands of global viewers. One could envision at least livestreaming the 10 Creative Forums on Youtube or on ARTE Creative.



While SHIFT+ lives up to being an aspiration of Creative Europe by funding innovative content, it fails to be innovative in reaching out and in dissemination. Even under its traditional scheme, SHIFT+ misses obvious chances, such as those to participate at the festival “Theater der Welt”in Berlin. At this event, the new productions of theatre are presented – like a showcase and pitching for best theatre. Thus, SHIFT+ is missing out on its great option and mission: to address the necessary innovations in governance, theatres must “accurately portray young people’s reality and inspire them with a belief in theatre as a unique live medium for modern times.” SHIFT+ identifies the most urgent topics of its sector with best-practice projects. Why not call out to debate the institutional revolutions -in public administration- its projects imply, in the heart of the traditional theatre meeting?

SHIFT+ at the Theater der Welt? This proposition might be comparable to another strange idea such as an E-Book Pavillion at the Frankfurt Book Fair. But the makers of the Frankfurt Book Fair did exactly so!

Cultural Drivers and Non-Drivers for Innovation

These thought experiments on Opera Digital and SHIFT+ reveal a system of drivers for innovation by the Creative Europe funded projects. 

The first driver is the form of culture chosen – traditional or new forms.

The second driver is the type of communication chosen.

While both projects differ in the type of culture, they are equivalent in the systematic choice of communication.

They also share that they are not challenging the value chain, market system or governance they are in, but they are striving to improve it. The OPERA project wants to use the benefits of the large scale effects of new tech platforms and digital livestreams – for the Opera as it is. SHIFT+ connects to youth culture to induce the contemporary into their plays. To start or even harvest crowdsourced or user-generated playwriting is not on the project’s agenda – similar to Opera Digital, where opera visitors remain passively engaged, rather than becoming media-producers themselves. The traditional role model of each project is not touched, challenged or deliberately overhauled. The live audience turn into digital users – nothing less, but also nothing more. It does not turn visitors into interactive communities or prosumers – which would be in line with the modern digital culture of our times of “interaction”.

Are projects’ innovations limited by the willingness or capacity of the institutions to redefine their governance systems (by allowing open innovation and prosumer process)? The willingness to throw old direction in new winds? This is not a question of whether this can be a sustainable strategy of cultural institutions in a changing digital world. That is up to others to debate and to decide.

Innovation: A Difficult Learning Curve for Culture?

The question focused on by ECBN is that of the innovation impact of Creative Europe funded projects. Debating these two projects within an innovation framework – ex-ante even before the start – kicks off a new type of questioning and debating to foster the contribution of Creative Europe to the Innovation Union.

From Opera Digital and SHIFT+ we can learn what innovation models are hidden and built-in into the Creative Europe selection of the twenty-one pioneers of 2014. Two drivers of innovation – culture and communication – have been debated at each project – a discussion not to evaluate or judge the projects, but an exemplary thought experiment to learn more about the systems of innovation within the culture and creative sectors.

Opera Digital and SHIFT+ do not look common at first sight. When reviewing their expected innovation capacity a different picture emerges (blue). Both projects are pushing innovations step-by-step within their given institutional or market framework. They will deliver new structural impulses to their sectors and will be innovation leaders compared to their competitors.

However, Opera Digital and SHIFT+ will not deliver changes for the governance of theatres or operas. They are not part of the collaborative spirit of the new global digital culture. They will not deliver new markets or new products – and thus their capacity for innovations outside their sectors, for newness in the wider society, are limited. Opera Digital and SHIFT+ can be expected to foster incremental innovations- not outside of the box, disruptive innovations. Will these expectations come true? Might these projects develop differently than expected from an outside view – or even differently than planned? Maybe unexpected effects of the project will lead to new potentials for innovations? (orange). Will there be a learning curve for these institutions and their projects through innovation – willingly or not?

The following Table #1 illustrates the positions of Opera Digital and SHIFT+:

 Table #1: Incremental innovation in Creative Europe (2014)

Table #1: Incremental innovation in Creative Europe (2014)

But through all this, remember that innovation is inherently unexpected and unpredictable. Only after the project can we, as the cultural and creative community, learn more about the impacts of culture projects on innovation, and compare it to our ex-ante expectations and concepts. If we do not dare to formulate ex-ante criteria or hypothesis learning can not take place in the first place.

The next ex-ante experiment on the innovation impact of Creative Europe will look into projects with potential for disruptive innovations.


Bernd Fesel, Chair ECBN

Many thanks to Callum Lee, Deputy-Director ECBN, for his editorial support.


( 1 )

The Call

( 2 ) A different approach is follwed by the Arts Council England with its “Creative Media Policy”,

“Digital innovation encompasses a wide range of activities that are enabled by digital technology, including creative practice, audience engagement and marketing, technological innovation, new business models and distribution. Within this broader context, we have created a new policy approach to focus on artistic and cultural works and content that are created for digital platforms and/or distributed digitally to engage the public.”

Image credits:
Dan Zellato on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Pilot Theatre on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Shift Happens credit to Ben Bentley / Pilot Theatre (CC BY 2.0) Link: