Venice: a cultural hub

Venice: a cultural hub

The European Cultural Centre (ECC) discusses both the current and future role of the ECC and the importance of culture within a European landscape.

The role of culture is not only one which ensures the vibrancy and diversity of Europe, but the improved wellbeing and skills of citizens, as well as contributing economically to cities through means of tourism and jobs. As a result, the need for cultural spaces and support for creatives and audiences alike has increased in demand. In enhancing society, the role of culture has become one which has the means to unify a diversified landscape, and in such, is being awarded new prevalence.

A place for experimentation, research and creation, the European Cultural Centre (ECC) works to encourage artistic and creative practice throughout Europe, through events, residencies and publications. Based in Venice, Italy, the ECC works alongside EU networks, universities, foundations and festivals, as part of strengthening a network of European dimensions. Roos Bekkenkamp of the European Cultural Centre discusses the importance of culture within a European landscape, as well as both the role and future of the ECC.

A creative space

The European Cultural Centre said: “We artists, creative entrepreneurs, researchers, philanthropists and even a few bureaucrats, as a collective group, believe that there is a need for an emblematic space, giving existence to a centre dedicated to the culture of Europe. A space, located in Venice, devoted to cultural exchanges, meetings, exhibitions, artistic projects, with Europeans and others. It is our aim to cherish differences and strengthen our cultural commons.

The European Cultural Centre has hosted the GAA Foundation’s exhibitions, during both the Art and Architecture Biennials, for many years now. The architecture exhibition Time Space Existence will open to the public in two of our Palazzos, as well as in the Giardini Marinaressa in May. In Palazzo Michiel and Palazzo Rossini, we will be hosting the VENICE DESIGN exhibitions for its third year after its previous success. We have also been the host for the biennial Venice International Performance Art Week.”

The ECC, however, goes beyond hosting exhibitions by providing the conditions that inspire and create artistic practices. It is a place for investigating, participating and sharing creative research. The centre also provides residencies for creative professionals, host lectures, symposia, public debates, and research assistance. “We also publicise the many projects and research ventures through online, video and book publications,” Bekkenkamp added. “The European Cultural Academy is a programme that enables students to immerse themselves in a variety of possibility.”

Committed to enabling creative professionals to broaden their horizons and share their work, the ECC’s residency programmes, internships and the European Cultural Academy, open floors up to everyone passionate about culture, art, design and architecture. As for the exhibitions curated and organised by the GAA Foundation, it also supports artists and architects by providing small grants. “We also grant the ECC Award on a yearly basis to draw attention to specific individuals or projects. When the architect, designer or artist has demonstrated their dedication to their concept over a longer period of time, and whereby this concept and the execution thereof is in our opinion of significant meaning, they are eligible for this award.”

Unifying community through culture

The European Cultural Academy was created by the European Cultural Centre with the wish to share more than a decade of experience in curating large-scale international projects. It unites creative communities to increase visibility, build connections and make a lasting impact on participants’ careers. Creating sustainable relations within and beyond creative or cultural fields is deeply important for an individual’s development, Bekkenkamp said, and therefore a key tenet of the ECC. “The value of reaching out to others in order to realise a project that you believe in is enormous. These connections or relationships can also reach within one artistic field. For instance, the Academy’s Contemporary Art course focuses on different perspectives and critical issues that confront art professionals today. Participants meet artists, curators and exhibition organisers and have an exciting opportunity to see, feel and understand the Italian and international contemporary art scene. Experienced cultural entrepreneurs share insights on creating a successful project in the context of the Venice Biennale, and talk openly and honestly about challenges in the art sector. Participants get access to an international network, visit incredible museums such as Fondazione Prada and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and come to a better understanding of how to navigate one of the most prestigious art hubs in the world in all its complexities.”

With hundreds of years as a seminal exporter of European culture, Venice has always been a place of cultural exchange. The historic centre is only populated by approximately 60,000 inhabitants but sustains 45 active museums; seven active theatres; 14 foundations with the objectives to promote and develop culture; two leading universities; an art academy; a conservatory and many public libraries; and 32 consulates and regional offices of UNESCO, WHO and the Council of Europe. This year, the VENICE DESIGN exhibition created a map of the city featuring 42 independent designers to highlight the rich creative culture of Venice. Participants at the European Cultural Academy are given the full opportunity to explore art and architecture wherever they go in Venice due to this high saturation of cultural institutions. As Bekkenkamp put it: “For us, all of this makes Venice an excellent place to study the sociological and ethnological development of the European society in general. It is the ideal place to come to understand who we are and how we are seen.”

A dialogue for development

At the start of this project in 2002, our goal was to establish an open platform for artists, architects, and creative people – individuals of all ages and nationalities as a way to investigate the most vital contemporary issues in our society in order to build a shared future. Years have passed since the opening event of the European Cultural Centre and, ever since then, the world has witnessed an unprecedented number of people crossing borders, seeking better living conditions and, in most cases, escaping poverty and war. Consequently, Europe and many countries of the world have been facing deep social and cultural challenges.

“Recognising this tendency of the world to divide rather than unite our awareness and experiences within and beyond this project led to the subtitle ‘open borders’ to our 2017 Personal Structures exhibition. The drawing of borders is a psychological and cultural phenomenon. For all of us it has a powerful symbolic significance, linking people’s identities and their sense of belonging depends on the drawing of imaginary borders. It is through culture that individuals internalise the boundaries of what is acceptable, moral, common or divergent. Although these distinctions can appear as arbitrary, we use them to give meaning and define our existence. Through these symbolic boundaries, people distinguish between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, which expands to our sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

Today where words such as ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ play a vital role in shaping our experience, and the mission of the European Cultural Centre has become even more critical. By bringing together European cultures and creating a dialogue with many other different cultures of the world, the centre hopes to stimulate a more conscious thinking unto the wider public about the fundamental concepts of Time, Space, and Existence. “The interaction amongst the different presentations within our exhibition allows for a more critical perspective on our lives, and the lives of others – inviting visitors and participants to cherish our cultural commons and embrace our differences.”

Time Space Existence

As 2018 is the biennial year of architecture, the ECC’s theme and topic is Time Space Existence. This exhibition explores these topics, but also resonates through the VENICE DESIGN exhibition.

The ECC exhibition hosting year begins with the opening of Food Design Week, a pop-up exhibition from 1-7 February. Set in the heart of Venice during the Venetian Carnival, this experimental and immersive exhibition aims to create an open platform for food artists and designers worldwide. In March 2018 the first courses begin and run through to the end of the year. In May, the biennial exhibitions start with VENICE DESIGN in Palazzo Michiel, and Time Space Existence in Palazzo Mora, Palazzo Bembo and the Giardini Marinaressa. Throughout the year the ECC will host a multitude of symposia and events. “An interesting and fulfilling year ahead!,” as Bekkenkamp described it.


Roos Bekkenkamp

Communication and Design

European Cultural Centre


This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Government 24, which will be published in January, 2018.


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