The forum was held from August 19th to 25th in Austria. This is one of the oldest European discussion platforms. Paul Dujardin gave an enthusiastic speech about the importance of art and culture in a contemporary Europe in crisis. «Europe can’t survive unless cultivating its differences and acknowledging that we are all different although… all the same. The European policy has to take responsibility at an international level without choosing an obsolete imperialistic recipe, ‘uniting to rule’ rather than ‘splitting’ ».
Paul Dujardin, CEO and Artistic Director of the BOZAR, gave an eloquent speech to promote an open and diversified Europe during the 70th European Forum Alpbach held in Austria. This forum is the counterpart of the World Economic Forum, which takes place in a village in the Alps, Davos, Switzerland. Held for the first time in 1945 to give new impetus to the European dialogue, the Forum Alpbach is one of the oldest European discussion platforms. Nowadays, it is directed by the former Austrian commissioner of EU, Franz Fischler. For a week, from 19th to 25th August, politicians, academics, businessmen, artists and students discussed the topic of ‘inequality’.
Paul Dujardin, who had the honor to open the forum, asked what contribution the culture has in promotion of equality. He also pointed out the possible consequences of socio-economic inequalities in connection with the participation of art and culture. «In 2013, after the financial crisis, the first Eurobarometer survey was published. It seemed that fewer and fewer Europeans were involved in art and culture. This trend is mainly caused by a lack of financial means. In Greece – a country often called ‘cradle of European culture’ – just 5% of the population takes part in cultural activities.»
Dujardin recalled the importance of the middle class since the Second World War, claiming that «in a society that only acknowledges the right of the strongest, only the culture of those who hold power can thrive. All other forms of artistic expression will be defamed or banned.» He has illustrated his remarks with a video shooted in Donetsk (Ukraine) that shows how pro-Russian separatists blew up an art work by the Belgian-Cameroonian Marthine Tayou.
Dujardin has appealed to the artistic world not to remain on the sidelines. He joined the recent initiative by the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto and the French philosopher Edgar Morin. In their pamphlet Impliquez-vous! (Get Involved!), it is stated that it is no longer «Art for art’s sake, but an aesthetic looking for the ethics. Now we need an aesthetic offering a truly ethical approach. An aesthetic ethics». «Why artists became rich and famous could not invest part of their cultural capital in the schools, galleries or museums that made them famous?».
Dujardin asked for a greater recognition for the artists who, in their daily practice, propose alternatives to today’s world: the Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere (MAAM), which offers collaboration and cohabitation between Gypsies and artists; or the Institute for Human Activities in Congo, where Renzo Martens produces chocolate artwork that relate to local farmers up to 7000 times more than the free market price.
«At present, the change will not come from politics, religion and economics. It will come from people themselves. There are a lot of initiatives where humans build together a world based on other values than those of power and money. These people are launching their farms, financing their own projects, producing their own energy from wind and sun, claiming the use of public space, sharing their goods and taking care of the commons.»
«During this century, inequality – also in its cultural involvement – will grow following the migrations caused by wars and terrorism. This ethical question is fundamental! On the Greek Islands, on Mediterranean Sea’s coast in Calais» continues Dujardin, who closed his speech with a reference to the British Romantic poet Lord Byron. The latter fought personally for Greek independence. «The greatest enemy of Lord Byron was actually the English businessman Lord Elgin, who stole and sent the Parthenon Marbles by ship to London. In his poem La Malédiction de Minerve (The Curse of Minerva), the poet curses the acts of his compatriot. Today, the fight against the Lords Elgin of this world is far from ended, and the struggle for more cultural equality in Europe continues, day after day. «Artists must stand against those who object to a positive development.»
At the end Paul Dujardin was very enthusiastic about the quality of the debate. «It is essential to talk about the problems of today’s world with artists and representatives of the sectors of art and culture. This opportunity was a unique chance to show our solidarity and announce the European vocation of BOZAR with a young audience of the future decision makers.»