Sunday, 08 May 2011 14:48

Workshop summary: Arts and Volunteering

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A handful of artists make enough money to live solely off their art, but most can barely survive. And in an economic climate that has led almost all EU member states to cut back on arts funding, volunteers in cultural activities are left high and dry. The financial struggle is exacerbated by a problem with public image - volunteering in the arts is often not seen as "worthy" as, say, caring for the elderly. Delegates expressed their frustration at this lack of recognition, arguing that people volunteer in the arts with the same motives as those who volunteer in other areas of society.

The overwhelming consensus, though, was that creative pursuits are good for the individual and good for society as a whole, and they are likely to rely more and more on the third sector for support. So the group's report left volunteers with a desperate plea: "keep creativity alive".

What do you think? Should artists and not-for-profit cultural organisations get state support? Do they deserve the same financial contributions that we might give to charities? And can volunteering carry European arts through an economic downturn? 

Volunteering and Integration: Building Bridges From Below?

Have you ever thought of volunteering in Africa, Asia or the rest of the developing world? Motivated because you don't know what to do after graduation and volunteering makes your CV more impressive? Maybe you are eager to learn a new language, a new culture while doing something good and finding a sense of belonging?

Whatever reason it is, many young Europeans plan to volunteer in developing countries. But here comes the question: are their motivations good or bad; selfless or selfish?

In the workshop led by Maaret Jokela from Finland, an experienced volunteer to developing countries, around 20 participants from Europe reflected on their own motivations and explored ways to make volunteering in developing countries sustainable.

Sitting in the inner courtyard of the Frank-Loebsche Haus, the former residence of Anne Frank's grandfather Zacharias Frank in Landau, volunteers from Romania, Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Hungary and the UK were divided into small groups to discuss their own definitions of good and bad motives for volunteering. And the (un)surprising result is, of course, that it is impossible to define good or evil.

Where should the welfare state end and the third sector begin? It's a question being asked across Europe as governments make cutbacks to beat the recession - and it's a question that casts something of shadow over volunteering. Are volunteers being exploited to fill the gaps in state provision?

Delegates at the Citizens' Convention all agreed that volunteering is not just a "repair mechanism" for the welfare state, but something that satisfies a human desire to help others and belong to a community. The personal benefits of volunteering are undeniable, and many of those I spoke to said they would still be involved in the same activities even if their country had unlimited funds for welfare.

But what about when governments openly ask the third sector to bear the burden of what has previously been the responsibility of the state? The UK government, for example, has introduced the concept of a "big society", but this is coupled with huge reductions in state funding for the arts, charities and other NGOs. This means that volunteers are dealt a double blow: greater responsiblity and less support.

The relationship between the state and volunteers has always been a complex one - and there was much heated debate about how integrated or separate these two things should be. Those wishing to make volunteering a more unified, sustainable movement expressed the need for regulation, including a legal framework to protect the rights of volunteers, and training to provide necessary skills. But concerns were raised that too much state involvement can lead to volunteers having to compromise their original aims in order to get funding. It was even suggested that avoiding a welfare-dependent state through volunteering was "empowering". 

So between the need for state support and the desire to maintain a sense of independence lies an inescapable confict for volunteers. Where would you draw the line?

Saturday, 07 May 2011 11:44

Art: Nutcrackers, Interns and Children.

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'Nussknacker' by Daniela Nasoni, Varese

I won't claim to understand art, or even that I particularly like it, but these three projects were too intriguing to miss. In a small empty shop in the centre of the sleepy town of Landau stood the recycled box sentinel, a nutcracker dead in the eyes, but a gift to anyone who wanted to take it away from its creator. Daniela Nasoni, from Italy, aims to make one for every person in the world, over 6 billion in total, and is wiling to spend every day of her life fulfilling this daunting task. By the end of the week the room was filled with giant nutcrackers, eight feet tall and made of cardboard.

IN -1772 DAYS