The Pick - Home is where the art is

December 16, 2010

Europe House

32 Smith Square, London

Europe House, in the heart of Westminster, has just opened as the London base of the European Commission and the European Parliament - ironically, in a building that was once Conservative Central Office. It will act as an information centre for schools and the general public, while also providing offices for staff and political groups, and temporary perches for visiting MEPs.

Exhibition space and a 150-seat conference room that can easily be adapted for lectures, discussions and films mean that it should also become a major cultural centre.

Europe House's inauguration has been marked by a series of events over the past two weeks, including live musical performances; a screening of specially restored archive footage of Europe before the First World War; and debates titled "What's So Great about Proust?", "Do Women in Europe Enjoy Full Citizenship?" and "'Translating Silence': A Celebration of Harold Pinter in Translation".

The poet George Szirtes hosted a literary evening in which seven European ambassadors shared some of their favourite poetry. He also wrote a poem to commemorate the opening of Europe House, Open the Door, which celebrates a continent of everything from lakes and mountains to "fast trains and airports lodged in the human heart".

These events, of course, represent only the beginning. Both the exhibition and lecture spaces can be booked by the national cultural institutions of member states, only some of which have cultural facilities of their own in London. Neither the member states' cultural institutions nor the public will be charged for visits or events, although the former will be expected to create a proper media plan and organise private viewings for exhibitions to ensure they attract good audiences.

The first exhibition in the 12 Star Gallery (open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm) is The North Sea by Maggi Hambling, part of an ongoing series of paintings of the waves that both link and separate Britain and the Continent. The North Sea runs until 28 January 2011, and will be followed by a series of two-week exhibitions and then a longer show lasting from mid-July to mid-September. Next year's extended summer exhibition will present photographs from every member state, complementing a major exhibition of Hungarian photography at London's Royal Academy to mark the Hungarian presidency of the EU.

The 12 Star Gallery is already being booked into 2013. On 14-25 February 2011, it will host a pan-European digital media project titled We Are Here, in which people experiencing social exclusion or poverty in the UK, Belgium, Italy, Hungary and Serbia were given the technological means to create powerful self-portraits expressing the struggles and barriers they face in their daily lives.

Later in 2011, the International Civil Aviation Organisation will host an exhibition in which three design studios present their own interpretations of the ICAO phonetic alphabet, from "Alpha" to "Zulu".

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