After a year of bids, negotiations, deals and internal wrangles, Europe's art school heads are hoping their aspirations for 1997 are already in the frame.
More than 700 of them gathered in Lisbon last November to put the finishing touches to their plans for collaborative links and new projects which could provide their institutions with European funding to the year 2000.
Delegates at the fourth annual conference of the European League of Institutes of the Arts took as enthusiastically to this fund-raising sub-theme as they did to the official motifs "multiculturalism in the arts and society" and "current developments in arts education".
Some speakers emerged as stalwarts for the artistic cause. Petri Leidekkers, artistic director of the Minerva Academy in Groningen and chair of the boards of fine art academies in the Netherlands, warned against pandering to the "cynicism of society". "Instead of recognising the value and importance of art, you are reduced to looking at it in terms of financial value". With this in mind, he added: "ELIA has to be aware of its position, and use its power in the right way."
ELIA's new-found "power" was another potent sub-theme which underpinned much of the more businesslike and political chatter. The league has been awarded a grant worth Ecu120,000 (Pounds 88,888) as the "thematic network" for arts education in the Socrates programme of the European Commission. ELIA was picked by the EC as one of 28 subject area thematic networks out of 100 applications. Though the grant is not large, it is seen as a significant boost to ELIA's lobbying role.
Colleges have been invited to bid for a share of the money to support research projects on European developments in arts education, professional practice, the teaching role of artists, teaching methods in art and postgraduate development.
Colin Cina, dean of art at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, described ELIA's successful bid as "a major breakthrough" which would make it easier for arts institutions to secure European funding without having to go through the EC bureaucracy. But he was worried that ELIA might overstretch itself by trying to cover too many issues.
"I am worried ELIA will become so involved in running this thematic network that it will forget to be ELIA. It may become just another arm of the EC's education and training programme," he said.
Ken Robinson, professor of arts education at Warwick University, was concerned about the future of the Education and Training Initiative for the arts, which has provided around 60 project grants worth up to Pounds 12,000 each since 1994. The expectation is that the initiative will be taken up into the Socrates programme.
He said: "I think there is a strong case for keeping the initiative as a separate activity because the arts institutions on the whole have not been very active in using existing networks."
Other interest groups were also out in force, hoping not to disappear under the shadow of ELIA's growing influence. Members of the relatively new Art Accord Europe, which has won "expert" status from the EC, were looking for a possible role - and maybe a discrete budget - within the thematic network. After a minor turf war between Art Accord Europe and ELIA last year, the two organisations have called a truce and are looking for ways to collaborate.
Carla Delfos, ELIA executive director, said the league "definitely wants to work with discipline networks like Art Accord", but added that it would be a "disaster" if the thematic network budget was carved up between special interest groups. A third of it is already earmarked for music research.
Pierre Raterron, Art Accord Europe president, said ELIA had done "a great job at being a generalist", but there was a need under the new Socrates regime for more informal networks like Art Accord. Closer cooperation with ELIA would lead to greater understanding between arts groups.