Maastricht money, but no Monet

January 5, 1996

Art educators from all over Europe gathered in Birmingham last term to debate style, structure and the Maastricht Treaty. Their interest in the treaty was focussed on a principle laid down in Articles 125 to 128, more often the subject of attention from politicians than artists.

The articles allow the European parliament to act in areas where nation states do not - an important point for universities and colleges seeking money for activities not covered by their funding regimes.

But in order to bid for European funding, institutions need to have a voice in Brussels, which is where the meeting at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design came in.

Formally, the meeting was called to launch Art Accord Europe, an organisation bringing together four "art accords" that promote links and exchanges between European arts institutions. Accords have been operating since 1986 in France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom, building international cultural co-operation between artists and designers in further and higher education. But the pressing business delegates were asked to address at the Art Accord Europe conference had more to do with Maastricht and money than Monet.

The growing influence of the single European market has made it more important for arts organisations and pressure groups to influence decisions in Brussels, and this is leading to increased competition for official recognition.

Art Accord Europe took a step in the right direction on November 7, with a ceremony announcing its foundation held in Brussels and attended by EU officials. But delegates at the Birmingham conference were warned that if the accord was to bid for funds or to acquire "expert status" so that it would be consulted on European Union arts initiatives, it would need to toughen up quickly. That might mean a change in the style and structure of the accords, which have always been consciously informal and unbureaucratic.

Pierre Nesterenko, an expert consultant for Art Accord France, told the conference: "Co-operation will become increasingly important, and if Art Accord does not bid for the funds, others will."

The most significant "other" already in the frame for official recognition is the European League of Institutes of the Arts. ELIA has a large and wide-ranging membership, a relatively bureaucratic structure, and an established presence in Brussels. It is already involved in the EU's Arts Initiative Plan, looking at the employment of artists and their role in the community as well as activities in education. Many ELIA members are also Art Accord members. But there are fears that the new Art Accord Europe will be seen as a threat to ELIA's position.

John Butler, head of fine art at the University of Plymouth and a board member of ELIA, said there was a danger that attempts to forge closer links between the two organisations could be scuppered by Art Accord Europe's need to get its bid for recognition in before April.

John McKenzie, rector of the London Institute and an honorary member of ELIA, said there was room for two organisations, "but not if Art Accord Europe moves too much towards a political lobbying and expert role."

But Ian Hunter, president of Accord UK and head of fine art at Winchester School of Art and Design - an ELIA member institution, said he thought the establishment of Art Accord Europe was more likely to bring the two organisations together than pit them against one another.

Hopes are now being pinned on one of ELIA's bi-annual conferences next year, to which Art Accord Europe representatives have been invited.

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