The symposium

Out of the Association’s new areas of influence came the next major development in the movement’s history, that of an annual symposium beginning in 1991. The Board stated in a letter to all members of the Association that: it became very clear that, besides stimulating the development of the artist (his skills and personal life), we had to start thinking about his living and working conditions: how he worked, his social status, his problems, which were sometimes the result of a political decision, etc. We became aware of the great need to study the political and social dimensions in which artists live and have to function.

The objectives of the symposia are to bring together leaders from trade unions, Christian political parties and associated arts organisations to discuss topics such as European culture, the role of Christian artists and, in view of the growing unification of Europe, the possibility and desirability of a common, concerted policy for the arts at a European level. The aim of having such a symposium was to “initiate ideas with the aim of contributing to a common European endeavour to support the arts and thus participate in a renewal of European culture”, and of “connecting creativity with social and political processes” *10). There has been much discussion in the intervening years about the role of Christian artists in fostering a renewal of civil society based on a Christian perspective and world view, given the new realities of the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and the demise (and discrediting) of old models such as the Christian Democrats in Italy. But cultural as well as political models are changing - Socialist Realism has been superceded by an explosion of creativity in the East, and art produced on a foundation of Christian belief also directly challenges the emptiness of post-modernism which prevails in much Western European thinking and art.

New relationships have thus been developed which have linked those involved in the creative arts with those involved in issues of social and political concern. From 1991 to 1993, the Symposium was incorporated into the main annual Seminar, but was only open to invited delegates. In 1994 a significant change took place - namely the Seminar became the Symposium, sothat all teaching had to be upgraded to masterclass level.

The Seminar in its large format (in 1989 there were 2000 participants, artists and others meeting at the large and unwieldy conference site, “De Bron”, near Zwolle) had been for several years financially unviable. It had also taken on the nature of a festival. There are several large Christian Arts festivals which take place around Europe, most notably Greenbelt in the UK and the Flevo-Festival in Holland. For several years some participants came to the Seminar as a concert venue to see their favourite artists but not to learn or take part in workshops. Agents, record companies and press were also highly visible visitors to the Seminar, making it a commercial opportunity for the artists. The ethos of fellowship and training had been lost to a consumerist approach to the Seminar. After the 1993 Seminar drastic measures were needed if the annual and most visible product of the Association of Christian Artists was to survive and the decision was taken to build on the already established entity of the Symposium (there had been 20 delegates to the 1st Symposium in 1991, 40 to the 2nd in 1992 and 50 to the 3rd in 1993 etc.) and make that the focus of the annual gathering. Thus the venue was changed to a smaller but more comfortable conference centre in Doorn near Amersfoort, and numbers were reduced to a target level of 150 to 200 participants (in 2004: 300 participants). There was to be a higher proportion of official delegates, i.e. representatives from culture & art organizations, trade unions and political parties, and lecturers who had expertise in a broader sweep of social issues (i.e. in education, city planning and policy making).

A new model was created to stimulate learning, thinking and therefore creativity. The programme now comprises an in-depth morning lecture, followed by discussion groups and plenary sessions and ‘hot-house’ debates. The evening concerts/presentations remain, though practical workshops in the afternoon are fewer in number.

Thus these annual gatherings are more directed to the discussion of the role of the arts, specifically from a Christian world-view, in a rapidly integrating Europe. The Symposium receives support from the European Commission and financial support from EZA (Europaïsches Zentrum für Arbeitnehmerfragen *11) and has published papers following each Symposium under the umbrella title Art AD 2000.

In a small way the discussions engendered in the Symposium have prefigured moves in larger bodies like the EU. Back in 1991 there was a plea from delegates for the inclusion of a cultural paragraph in the Treaty on European Union to be ratified at Maastricht. Within two months a cultural paragraph was indeed added which put forward that the Community “shall contribute to the flowering of cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore” *12). Although much was left unsaid in the treaty, the Symposium concluded that the inclusion of the paragraph paved the way for future European policies on culture and the arts.

Over the years the Symposium has sought to discuss many elements relating to understanding the importance in peoples’ lives of culture and art, how it can contribute through it’s communicative function to the process of people throughout Europe getting to know and appreciate each other’s values and perceptions. The Christian Artists movement has for example been a positive forum for ecumenical dialogue over 20 years and despite the entrenched views of some of it’s members and occasional misunderstandings it has succeeded in promoting greater mutual recognition and acceptance.

Christian Artists Europe also sees itself as supporting and safeguarding the values and significance of the Judeo-Christian heritage in European culture. Dilemmas remain though and the question was posed following the 1st Symposium “What form should a Christian understanding and political declaration take which aims to protect and support the arts without becoming a religious, fundamentalist dictate?” *13) Possibilities of building new initiatives to combat social problems facing Europe have also been looked at. In 1994 the role of city planning was discussed with a view to environmental harmony as well as economic viability. In that year delegates looked at the role of education in not only promoting the arts but of providing a balance to the economic/scientific motivators which prevail in most European education. The following year CA held a discussion on youth culture (with it’s concomitant issues of mass media, consumerism and the dominating role of the music/ entertainment industry).

If all these discussions are to amount to more than just talk it is vital that delegates take away from the Christian Artists forum a commitment to act in their own particular sphere of influence. This is happening in a variety of ways. For example, An Knaeps of the Belgian Christian Labour Movement was working to integrate artistic training into local ‘labour’ clubs. She had also initiated projects which fall under the Kaleidoscope scheme *14), and following the 1995 Symposium has worked on a collaboration between her organisation in Belgium, a British ‘classical/rock’ musician and a Portugese youth choir. Political connections too are important if the views of Christian artists are to be heard in places where policy is made. Alexander Ogorodnikov, leader of the new Christian Democratic Union in Russia, has been a regular visitor to the Symposium and uses the arts to promote and communicate his social concerns in his work for the homeless on the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow *15).