Farewell to Creative Europe

the words 'still european' are embroidered in golden yellow on a navy fabric background

On 31 March 2021, the Creative Europe Desks across the UK closed their doors – just one of the many heart wrenching outcomes of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Sam Trotman, Director at SSW, made the following speech at the farewell event on behalf of Scotland’s beneficiaries of the Creative Europe programme.

Today I wanted to talk about how the Creative Europe programme has enabled us to support incredible artists, share and learn from their vital work and build brilliant partnerships across Europe. I wanted to talk about how Creative Europe has and continues to grow Scotland’s knowledge, practices, experiences and frames of reference in the cultural field.

I didn’t want to talk about Brexit or the unfolding detrimental effects it is having on us all. But first when thinking about the impact Creative Europe projects have had on me over the past years – it started to get personal.

Growing up poor I didn’t go on “foreign” holidays, we couldn’t afford to go on the ubiquitous school ski trip in the Alps and we didn’t have any space at home to host a french exchange student – Europe in my youth felt a million miles away. If anyone back then asked me, “what has Europe ever done for us”, I probably couldn’t have replied with much – after all I was the teenager who would resolutely proclaim that I WILL NEVER NEED TO KNOW HOW TO SPEAK ANOTHER LANGUAGE whilst graffetiing my tricolour 4B textbook.

That was until 2 women (Judith Knight & Gill Lloyd) gave me a chance – as a cock-sure 24 year old I somehow managed to get my dream job at Artsadmin as their Education Producer. It was my first opportunity to really support artists and my first opportunity to go abroad for work. It was here I was baptised into a world of European collaboration and exchange much of which was and continues to be supported by Creative Europe. I realised for all the artistic thinking and organising I thought I knew in the UK – I knew nothing of the wider world and the multiple positions, practices, politics and people out there and how deeply they could affect me.

Fast forward ten years and the Creative Europe programme has become the cornerstone of Scottish Sculpture Workshop’s artistic programme from 2013 and will continue until 2023. We have been lucky enough to support 10 years of constant European exchange, ongoing collaboration, profound learning, unconditional support and radical kinships. This has grown through our projects Frontiers In Retreat, Be Part and Reshape. During this time we have worked with 30 organisational partners crossing Europe from Tunis to Iceland, Catalonia to Latvia (yes speaking another language might have been helpful here). Together we have been enabled to work with hundreds of artists and thousands of audience members and together we have:

  • Hosted an Andalusian and Cabrach farmer exchange
  • Cast bronze clogs to walk across Finland
  • Learnt about life and labour from Clydesdale horses
  • Imagined what a post fossil fuel Scotland could be
  • Understood the uncommonality of the commons
  • Are setting up a rural school of economics
  • Started to collectively reimagine governance through making
  • Are running a radio to celebrate community action
  • Explored fairer governance models for the arts
  • And had much fun in Finnish saunas

Woven throughout all these projects have been profound moments of connection and joy.

So now if anyone asks, “what has Europe ever done for us”, I will start my long monologue with this; Creative Europe is a life changing programme – it believes and invests in the power of international collaboration and it truly transforms lives and communities. The UK is stronger for all Creative Europe’s support and we will always be here for our European pals actively working to keep these connections and continuing to build on these unshakable foundations.

So here’s to all of the wider Creative Europe projects in Scotland and across the UK and all the European partners we have had the pleasure of working with. To all the artists and communities we have learnt so much from and with, and friends we have made along the way. And importantly here’s to all of the brilliant team past and present at the Creative Europe Desk and at the European Commission and to what you have all enabled – thank you.

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