The European Cultural Foundation was set up in Geneva in 1954. Its founding figures included the Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont, the architect of the European Community Robert Schuman, and HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, under whose presidency the foundation moved to Amsterdam in 1960. They all believed passionately in culture as a vital ingredient for Europe’s post-war rebuilding and healing.
They envisioned a united Europe where citizens feel proudly European, a place where they can live, express themselves, work and dream freely, in diversity and harmony. They created the ECF “for the stimulation of the European sentiment, to promote the development and preservation of a feeling of mutual comprehension and democratic solidarity between the peoples of Europe by encouraging cultural and educational activities of common interest”.
The foundation has always focused on programs and grants enabling mobility and the exchange of ideas, education through culture, and capacity-building. In its 65 years of existence the foundation has initiated and developed more than twenty of programmes, supported thousands of Europeans with grants and exchanges and helped put culture and cultural policies on the European agenda.
Its Plan Europe 2000 project on ‘man in the 21st century’ resulted in the establishment of research institutes in diverse fields across Europe. One of these institutes together with the European Commission started the Erasmus Programme for students, which was run by the foundation until 1995. Together with the Council of Europe the foundation initiated the European broadcasting ‘Prix Europa’ (the annual media prize honouring the best European radio, television and, later on, internet programmes).
In the late nineties we broadened our range of activities: promoting social participation through the arts and reflecting on the role of artists in societal change. Together with the Open Society Foundation, we set up the youth programme, Art for Social Change, in South East Europe and the Baltic Region. The rapid uptake of new media technologies encouraged us to start LabsforCulture – an online networking platform that facilitated cultural exchange – , and many programmes dedicated to media activism across Europe. In 2008, the ECF Princess Margriet Award was launched to highlight stellar examples of culture as a force of positive change.
The EU enlargement of 2009 created new borders and new ‘neighbours’. We believe intense cultural cooperation with neighbouring regions is essential to avoid cultural exclusion and to encourage an outward-oriented approach. The decade after showed clearly the same open and curious attitudes are much needed to keep on building an open, inclusive, better European Union. The Tandem Managers Exchange Programme, which connects independent cultural organisations and supports the professional development of cultural managers across wider Europe and beyond is manifest to this.
Democracy needs imagination
Through Connected Action for the Commons, a network and action research programme we developed opportunities for Europeans to apply for research and develop grants. In the run up to the European Parliament elections of 2019 we launched Democracy Needs Imagination grants for all those breathing new life into European democracies. Because we love Europe.