Written by Vitalba Crivello and Tobias Hoffmann.
Since its launch in November 2020, the New European Bauhaus (NEB) project has brought a new cultural and creative dimension to the European Green Deal. To be successful, this ambitious project will have to go beyond its initial intentions, to embrace not only the world of architecture but also the entire creative sector. This is what emerges from the report on ‘The Green Deal ambition: Technology, creativity and the arts for environmental sustainability’, and from the workshop ‘Combining technology with cultural heritage and creativity: The way forward for the New European Bauhaus project’, organised on 13 June 2022, by the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA).
When launched by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen two years ago, the NEB promised to be a creative and interdisciplinary movement shaping a new image of European cities and suburbs, with the aim of making them more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive. A project of social, environmental, and economic innovation, the NEB intends create a better future by bridging the worlds of science, technology, and the arts.
A qualitative assessment of the NEB project: the STOA study
In 2021, the STOA Panel commissioned a study on the NEB from environmental journalist and geographer Emanuele Bompan, editor-in-chief of the circular economy magazine ‘Renewable Matter’, and science journalist Elisabetta Tola, CEO of ‘Formicablu’ and founder of ‘Facta.eu’. The study represents a qualitative assessment of the NEB policies adopted so far by the European Commission, and a workshop to present its findings took place at the European Parliament the day after the NEB 2022 Festival.
The research paper combines potential solutions, inspired by recent scientific research papers and reports, with fresh ideas, contributions and perspectives from a selected group of European players, each with expertise in culture, art, architecture, design, and circular economy. The data collected speaks clearly: the European cultural industry is clamouring for full creative sector involvement – from design to new materials, from fashion to digital arts, and from cultural heritage to new technologies.
According to the study’s authors, the eco-systemic transformation of Europe called for by the New European Bauhaus ultimately requires new words and new ideas. It needs innovative communication models, new analysis patterns, and public involvement. All this should be detached from traditional business models. The authors find that those currently adopted, even in the financing schemes launched by the European Commission, are actually standardised and based more on the usual indicators and metrics than on the actual data provided by the territory and are therefore inadequate to deal with the diversity of places and of cultures.
A better definition of the NEB project
The report advocates a more innovative and radical strengthening of the NEB project, noted Emanuele Bompan, who presented the main findings of the study during the first part of the workshop. This could start by building scenarios and sharing models, looking for implementing solutions that continue the co-design process initiated in 2021 by the European Commission, and making the discussion as broad as possible.
‘An important cultural process is needed to support the ecological transition. A process that arises from below, from the territories, and that has the economic support of the European Union’, he explained. ‘This study tells us that, while it is necessary to define and lay down practical projects, there is also a need for extensive cultural work on a new imagination of the inhabited world, of Europe, and of the ecological transition.‘
Two of the experts who contributed to the paper, Gloria Benedikt, scientist and artist, and Piero Pelizzaro, International Relations Director of the City of Bologna, joined the roundtable, pointed out some action to be taken.
Artists should be employed to foster the cultural shift that is a prerequisite for behavioural change. In the future, support should be given to new experimental programmes where the strategy itself is designed by technologists, researchers, artists and decision makers in a truly integrated process.
Gloria Benedikt summarised this goal as: ‘Translating knowledge into understanding is where artists can come in’, ‘to help citizens to internalise the ecological transition and to reinforce green ethics, inspiring them in their deepest self’.
Support should also be given to large and smaller cultural institutions with a strong NEB mission and a clear track record of activity, making deep connections between the creative and cultural industries and science and green and circular economy enterprises.
Piero Pelizzaro, pointed out that ‘the European Union institutions produce a considerable amount of “guidance” with a limited impact, and a more bottom-up approach could perhaps be more successful and make a real difference’. Examples in the spirit of the NEB already exist, such as the collaboration between Leipzig digital performing arts and the Bologna supercomputer centre.
Involve citizens in making the NEB a success
To provide an ‘external point of view’, two experts who did not take part in the study were also invited to the presentation: Ilona Puskas, Lead of citizen engagement activities, European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Climate-Knowledge Information Centre (KIC), and Michal Gorzynski, Head of Section Impact (EIT) shared their thoughts about the NEB. They discussed the study’s emphasis on the need for action on more decentralised territories and cultural centres. Many of the study’s respondents agreed on the risk related to an excessively centralised approach, notably that it would not create a sufficiently deep sharing of Green Deal values throughout the EU, especially in light of the global crisis and the new ‘Fit for 55’ plan.
Ilona Puskas, highlighted that if ‘the NEB [would want] to reach its goals, we need to be more open minded and welcome experimental approaches when interacting with artists, as the scientific method might not be the right one’. ‘Art represents a source for a result and should not be merely illustrative. Funding should be more accessible, but there are still many blocking elements, such as pre-defined goals, that affect new initiatives’.
The EIT has been involved in the NEB project since its launch, and as Michal Gorzynski noted, ‘What NEB means today will not mean NEB in two years’ – ‘the project should be designed by citizens and for citizens’. According to Gorzynski, citizen involvement, as clients of what the NEB has to offer, is currently lacking. Additionally, he feels the regional level is critical, as NEB means different things in different EU regions, and requires greater focus. ‘Industry, and innovators, should also be brought in, and work hand in hand with artists and scientists’.
Christian Ehler, (EPP, Germany) STOA Chair, closed the workshop, focusing on the role of citizens as key players and clients of the NEB project, and on the need to address the final beneficiaries of the project. ‘For the NEB to work, it has to be attractive for citizens. Most of the time citizens are addressed as consumers, not as citizens. And as consumers, people are addressed in a very modern and versatile way, with their attention attracted by visuals and art support’.
According to Christian Ehler, ‘The NEB should look at the consumer market, and efforts should be made to integrate marketing strategies because citizens are used to them’. Mr Ehler concluded that, sustainability needs to meet aesthetics, which brings us to what was at the core of the old Bauhaus, where form followed function. ‘And function is that we need to save the world and behave in an environmentally sound way. You cannot drive a society out of a dystopia. You need to create a utopia’.