In an exclusive interview with New Europe, Paolo Baratta, the president of La Biennale di Venezia, stressed the importance of culture in EU integration. Speaking on the side lines of the G7 ministerial meeting on culture in Florence, Baratta explained how culture can unify.

Baratta, 77, is a former banker and government minister. He served as privatisations minister in 1993. He was then appointed foreign trade minister and minister for industry. In 1995 he served as public works minister and environment minister. Between 1997 and 2000, he was appointed chairman of Bankers’ Trust S.p.A. and from 1998 to 2000 he served as chairman of the Biennale di Venezia.

How do you think culture can unify Europe in this difficult  crisis?

Europe has to take “action,” otherwise it becomes a utopia. It is fundamental to put in place common actions with common objectives for common desires.

Culture offers a platform in which we can find all these common elements. Everyone wants to preserve our past and have in our countries an art world telling us about the true dimension of the universe in which we live. We also need an architecture world to be able to give answers to the present challenges.  Culture should be lived as a desire of an active life of the present. This energy can unify the community, it is difficult to carry out this strategy with far off countries, but in Europe this idea could be applied and there is a full agreement on this.   Cultural events like this, representing the past but also the present of art technologies, are important because we can better understand that working together can produce important results.  Even recently, culture’s discussions had a strong identarian accent stressing more the western or the European culture. On the contrary, we must understand that nobody is the first, because nobody owns the banner of modernity. Unfortunately, everybody has temptations of indifference and conformism. For this reason, the real challenge the EU faces is to fight conformism and the indifference. 

In this context, are EU funds and related measures useful?

EU financial measure are many and in all fields, and we hope that Europe will continue in this direction. To support the economic development, the innovative, cultural and research industries can for sure find in Europe an important market and develop strategic economies of scale. To have as soon as possible a unified market of cultural products with a harmonised legislation is one of the key challenges the EU must face. 

At the Biennale in Venice, you are active in various cultural fields: art, cinema, dance, theatre etc. In which field does the so-called “European culture” give its best now? 

Culture is spread in lots of places. I don’t think there exists an official culture that you present together with your passport at the border. I don’t think we can talk also about the so-called national cultures.  There exist activities where you can feel energy and where you can find a dialectic about what is going on in the world now. Art is not an element of consolation but most of the times it’s an element that challenges the modern human being. Through culture, it is necessary to challenge the entire society hoping a positive reaction against indifference, which means decadence. There are many places producing vital energies and you can find them in the most incredible places. Therefore, we should respect and promote them.   

Today you probably spoke with the EU Commissioner for Culture. Which interactions do you see between the Biennale and Europe?

We are receiving already a lot of contributions from Europe for college, training and market activities. During the past two years, La Biennale’s great 15th International Architecture Exhibition and 56th International Art Exhibition had 99,921 participants in educational activities in total, amongst whom 65,047 were youngsters.

A broad educational offer shall be available in 2017 as well, addressing itself to individuals and groups of students, children, grown-ups, families, professionals, companies and universities. All initiatives aim for an active involvement of participants, and they are led by professional operators, carefully trained by La Biennale, and they fall under the following categories: Guided Itineraries and Workshop Activities.

I know very well how Europe works and I also know that having the possibility to do interesting projects I can receive help. It is a good collaboration but you need the capacity and will to build up good projects, with the institutions you need to be pro-active and not sleep or wait for assistance.