Coloring Books as Means of Engaging Audiences with European Heritage

For my final paper of the course Who Owns the Past, I wrote about performed European citizenship in the European Route of Industrial Heritage’s event Work It Out: Day of Industrial Culture. The event, which shall take place on the first of May 2018 (Labor/May Day) as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, involves youngsters  performing flash mob-esque choreographies at the sites of Europe’s Industrial Heritage to the tunes of remixed versions of Europe’s anthem (Beethoven’s Ode to Joy). The youngsters will be fitted in labelled worker caps and the choreographies, wherever possible, are to include symbols connected to industrial heritage. The event was  described in the most enthusiastic and ambitious terms; ‘a unique, fun, lively, and unforgettable kaleidoscope of European industrial culture’, the first of May was to be turned into ‘a Pan-European Work Out performance’, and the event was to ‘symbolize and demonstrate the cohesion of Europe today’ (http://www.erih.net/eych-2018/erih-dance-event-work-it-out/). It started to dawn on me that such event might need to be understood within the context of Europe’s ‘democratic deficit’, which entails that European citizens do not feel attached to European institutions (Bottici 335). I thus started to understand the emphasis on performance within the event as a way to create an affective relationship between the target group of young people on the one side and European heritage and institutions on the other. While in the case of ERIH’s event I argued that the way in which this was done was problematic, because it stripped away Labor Day’s history of protest movements, violent clashes, civil disobedience etc. and sanitized the industrial heritage it was meant to celebrate, the emphasis on performance to form connections with European heritage and institutions and the link between performance and the target group of young people, remained of large interest and stuck with me.

A few months later I had started my internship at the European Observatory on Memories and was looking for possible funding avenues for a project attempting to map and connect the legacies of slavery in Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Liverpool. During this slightly frantic search I stumbled upon the website of Europeana and was distracted by a blog post of theirs titled #ColourOurCollections and Europeana EYCH Colouring Book, written by Aleksandra Strelichowska. This blog post by Europeana, which can be found here http://blog.europeana.eu/2018/02/colorourcollections-and-europeana-eych-colouring-book/, detailed a ‘week long colouring fest on social media organised by libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world’ in which these organisations invited their ‘followers to colour and get creative with their creations’. It further detailed the publication of Europeana’s own Colouring Book, which features ‘openly licensed content from fourteen cultural institutions across Europe and shows different shapes and forms of cultural heritage’, as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. The project, which is co-financed by the European Union’s Connecting to Europe Facility, once again seems to place performance, in this case the act of colouring in selected European works of cultural heritage, at its center.

The colouring book, which contains public domain works from the Rijksmuseum (Netherlands), the University of Edinburg (United Kingdom), Museum fur Kunst (Germany), the Victoria & Albert Museum (United Kingdom), the Welcome Library (United Kingdom), the Nationalbibliothek (Austria), the Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austria), the Finnish National Gallery (Finland), Bibliotheque de L’INHA (France), The British Library (United Kingdom), the Mauritshuis (Netherlands), Statens Museum for Kunst (Denmark), the National Library of Romania (Romania), the Malmo Museer (Sweden),  and the Stedelijk Museum Zutphen (Netherlands), thus offers another opportunity to reflect on the use of performance to engage European citizens (and those outside of Europe) with European heritage and implicitly also European institutions.

Through this particular blog post I am not aiming to answer the question of what role performance based initiatives might play in increasing European engagement with both ‘European’ heritage and institutions, but rather aim to highlight these initiatives and to get a conversation started surrounding their applicability. Personally I am slightly torn and still quite uncertain regarding their role. On the one hand I am of the opinion that the inclusion/exclusion mechanisms of such performance based initiatives is still not highlighted enough, and my focus in the previously mentioned paper, made me weary of such performance based initiatives, due to their ability to marginalize the particular histories and context that these initiatives supposedly celebrated. On the other hand however I recognize the necessity to create an affective link between European heritage and European institutions and European citizens, and see promise in these performance based attempts at creating such links. Engaging citizens with heritage they might not have heard of before and doing it through an inherently European forum. I would therefore invite any readers to comment their own thoughts and opinions on such initiatives and to open up a discussion regarding the potential of performance oriented actions in creating meaningful, nuanced, and contextualized interactions that don’t dismiss the heritage they aim to promote, but instead offer a platform for such heritage to be openly discussed, questioned, and engaged with. Do you personally see possibilities regarding the potential of such European performance based projects in creating meaningful, affective, and engaging interactions between European heritage, institutions, and European citizens? Or do you see them merely as a far too optimistic attempt that is doomed to fail in its attempt to create embodied connections between said institutions and heritage, and its targeted (European) audience?

Keep it wavey in the free world,

Tsjalling

 

 

 

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