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FLORENS 2012: Thoughts on Art, Economy and Politics

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. "

Orson Welles in The Third Man

Orson Welles' quote is a classic. Even if it's not entirely true. For starters I'm relieved to say that the cuckoo clock was not invented in my home country - the blame goes to Germany. But never mind the lack in accuracy, the great actor and director managed to put an incredibly intricate matter into a nutshell. How to 'produce' art and where to find genius? It's a complex issue art historians, gourmet cooks and music lovers keep wondering about. And so do acting coaches, wine producers and fashion designers. Is creativity innate or can it be taught and learned? And what are the conditions that foster not only creativity, but also dedication and perseverance with the task undertaken?

The Fondazione Florens is going the whole nine yards when it comes to pondering the above questions. The Florence based foundation held the first International Cultural and Environmental Heritage Week in November 2010. For a first off this was no tiny affair. The main conference and 150 corresponding events got more than 200.000 people involved with exhibitions, talks (many of them by big shots like Rem Koolhas and Richard Rogers), and cultural events focusing on art, economy and sustainability. 

Florence kayaking on Arno river
Florence: more than Renaissance art
View from Ponte Vecchio

Florence is without doubt an ideal location to discuss the historical, economical and sociocultural circumstances that produce great art. The city, and Tuscany in general make it obvious: creativity and supreme craftsmanship is found, yes, inside the Uffizi, but also in lovingly looked after gardens, world famous wines, luxury fashion labels and prime local food produce. In the end the question isn't how to produce a genius - that one single artist who will raise above the rest no matter what the conditions - but how to produce a society which doesn't judge culture and creativity as a separate entity, but as an essential ingredient in social and economic interactions. It's similar to sports.  

At least that's what I thought when reading Aditya Chakrabortty's column in The Guardian after the London Olympics"Whatever David Cameron says about enthusiasm and joy, however much well-lunched commentators burble about 'decency and charm', there's nothing amateurish about the way in which British sport has staged the most startling turnaround in just 16 years, to rack up the best performance in any Games for more than a century. Instead, this reversal owes much to record investment, ruthless targeting and rigorous planning (...)." 

In summer 1996, by the end of the Atlanta Olympics, the Brits had won one lonely gold medal which put them on rank 36 of the Olympic medal table; way behind countries like Kazakhstan and Algeria. The humiliating experience made the country stop and reevaluate. 16 years and massive investments later the London Olympics medal count shows Great Britain with 29 gold medals on rank three, right behind China and the USA. No doubt the country's 'total sports' policy has paid off. 

Weymouth Beach London Olympics
Weymouth Beach, Southern England
Location of the Olympic Sailing Competition

It's an allegory, but sport has a lot in common with the arts. You need passion and ambition, but many a talented sportsperson won't resist unless they receive funding, guidance and public interest. But it's not just about gold medals. Sport may produce big talents, but as an industry it also produces jobs (bicycle sales in the UK have risen right away after Bradley Wiggins' victory at the 2012 Tour de France), and last but not least sport provides fun and quality of life for everybody out there. The Olympic medal count is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface lies a whole movement that involves the British population at large, the country's politics, schools and its economy. 

Now, with any major sports event on the horizon investments tend to flow, but with Italy's current economic situation, with banks collapsing and the country's GDP being slack, who would want to spend money on supporting the arts, of all things!

So what to do? How to make sure supporting artistic expression and creativity at large isn't seen as a superficial add-on during the hardships of the current recession? And how to explain people who worry that their pensions won't get paid, that we still have to make sure state and private investors don't forget the arts and anything linked to them? 

Obviously, there are no simple or clear-cut answers. Which is why it is so important to keep brooding about it all. Have anything to say on the matter? The Florens 2012 conference is definitely a great place to join the conversation. 

Nuns and delivery van in front of Florence cathedral
Florence Cathedral: the merging of old and new

FLORENS 2012 - "From Grand Tour to Global Tour", November 3-11, 2012 
Click through to the Fondazione Florens website to find out more about the themes of the talks, case studies and workshops this November. To keep up to date follow TEAM FLORENS on twitter. Also, streaming of the conference is in planning in case you can't come out. 

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