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Responses to the Brexit
Paul Dujardin: “A harsh blow to the European ideal”

Paul Dujardin
Paul Dujardin | Photo (detail): © Stephen Papandropoulos

We asked representatives of a number of European cultural institutions what they think about Brexit. Paul Dujardin, chief executive officer and artistic director of the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, believes there is a need for more inclusion of citizens following the Brexit referendum. 

Mr. Dujardin, how did you receive news of the Brexit referendum on 24 June?

Sadly. It is a harsh economic, political, cultural and symbolic blow to the European ideal. Since WWII, It is the first time the European project suffers such a step backward. And the “British” project is also now being challenged through this democratic decision taken by citizens. This situation somehow crystalizes the social fragmentation and polarization of our societies in which the excluded ones feel isolated. Frustration leads to rejection and simplification. The equation is simple and therefore shows the need for more inclusion of citizens. This is what the current European and national ‘elites’ have probably not been able to address in their respective narratives.

This result has opened a door towards an unknown path which could tempt other Member States to organize referendums, but also paradoxically lead to more European integration through a core group of countries. Yet, this remains to be seen.

How would you assess the overall reaction in Brussels and in Belgium?

We all woke up on Friday with a terrible hangover and the feeling of losing one member of our family. I can assert that this is the general feeling of the cultural sector in Belgium but also elsewhere in Europe.

Which changes do you envisage ‘after Brexit’ with regards to your work as director of BOZAR and your work as a major player in European Artistic networks?

The UK might be leaving the political project of the European Union. But I cannot believe that it will simply abandon the shared cultural space called Europe. The UK is a member of the Council of Europe and adheres to its values and conventions, including those texts – such as the 1954 European Cultural Convention - that encourage cultural exchanges in our continent. British artists, festivals and arts centers are amongst the most inspiring, dynamic and vibrant across the globe. On a daily basis, we have contacts and share projects. Our exhibitions frequently depend on British museums and galleries and I cannot envisage a music season at BOZAR with no British orchestra, musicians or directors such as Sir Simon Rattle a few months ago.

It will now be the responsibility of our organisations to continue working with our British colleagues and I hope that EU programmes such as Creative Europe or Horizon2020 will continue to be available for their artists and scientists. It could enter the list of countries such as Norway, Iceland, Turkey or those from the Balkan regions which already benefit from Creative Europe grants with some exceptions depending on the funding strands. But you can certainly count on BOZAR to, even more than before, propose European projects to our British colleagues.

What would you expect the national cultural institutes such as the Goethe-Institut and the British Council to do in reaction to the outcome of Brexit referendum?

They need to continue their actions directly with citizens – young and older generations – at grassroots level, in rural areas, in Member States, alongside local organisations. Countries where Europhobia is strong should be paid particular attention.

This failure also shows the need for cultural organisations to join force, speak with a single voice whilst also respecting and listening to local aspirations. Artists could help in this respect as they can help people express themselves, trigger critical thinking and empath towards the ‘Other’. 
Finally, national cultural institutes should continue their joint efforts to promote cultural diplomacy for the EU’s external relations, including with the British Council.

Paul Dujardin has been CEO and artistic director of the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels since 2002. Under his direction the Centre has turned into an internationally recognised, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary arts center, offering a wide range of events, from concerts, to exhibitions, cinema, literature, theatre, dance performances or debates and workshops for its audiences.

Paul Dujardin represents the Centre for Fine Arts Brussels in various platforms, such as the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO), the International Society of Performing Arts (ISPA), the Réseau Européen de Musique Ancienne (R.E.M.A.) and ASEMUS – Asia-Europe Museum Network (since September 2010).