Cultural Commons & Creative Economy

Cultural Commons & Creative Economy

                                                                                            Blerina Berberi & Kevin Tummers

Presented at the Conference “Culture Policies and The City”, supported by Forumi Kulturor and CULTURIST, Prishtina, Feb. 27, 2013

Part 1 Video Conference


Cultural policy has a misleading translation in Albanian administrative (Politika Kulturore- Eng. Cultural Politics) that easily confuses anyone with politics. But definition or wording aside, cultural policy is still a concept that, if existent, is hardly implemented, and that very few understand or show an interest in.

According to Compendium, the first Guide to the national Cultural Policy was drafted by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, Youth & Sports (MCTYS) in July, 2010 with emphasis on national heritage, modernization of the society & participation in cultural life, decentralization of culture, protection, support and promotion of the Albanian identity & diversity1. Also, in July, 2000 the Law on the Organization and Functions of Local Government was implemented stating the autonomy of the local government as a way of decentralization. However, the decentralization of culture has not yet proved to be productive. The disagreements about funds and authority, between local and central governments, has to led to lack of funds for culture and cooperation between MCTYS and municipalities.2

Tirana as a capital city, in comparison to other cities, has no local cultural policy from the municipal level, aside from a few statements to make it the ‘city of arts’, decorations for the “Ambassador of Tirana”, and sporadic cultural events. In comparison to other cities, in Tirana the main cultural policy is implemented by the central government, thus the Ministry of Culture, with the support of local municipality. Other municipalities do not have a clear cultural policy, rather a few general perspectives and activities, or a wish list. After a recent conference in Paris, the Mayor of Berat published on the city website “a message for stronger collaboration”, however nowhere did he explain what he means or how to do this.

There is not yet a clear division of authority between institutions, and state cultural institutions rely on state funds and not box office and sales, thus staff sees no incentive for additional efforts, and the already low status quo remains.

What is currently lacking and is of great importance, is to find out what people think, want and what are the existing strengths. By consulting the public and mapping what we know, we can find what we are missing. It is also very important to establish a set of coherent principles, objectives and ways to to protect, promote and produce culture, for which people’s voices are crucial.

As every citizen, our concern starts with the concept of cultural commons – why do we see what we see as cultural goods in the city, as well as clarifying what are the missing economic opportunities from creative cultural industries in the city and nation wide.


The concept of cultural commons is wide and complex, however it is commonly defined as any form of culture shared, or that needs be shared, in the public domain. According to Charlotte Hess: ” It focuses on collective action and the importance of understanding who shares what, how we share it and how we sustain commons for future generations.”3

In order to learn more about the city of Tirana & Berat and their cultural policies, if any, we will try and answer the following questions as stated by Hess: a) What culture shared by whom? b) How are the cultural commons shared? c) How to sustain cultural commons?

A) The role of the city in cultural commons

Tirana & Berat: Central and Local Policyholders

Plato said “The City is what it is because the Citizens are what they are”, thus the city is a reflection of the people themselves, for better or worse. Every city is defined by its people’s cultural mosaic. Intangible & Tangiblecultural goods, such as local traditions, customs, festivals, sports, activities, souvenirs, crafts, popular games, businesses and other activities are part of city’s image and economy.

In Tirana, the main cultural institutions such as the National Gallery, National History Museum, Opera, National Theatre, etc., are run by the Central Government. The municipality administers one Cultural Center “Tirana”, grouping in one single structure the Folklore Ensemble (30 dancers), Band of the City (40 musicians) and the Theatre for youth and kids, where staff is hired on project basis. Next door they run a basic tourist info centre, the multifunctional centre TEN, and and a few scattered attractions around the city. Currently, its website has no info about art & culture promotion projects, how to apply, the board, etc.4

A recent example to refer to for Tirana’s (lack of) cultural policy, is for the 100 years of Independence Celebration. Several sculptures, mainly busts, were placed in the capital city throughout November and December, for which the emergency budget of the National Council of Ministers was necessary. All the competitions were organized by the Ministry or the National Gallery, thus placing the Central Government as the main policy maker. The role of the municipality, we are left to wonder.

The local cultural policies on public art are unclear. What is clear, is that cultural goods are shared by administrative workers, and do not reflect the desire or need of the population, but that of the political class. This can be seen in many of the newly commissioned works.

Here it is clear that the central government defines the form of art (such as busts) and what (or who) is shared as part of Albania’s culture and history, as well as precisely where it is done. Activities were focused almost exclusively in Tirana and Vlora, where the declaration of independence was made 100 years earlier, with little going on elsewhere in the country.

Several artworks installed in Tirana during the month of Independence have been figurative sculptures of people: a Politician, a Statesman, a Prime Minister, a King, a US president and a Warrior from Kosovo. Few of these themes do much toinspire a people in a thoughtful or creative way, nor do they do much to reflect the identity/ relationship of the community in which they have been placed, and several have little or no connection with the “100 years of Independence” theme of 2012.

They do, however show very clearly the will of those in charge, who share culture. In fact, present at every inauguration is the Prime Minister, who in one speech was referred to as “the initiator of this project”, as he has been in so many projects. Thus, any potential effect for empowering the citizenry, any cultural conversation is lost. These projects fulfilled essentially no interaction with the public need, had little social relevance, little public participation, and generated virtually no public response, aside from those who were required to participate – a continuing policy that government staff is often required to attend inaugurations, thus having a few days off work several times a year.

On the other hand, one work that has generated some public participation is the ‘open tower’ shaped Pavaresi5(Independence) monument in Rinia Park, which by night has come to serve as a sheltered and lit urinal/ sleeping place – highlighting the need to fully evaluate in which ways the public might use a proposed design, and how to maintain it in the future – before selecting it!

Most of the current works have no `art plus function` such as sitting place, fountain, interaction, and so on. These aspects should weigh heavily in the decision making process, and would likely have been noticed by the community if there were a meaningful public session beforehand.

Recently, the “Bustizing‘ of Tirana continued with the decision of the Municipal council to re-organize several public pieces. The bust of a 19th century Italian writer of Albanian descent was to be sent to a new location while a new sculpture in the parliament’s park of an ex-political leader was to be set. That is no less than 7 new bronze replicas of people this past year in Tirana.

As part of this, there will be a new communist memorial in the city centre, including a bunker and elements from persecution camps as a form of installation as has been suggested by two artists and approved by Tirana councillors. In the public display of elements from persecution camps, it would seem crucial to have the public evaluation of all ideas, as it is such a sensitive issue specifically to Albania, but also to universal human rights. This raises a question on public art belonging to an artist, or the people, or the city, the past or the present.

On the other side, the city of Berat has three neighbourhoods which were designated as part of UNESCO cultural heritage, added onto the already designated city of Gjirokastra, for outstanding Ottoman architecture. Most of the citizens are unaware of why Berat is part of UNESCO and usually refer to the cultural diversity and religious tolerance throughout its history, which means that very few people have been involved in the application and research by the Ministry of Culture for UNESCO and the question of ‘why’ has been generally dismissed. To clarify once more, Berat & Gjirokaster are recognized by UNESCO for their outstanding Ottoman architecture, first and foremost.

Many of the UNESCO recommendations are administered by the Ministry of Culture and sometimes the Municipality is a partner for projects, with NGOs and others contributing mainly ideas and educational training.

Since parts of the city are declared ‘museum city’, it is not permitted to change the architecture, facades and other Ottoman elements, thus appearing to restrict and limit creative spaces in this zone, which presents a challenge, but also new opportunities.

The municipality administers an info centre, a gallery, a cultural centre, while the rest of the museums, such as Onufri, Ethnographic, and the Museum City part of the castle are administered by the Ministry of Culture.

The city states that “Culture holds a special place in the Municipality of Berat6, , which is very active in organizing cultural events, even though no events have become as part of the city’s ritual. The same is true for Tirana.

We refer to cultural events as rituals by those activities that take place on a certain date within a certain time period, covering a particular theme. By not having cultural rituals, it is difficult to set a cultural agenda, and planning regarding budgets or tourism is impossible. Even the ancients knew the importance of ritual festivals, why do we ignore it now?

B) How are the cultural commons shared?

What are the policyholders investing in?

To begin, the decision-making process for any cultural commons does not include any dialogue or consultancy with independent researchers, consultants and anyone interested, be it a decision of the Ministry or the Municipality.

The former mayor of Tirana, also had no cultural policy, and happily took credit for personal projects with no lasting strategy to build on, which continues under the current mayor.

In Tirana and Berat alike, there is no way to track projects as part of a vision or plan. They just happen. If there isn’t a politician in an exhibit, probably the public will not even hear about it. Most of the cultural events are usually illustrated with photos of leaders at inaugurations, cutting ribbons, giving speeches, kissing children, and no other information. And as mentioned earlier, since there is no planning, the public is usually informed (at best) two days before the event, and more often after it has already happened. The event itself often quietly ends as the ‘dignitaries’ leave.

In general, the city hassporadic and inconsistent cultural events and products. Recurring events are mainly religious or business fests involving food, drink and going for walks – the latter of which in extreme irony, since a typical festival in Tirana traditionally consists of blocking traffic on the main boulevard for the public to walk freely, while every other day of the year they are forced to walk on dirty narrow paths full of holes and car-filled sidewalks.

These new style festivals have come to combine business, food and walking and can last for weeks during December and World Cup. Outdoor stands of products from organics and artisans to beer and BBQ, line a newly opened pedestrian only walkway which funnels money and customers away from private business nearby and back into the hands of government related/ supported businesses given special permits to sell in the streets. The dominant theme of all these fests is beer, meat and bread. The streets can be lined with speakers, begging us to wonder if they are respecting copyright laws, and usually the exposed wires pose a safety threat.

The other type of recurring events are those oriented towards (and funded by) European countries, such as German October, French Cultural Week, European Cultural Week, and so on.

Currently, there are no Community art activities, let alone Funds. Citizens have no access to information on what is going on and there are limited cultural centres. There are no neighbourhood cultural centres and the city/ the central government offer nothing but random activities and no infrastructure for talents, as these have not yet been identified as general needs.

In order to find out what we need, first it is important to know what there already is. Digitalization and mapping of cultural commons is very important also for sharing. By publishing a list of public artworks (auditing the collection first if necessary) and digitizing it online, we can begin to see new opportunities open, such as art tours/ walks and a much larger extension of our communities to the world, for research and pleasure. It is important to respond to the desire of those directly effected and develop the right policy on public art and activities. Culture can also be created and spread through engagement & revitalization of local communities, education etc, which often needs a boost from public funds.

The Ministry of Culture has a spreadsheet of cultural heritage sites and objects in the country, though it is missing much information and no images. Tirana Municipality has only one simple list of a few buildings, sites to see in Tirana, while Berat’s Municipality has more activities, workshops, education & trainings sessions, calls for photo competitions and other information. However, Korca is a better example for its cultural activities7. Trip Advisor and other tourist blogs are the main source of up to date data.

C) How to sustain cultural commons?

Maintenance/ Cultural & Architecture Landscape

Many of the public artworks in Tirana are in an accelerated state of decline from weather, vandalism and neglect, and no system is in place for their preservation and especially promotion! In some cases these may be ‘orphaned’ artworks, unnamed, or unowned, uncleaned, and it is a fact that local councillors do not even know what artworks are in their own area.

Is art public because it is in public space, or because is supported by public funds? What about privately funded public art? Can the municipal government assure maintenance of something to pass on to the next generations? If not, what happens?

During the 100 years of Independence celebration, a privately donated sculpture of a giant eagle was placed at a round-about as a donation by an Albanian family from Macedonia, and the space was renamed Eagle Square (Sheshi Shqiponja)8. If privately funded artworks are set in the public domain, what are the procedures for selecting which private donation fits our shared culture and symbols?

In Tirana, several public works have been moved from their previous locations, and other existing sculptures have been replaced with new ones. In the centre of Shkoder once stood a monumental sculpture of the Heroes of Vig, which has since been moved to a garbage collecting site and butchered for scrap metal9.

If local or central government can’t maintain public art or has no policy or control over its civic collection, is it worth publicly investing in?

You want to defend public art, you must first defend human dignity and basic planning concepts. This can be done in part through the right cultural policy, and creative thinking.

Solving problems creatively: i.e. Fieri bulls at Bashkia to block parking in front of doors10

Berat is under the protection of the Albanian government and UNESCO and the emphasis is in the preservation of Ottoman architecture. It is important for the city to preserve its architecture landscape, but do we really want to preserve all these Ottoman houses as they looked in the past? And can we really do that? Restoration of several houses has been supported by international funding, with very few national funds in order to preserve their style. Many structures have not been checked, while going completely unchecked in becoming part of the landscape of the city is the infamous roof top water tanks.

These objects define the water management in the city, the value of life, and the priorities of public policy, that being providing water to the city has not been a local priority. There is an irony in that Berat is registered as World Heritage in part due to previous years of exceptional town planning.

It is well known that water tanks can be unsafe, due to any earth shaking, and potentially unhygienic to keep water deposits on the roof. At a conference on the preservation of the architecture landscape in June, 2012 the mayor of Berat stated that very soon there will be 24/7 water in the city, without taking into account what to do until that day comes.

Furthermore, if these water tanks have been on these heritage sites/houses for decades, is it possible that we can define/ categorize them as a symbol of our cultural heritage11?

Between vandalism and interaction12

As mentioned earlier, many public works in Tirana, Berat and other cities have been vandalized with tags, symbols and words. In these cases it seems that someone is trying to interact with the work due to lack of involvement or satisfaction. On the other hand, public artworks can be damaged by thieves who sell parts for scrap metal, due to the economic reality of the country. Both cases emphasize that people do see and respond to the value that public art holds, and if people’s response is misunderstood, likely the purpose or placement of the artwork is too – one side saw it as public space to use, the other as public property to take. Where do we draw the line between interaction and vandalism? Do we have to think about a new state/ form of public art?

In Italy, every year, damage is caused to public art by tourists posing for pictures. Protection and security by the local or central government requires funds, but the cheapest and the most effective way to protect our heritage is education for the public through programs and involvement, creating local stewardship of our collective commons.

Creative Economy

Creative city – what is our strategy to keep and attract creative people?

Missed (future) opportunities & Suggestions

How to determine if the right cultural policy is implemented? Cultural policies must clearly state how the funds are to be managed in relation to various forms of arts, in order to ensure that artists that are presently working, and artists we would like to see in our cities have opportunities. Without this, our artists will leave, and new artists will not be encouraged to come.

The Onufri competition at the National Art Gallery demonstrates this, in that international artists are no longer invited, and many of the participating Albanian artists in fact live abroad13. How does this encourage the cycle of production and consumption within Albania? Does this limit the experience and education of the audience as well? Who does this competition serve? The artists, the audience, the director, the gallery itself? What outcomes can be measured?

Once identifying the direction to take from public consultation and evaluation of what is already in place, policies need continuous data & statistics. We occasionally hear general statements from the local and central government that they plan to promote, preserve and digitalize culture in the city as a policy, but tracing these statements to how and if anything has been done in relation to the policy is another story.

It is shocking how the media and cultural institutions use statistics regarding visitors. For several events, such as the Tirana Biennial, Onufri International Visual Arts Competition and others, give rough estimates of the number of visitors differing by thousands. A difference of 3000 visitors is significant, whether for lost/missing ticket income, or the actual reach of the event. This reflects the lack of strategy and the view towards the public, in that 3000 people were seen as insignificant, as they are evidently seen in general by these institutions that they are financing.

Policies need to be evaluated and data analyzed to help us measure success/ failures. Failure can still be success if we learn something. Accurate data can be used to create more spaces and open more programs if necessary, or cut unnecessary programmes that are not used. Without this data, the evaluation process becomes a game of chance.

What’s the cultural/ economic policy in relation to funds?

As part of the 100 years of Independence celebration, Albanian culture and various personalities were promoted. For the monument of Independence in Tirana, 350,000 euro were given to an Austrian company for the production, while the artists who won the design concept were paid around 1,500 euros, or 1/233rd of the cost of production. Also, another 100,000 euros were paid to rent Gjergj Kastrioti’s (Scanderbeg) sword and helmet from Vienna in order to be exhibited for 2 months at the National History Museum. While the Museum Director claims 1.7 million visited the museum, is that amount close to what was expected, and was the expected impact attained? One important issue raised here regarding public funds, is why, who, what is paid? Why these projects, who chose them, for whom, and was there a demand, or were people ‘forced’ to enjoy whatever was put in front of them? Is there a meaningful legacy from this activity?

A policy should be set in place to assist in legislation and funding, and to support development of activities, institutions and programmes for the public, in response to the public, not to allow for selective uses of public money for non-public needs and wishes.

Economic perspective and quality of life

Consuming art is part of anyone’s culture, and having a mosaic of cultures in a city has economical advantages. The lack of cultural policy from the local administration and unevaluated cultural policies from the Ministry of Culture, make it difficult to work with a plan for creative citizens.

In Berat, and all of Albania, a culture of rooftop water tanks thrives, and they have become an un-tapped ‘resource’ for displaying art, as are trash cans, walls, and other objects and areas, yet the city has made no attempt to define spaces or objects as creative spaces and the public has not been educated to see them as such.

In Berat, the tanks are a distraction, but an array of creatively (and safely) displayed water tanks could be a major tourist attraction for another city looking to develop its brand. Simple recognition of what is already available to a city, and a supporting policy can lead to economic development.

Cultural consumption is low, and governments have never the necessary funds, especially for culture, thus all public works projects should include a percentage for art – Such as if a road is being fixed, 1% of the total budget could go to ‘other spaces’, like public trash containers, electrical boxes, water tanks and walls. Can you imagine when every ministry budget and every project has 1 percent for culture, even if its just for decorated trash cans or bus stops?! Steps like these would be a move towards increasing consumption, creative thinking and employment within the cultural sector. We know the money is there, but we think its currently being used on a lot of lunches, ‘miscellaneous’ and ‘other’.

Cultural consumption is low, and making no decision to increase it, is equal to making a decision to not increase it.

Tax incentives for business sponsors

Private businesses doing public services could be offered tax reliefs or other incentives, such as a deduction for organizations or individuals providing free information, such as a local tour guide or a community announcement board, as community level incentives.

Other deductions could be offered to encourage banks and large corporations to offer free passes and/or discounts for their staff to participate and consume cultural offerings. This could serve to increase cultural audience in activities, strengthen a city’s cultural mosaic and improve its artistic quality of life, which has been shown on many occasions to be a factor in a stronger general economy.

In Albania, there is currently no status for private business within arts & culture, with the exceptions ‘art dealer’ and ‘theatre group’, and artists have no recognized status (there is no law on self employed artists) as a contributing member of society, let alone as a business mechanism. Clear laws should also be presented on business Registration/ NPO of cultural industries, based on local data and recognized EU and other leading practices.

Education and employment

There are no strategies for employment in the cultural sector, as can be seen by the number of artists working outside their field, or an artist becoming the director of an institution. Even a simple policy of limiting student admission into programs based on current and future hiring opportunities, and encouraging the creation of more opportunities would be a huge step forward. Steps should be taken immediately in this regard, as the current generation of students has already been described throughout the world as ‘the lost generation’, for this reason. The Arts University graduates many students each year, but are there any job placement opportunities, or a limit for new students based on positions needed/available?

Government should support communication and cooperation, however it should be up to the business, non profit organizations, communities, cultural groups, etc., to do the events, creating short and long term employment opportunities. Governments should acknowledge what is lacking in their plans, and open lines of cooperation to encourage programming for women in arts, minority culture programmes, youth/seniors programmes and mental health programmes. Based on the defined needs, governments should prioritize areas of support and set criteria for subsidies and deductibles as well as measures in order to strengthen, employ and educate the private sector, who in turn will continue to finance the public sector. Performing beggars in the streets can be hired and given licenses from the municipality during shopping days or events, to give an image and atmosphere to the city.

Artist Status

From a municipal or governmental perspective, it would be one strategy to encourage the registration of artists, managers or collectives as freelance/ ‘businesses’, and offer them online portfolios, exhibits, gallery space, funding, pensions and so on. This need was addressed by artist Ndoc Tusha, in his wicker-stitched appeal to the Minister of Culture for a pension14. Art has the potential to be profitable, and un-checked status of artists has the potential to flood a large black market, from which consumers have no protection. Article 58 of the constitution of Albania states “freedom of artistic creation and scientific research, placing in use, as well as profit from their results are guaranteed for all.”15 The law exists, but do the policies support it?

Film industry

Is there one, do we want one? Tirana has hundreds of talented people working in media/film related industries, but mainly for TV news stations doing montages, music & wedding videos. They are a prime resource for developing a film industry, as production companies love the cost effectiveness of local talent. However, with no tax incentives and no policy, private studios are reluctant to set up and leave the security of a regular wage, however this is beginning to change.

Tirana is a major regional centre, with close access to many attractive filming locations, and was once the centre of an industry that produced more films per capita than even China, but is today lacking an organized film industry. This is clearly evident in that scenes of ‘Albania’ from the 2012 blockbuster ‘Taken 2’ were filmed in Turkey and France, while the award winning documentary “Skanderbeg, Warrior King” of Albania was filmed in Detroit.

Some other suggestions for the city would be to develop cultural policies based on the models referred to, by Sesic16: a)diffusionism: to create conditions for culture creation, its diffusion and communication, to strengthen national cultural identity. b)functionalism: is allowing participation of the public in decision making processes for cultural production and public activity, puts cultural life in the centre, and acquires the role of the state through incentives and inter- sectorial activity. C)mercantilism: it points at cultural consumerism and developing the art market, where any art production has a price tag.

There should also be a investment in increasing the public and private competition & partnership, in establishing Centres for Dialogue 17, and most importantly Capacity Building. In 2005, Sesic states that for the most part administration is professionally incompetent18 and in 2013 the same is true. Education is very important, and currently there aren’t any specific related programs in the country related to culture policies, its management, strategies, and so on.

Having better planning and continuation for culture & better implementation of polices, assuring maintenance and establishing cultural rituals (planned agendas) will lead to more public trust and participation, and continuation to work through city branding, to create images for our cities. Also, by making easier accessibility of locals to arts will encourage the development of local projects. And by assuring good artistic quality of life for the citizens, we can rely also on a better cultural consumption and better economy.

As Wade Davis from National Geographic said on “Cultures at the far edge of the world”, 2003:

“…we believe that politicians will never accomplish anything, we think that polemics are not persuasive but we think that storytelling can change the world…”.19

We believe that sharing is an important activity, such as this paper, conferences, storytelling, travelling exhibitions, shows, documentation, online photo galleries and maybe if the politicians will hear the story, they might try to accomplish something, and the polemics will become persuasive.

A positive example of sharing and communication is the project Share Culture! TV , which is now online, in partnership with Perypezye Urbane20, Ekphrasis Studio21, Mali Weil22, Genista Foundation23 and IPF International24 supported by the Euopean Commission25 Cultural Programme. In closing, we encourage everyone to share their culture on this WebTV platform!

Share Culture

For more details on the Albanian National Cultural Policies:

Ministry of Culture: The Law on Arts & Culture

Ministry of Culture: Strategy for Cultural Development

2– Compendium: Cultural policies and trends in Europe:

3Understanding knowledge as a commons: from theory to practice. Edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom. Cambridge ,MA: MIT Press, 2007

5Monument of the Declaration of Independence, Tirana, Rinia Park,

8Inaguration of the Eagle sculpture at the square, TR:

13Onufri International Visual Arts Competition, More of the same:

15The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

16Arts Management in Turbulent Times, Adaptable Quality Management, Milena Dragicevic Sesic & Sanjin Dragojevic, 2005, pp.23

18Arts Management in Turbulent Times, Adaptable Quality Management, Milena Dragicevic Sesic & Sanjin Dragojevic, 2005, pp. 50

19Wade Davis, Cultures at the far edge of the world

20Perypezye Urbane, Milan, Italy:

21Ekphrasis Studio, Albania:

22Mali Weil, Italy & Germany:

25European Commission: