The Austrian Cultural Fora introduce themselves: Ambassador Teresa Indjein

In 2001, the Austrian Cultural Institutes were rebranded as Austrian Cultural Fora. The current 29 Austrian Cultural Fora (ACF) are the main instruments for the implementation of the International Cultural Policy of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration, and Foreign Affairs. In line with the policy priorities and objectives, they implement and support cultural and scientific projects from Austria, and help young artists from Austria in their international endeavours. We have taken the 15th anniversary of the Austrian Cultural Fora as an opportunity to portray this network, their directors, and staff members. This series starts with an interview with Ambassador Teresa Indjein (Director-General for Cultural Policy at the BMEIA) about the activities and priorities of the Cultural Fora, with a special focus on possibilities of support for musicians from Austria. Michael Ternai asked the questions.

What is the principal task of the Austrian Cultural Fora?

Teresa Indjein: The International Cultural Policy Concept is broad by design. Bearing in mind our rich artistic and scientific heritage, we are focusing in our work abroad on the presentation of the innovative and creative side of Austria. Through increased cultural cooperation, we would like to further develop European integration, both inside and outside of the EU. Furthermore, the dialog among cultures and religions helps to develop trust, reconciliation and stability.

In what ways does the work of the Cultural Fora go above and beyond a mere representation of the cultural scene in Austria?

Teresa Indjein: The presentation of so-called “high” culture, even though it can be very beautiful and rewarding, is no longer at the centre of our activities. We are rather trying to build international connections within the civil society, and to facilitate face to face encounters in the arts and the sciences, and to create exchanges with long lasting effects.

How do you evaluate the success of the activities of the Cultural Fora abroad?

Teresa Indjein: Being a government institution we offer a service to artists and scientists. With an impressive outcome: in 2014 a total of 6,076 events were organised or supported through our network. They took place in 2,725 different venues around the world, in cooperation with 4,644 project partners and 8,629 artists and researchers from Austria. Those are measurable results. And while today much emphasis is put on the evaluation of activities through numbers, we have to bear in mind that there are also other – positive – effects of our work that can’t be summed up in numbers: sympathy, joy, community spirit, motivation, encouragement, follow-up projects, future assignments, career development, important encounters and unforgettable moments of artistic exchange and experience.

What is required to create these “other effects”? What are the challenges involved in the successful operation of a Cultural Forum abroad?

Teresa Indjein: To be successful at their postings abroad, be it a cultural forum or an embassy, life long learning is a must for diplomats. They have to make the right contacts, they always need to be on top of things and they have to be able to establish interesting connections. Ideally, they should also be able to apply their knowledge, empathy, and awareness of the sensibilities and culture of their host country in order to create a sense of closeness. This is where successful intercultural exchanges start and where mutual enrichment can happen. Creative impulses are being generated through appropriate encounters with others. International Cultural Policy is a fascinating field of work, and the possibilities they offer can be endlessly inspiring. However, dreams eventually have to face the hard facts of reality. This sense of realism entails the need for a prudent and clever use of limited financial and staff resources and the constant search for the right partners.

How can musicians approach the Cultural Fora?

Teresa Indjein: We see ourselves as service providers for musicians from Austria. Our work has many aspects. There are several ways to get in contact with us. There is the Music Office at the head office in Vienna, which is run by Ingrid Köhn-Dursy. Musicians can also contact us via phone or mail, – which we frequently recommend; specific questions can also be directed to the respective Cultural Forum. I’d like to mention that besides the Cultural Fora musicians can also contact the respective embassy abroad. All Austrian offices abroad, Cultural Forum, Embassy, Consulate General, are in charge of cultural exchange.

In which areas can musicians receive support from the Cultural Fora?

Teresa Indjein: There are quite a few ways in which the Cultural Fora can offer support. A band that has already organised a concert abroad through its own initiative can apply for travel costs. We can also provide relevant contacts. If a band wants to play in a specific country or city, a Cultural Forum can suggest a festival, or maybe even get the band into the festival programme. This depends, of course, on the quality of the contacts of the Cultural Forum on the ground. But Cultural Fora also have their own concert program. These are typically Cultural Fora that have their own venues. In those cases they are, of course, looking for Austrian acts that they want to present to their audiences abroad.


For us it is particularly interesting when musicians also have a story to tell.


How much to you support newcomers? Can only already established artist knock on your door?

Teresa Indjein: We feel that it is important to not only present established acts, but that young sound and voices are being supported and new acts being presented to international audiences and networks. This is why we have developed tailor made programs to support artists in different art forms; it is of paramount importance to provide artists and cultural creatives with development possibilities abroad. For us it is particularly interesting when musicians also have a story to tell. If, through their artistic practice, composition, or music, there are connections with a particular country, this usually represents an added value. It is a story that can be told. And when such a story, or performance, or concert with a special connection is told or performed in a particular country, the outcome is always very exciting and rewarding.

Do you actively look for musicians? Or do the musicians have to approach you?

Teresa Indjein: In 2002 we have developed the program The New Austrian Sound of Music. We value this program that – as our evaluation has shown – has proven to be very successful, a lot! Every other year a jury chooses from amongst five different genres, five acts respectively that then receive support for concert tours abroad for a period of two years. The selection process guarantees a high musical standard. After all, the label “Music from Austria” requires a certain degree of professionalism.

Music from Austria gets a lot of attention right now. Even abroad. What, do you think, are the reasons for that?

Teresa Indjein: I think there are many reasons. The moment and type of art that is being developed has a lot to do with societal processes, with what is happening in a creative community and which influences come together. When I was young, I was very active in the music scene, and there were also many talented musicians, but, and this is my personal perception, it wasn’t as colourful as it is today. The current Austrian music scene is fantastic and very varied. The way in which world music and new music come together, the many different forms of crossover, the innovative paths the musicians are taking, and how well they master their instruments. I think this is just fabulous. I am amazed.

Where do you see the future main aspects of International Cultural Policy? What are the responsibilities that lie ahead?

Teresa Indjein: It will be important to find new and innovative ways of cooperation with Austrian artists and art institutions in order to be able to combine forces to strengthen our presence abroad. There is an almost endless breadth of activities, from the most pragmatic project work to the finest branches of art. For Austria, a country that is perceived through its cultural and historical dimension, this is very important. International Cultural Policy is about building bridges and creating channels of understanding, dialog, and peace; and it is about looking for the messages that can help us tackle the current challenges through cultural means. New and interesting aspects of our work are becoming apparent through the development of a common European Cultural Diplomacy. Plans for strengthening the European cultural cooperation outside the EU, in the framework of the global EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) network, in which Austria is very active. It isn’t by chance that the EU, in times of uncertainty and crisis, has discovered cultural diplomacy and wants to encourage cultural relations between countries. And Austria with its vast experience can play an important role.


Link:Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs