International Cultural Collaboration Projects

International cultural network meetings are ideal spaces to generate international cooperation projects and consortia (Photo: IETM Meeting - Munich 2018)

In this article I am going to talk about International Cultural Co-operation Projects, also known as Cooperation Projects, and how to access the grants that the European Commission specifically addresses to this type of project.

International cultural cooperation is a practice increasingly used by arts organisations in Europe and with a growing potential for development. It is a practice that is not limited to specific programmes for cultural projects, such as Creative Europe, but also allows us, from a cultural perspective, to enter into other European programmes, such as research and education.

What are the international cultural cooperation projects?

When you carry out an internationalisation practice in your professional activity, one of the added values you generate is that you create networks of relationships with cultural operators in other countries who have similar interests to yours. International cultural relations are not just about buying and selling, but above all about building broad networks of complicity between people with common affinities, based on mutual trust. This building of networks and complicities is the basis of collaborative projects or international cooperation.

Another element that arises in the process of building international networks is the possibility of combining artistic and economic efforts to develop new projects. In these projects, knowledge and resources are bundled and new and surprising results are achieved. Triggers for innovative outcomes are the cultural diversity and the variety of skills that the different participants bring to the table. The coming together of common interests and different skills can produce highly innovative results.

In Europe, the European Commission has understood these two concepts: the creation of networks of contacts between cultural operators from different countries and the possibility of generating innovation from the union of different skills from different cultural backgrounds. In this sense, it supports cooperation projects in its cultural funding.

The European Commission's conditions for collaborative projects

To support the cultural sectors, the European Commission funds cultural projects. Cooperation projects are an important part of this. In fact, this is the Commission's main programme that cultural organisations can use for their projects.

The main European programme for culture is Creative Europe. However, other programmes targeting other sectors can also host cultural projects, such as the Erasmus+ programme, which focuses primarily on education, training, youth and sport, or the Horizon Europe programme, which promotes research and innovation. All include international cooperation projects as one of the strategic elements in their priorities.

The Creative Europe programme (CE)

I would like to use the example of CE cooperation projects to explain in more detail how this type of funding works.

There is a perception that European projects are very difficult to manage, especially for very small structures or individuals. I would argue that this is not entirely true. But they do take time and commitment. It doesn't have to be complicated for structures that are used to working with public funding. 

What needs to be taken into account when dealing with European collaborative projects?

The following is a very brief introduction to the main elements that I believe are crucial to the design of a European project capable of achieving positive results.:

  • You should already have a network of contacts in Europe that you trust

  • Applicants must demonstrate a certain level of financial solvency or capacity to obtain additional funds, apart from those requested in the application. As this programme is co-funded, applicants are required to contribute a proportion of the budget, either from their own resources or from external funding sources.

  • Most of the information in the programme is in English, so it is advisable to write the project in this language

  • Start out with low-level roles and work your way up. In CE, the least committed roles are those of the partners, and the coordinator is the most committed

  • If you're an artist or a small organisation, you can also benefit from the project. It has different roles for people other than project partners. In European Commission jargon, you can be an external or subcontracted collaborator, an associated partner or an affiliated entity

The main things you need for a project are the project itself and the consortium. We'll see that although they're necessary, they're not enough to make a good European project

Characteristics of the European cooperation project

Although I always insist that the elements external to the core of the project must be taken into account in order to obtain a good rating in European subsidies, the project itself is undoubtedly the decisive element. However, if the quality of the projects is the same, the differentiating factor is these external elements, which I will discuss later.

The project must be good, powerful, exceptional, strong... But what does all this mean for a cooperation project applying for a European grant? It means:

  • Artistic projects that do not take into account the cultural institutions of the states for their funding. For example: artistic production projects are rarely subsidised in Europe, as they are usually supported by the states or regions. When we talk about co-creation, we come a little closer to this

  • Innovative projects. Which represent a step forward from the "state of the art" (in European jargon)

  • Projects in line with the priorities set out in the calls for proposals or the general priorities of the programme. These change with the different calls for proposals and should be very clear once the terms and conditions have been read and understood. In general, the institutions, and they have the right to do so, set a number of priorities for which the projects that follow them will receive a higher score when they are evaluated by the jury.

  • In 2024, the following priorities were to be taken into account when applying for CE cooperation projects: 

    • The objectives of the 2024 call. (1) Transnational creation and circulation: to strengthen the transnational creation and circulation of European works and artists, and (2) Innovations

    • The priorities of the call: audiences development, social inclusion, sustainability, digitisation and international dimension

    • The EU's general cultural priorities, known as cross-cutting: inclusion, diversity, gender balance and greening

  • The projects should be a guide and inspiration for other cultural operators to design their own. They should be designed as prototypes, which should be properly communicated to enable replication in other fields and contexts. This communication activity is referred to in European jargon as 'dissemination' and the dissemination plan will be a key element for the approval of the project

To give you an idea of the projects that have passed the selection process, this link will take you to a database and search engine where you can find all the approved projects. It contains numerous filters to help you refine your selection and find the projects that best match your activities.

The international consortium

The consortium is the group of beneficiary and managing partners of the project. In EC cooperation projects, the number of partners in the consortium depends on the so-called 'project scale': depending on the call, it can be small, medium or large. Small scale requires 3 partners from 3 countries, medium scale requires 5 partners from 5 countries and large scale requires 10 partners from 10 countries. The 2024 call, which closed on 24 January, only published grants for small and medium-scale projects.

The composition and roles of consortium members are important. Responsibility must be shared, it is not about a coordinator and the other partners acting as partners. It is important that the project is truly collaborative and you will need to be careful to demonstrate this in the application form.

The application form

As with any grant application process, the way you fill in the application form is key to the success of your proposal. Assuming that your project is strong enough and meets the requirements of the call, the key is to explain it properly. You could also say: explain it the way the jury wants to hear it. It's really about making their job easier. I have been a jury member for Creative Europe and Horizon Europe several times, and I can assure you that after reading many projects, if the information is not given in the way it is requested in the form, and if you have to decipher between the lines, there is a high probability that important details will be lost. So: super important tips:

  • Read the form carefully and answer what it asks. Understand what is being asked and why. There is a logic to everything

  • Do not repeat the same concepts in different questions. Each question has its own answer and does not need to be repeated in other sections of the form

  • In some cases, you may be asked to provide additional information in a PDF file. If this is the case, make sure that it is no longer than 10 pages and includes lots of visual elements: graphs, charts, images, etc.

  • For example, in Creative Europe, the project form (called Part B, Technical Description) consists of 5 sections: Relevance, Quality of Content and Activities, Project Management and Dissemination, and Work Plan, plus a summary at the beginning. Each section has a number of sub-sections. All of them are important and all of them have a score when it comes to evaluation. Don't leave any of them out! Don't think that any of them are secondary!!

Other elements to be considered

And last but not least:

  • Attention to the Communication and Dissemination Plan, as I have already said, is absolutely necessary to fulfil the aims of the programme

  • Define the strategy for monitoring the project, its evaluation and indicators used to measure its progress

  • Specify the impact and long-term sustainability of the expected results

  • Submit a detailed work plan

  • Submit a detailed budget as well. But the budget will require a new article

There are other details that should not be overlooked; I have not said everything, but almost. You should therefore read the application form carefully and complete all the sections without skipping any or repeating anything.