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Sunday, 24 May 2015 09:16

Johanna Suo - CUMEDIAE

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I was recently at an invigorating gathering in Luxembourg called Trans-Atlantic Dialogues and was fortunate to run into a young woman called Johanna Suo. I have known Johanna for four years; we met in Berlin when she was speaking at the launch of the European Cultural Parliament Youth Network. Since then she has been involved with various European networks and I am always impressed by her clarity of vision and tenacity. She is young and energetic and, having worked at Innovation Culture Europe ( ), conceptualised a project about European identity for the Goethe-Institut Paris and is now working as Director of Development at Culture and Media Agency Europe ( She has extensive European knowledge. Recently she was awarded the Marshall Memorial Fellowship (aiming to strengthen Trans-Atlantic relations and understanding). I'm pleased to include her in my Women of Influence series. I managed to get a few minutes of her time to hear about one of her latest initiatives.

Venu: It's great to see you Johanna. Please tell me about your new job.

Johanna: So my new job is at CUMEDIAE Culture-Media Europe which is a cultural consultancy in Brussels. Even if it is a consultancy, it is a not-for-profit organisation. Its purpose is to help cultural actors across Europe with internationalisation. CUMEDIAE does different things. We can help people with finding partners, conceptualizing projects, finding experts through our network and we also work as experts ourselves. We are involved as partners in projects; one just finalised is about film literacy in the European school system. Another project is about empowerment of the creative industry in Mozambique.In these projects there are also several other organisations involved.

Venu: Why did this job attract you?

Johanna: I met the founder at a panel debate in Brussels last November. We were talking about how culture could be a bridge between civil society and politics. We started to empathise because I had done some research with the European Cultural Parliament Youth Network about the lack of digital platforms for culture in the EU. The CEO of CUMEDIAE was at that time in a development phase of a Wiki platform called Cultural Agora, so it was from there we started to talk about working together.

Venu: You've always been interested in working in Europe, why particularly Europe?

Johanna: It's not that I'm not interested in working outside Europe, though I have done a lot of work on European identity for a long time - for example, a travelling exhibition project, including research. I'm Swedish and I have been outside Sweden for much of my life; I feel almost more European than Swedish. As I have been spending time all over Europe I seem to feel better outside Sweden. It is now on a European level that I have my professional networks, so it feels natural.

Venu: You were living in London for a while, how did you find that?

Johanna: Interesting – it's so multi-cultural in a positive way. It's integrated, if for example you compare it to Paris, where I also lived, which is a much more segregated city. I am impressed by the creative industries in the UK.

Venu: You've seen the benefits of cultural diversity and respecting that - which is one of the things that Europe can offer to the rest of the world as a positive example.

Johanna: Yes.

Venu: In the context of Trans-Atlantic dialogue, what do you feel the USA can take from this in terms of respecting diversity? I ask this because less than 17% of citizens of the USA have passports, so any views of and about the rest of the world and its priorities must be beneficial?

Johanna: We are used to being together in Europe, many different countries and cultures, and when young people from the USA come here they can experience this diversity in a concentrated form. There are so many Pan-European couples in Europe; you are born in one country, study in another, work in a fourth, marry and settle down in a fifth. This is typically Europe, I think, and that brings a certain degree of knowledge and awareness about other countries, maybe more than elsewhere. The United States is vast and the cities are big; they may not experience this level of togetherness in their daily lives. It's important that they can see that it can work. They are many different origins represented in America, but they are all Americans - some have heritage from Europe.

Venu: I feel that some American cities are a little like the way you were describing Paris, rather segregated, for example you have Spanish areas and Chinese areas...

Johanna: Yes that's true.

Venu: People tend not to go to the homes of people from different cultures on a routine basis, so they don't get to understand the common values.

Johanna: Exactly.

Venu: In London we have been successful in breaking down some of those barriers; people routinely live cheek by jowl and don't only meet in the professional sphere where policy rules.

Johanna: Maybe that can serve as inspiration.

Venu: Do you think they make such an effort to learn about all the individual cultures they have?

Johanna: Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, and other South American countries - they should do more, exactly. In the US everything has a history of being foreigners; everyone is a foreigner. What is a real American? The Native Americans...?

Venu: Once you have an American passport you are considered American. In Europe sometimes this is not so. Is there a message that you can give to young people from the USA?

Johanna: To never be passive, to engage, not to give up hope because of hopeless politicians, to be active citizens. To be open to others and other cultures. Culture can serve as a very good tool for that – you can be an active citizen through culture and spread your enthusiasm and ideas. What scares me the most is that people will give up being active. They begin to believe that problems will never be solved, that the situation is hopeless, then they opt out when they believe no one will ever listen or they can never have an impact on things. It's a scary thought. Never give up!

Speaking about culture as a tool, I would like to link back to the Wiki platform, Cultural Agora, aiming to boost cross border collaboration and the creative industries. I mentioned that we did some research on the Digital European Capital of Culture within the European Cultural Parliament and on youth cultural platforms with the European Cultural Parliament Youth Network - well CUMEDIAE (and its founder, Ignasi Guardans) have developed this Pan-European Wiki platform which is multi-lingual. The interphase of the Culture Agora is already in French, German, Spanish and English and Dutch. More translations are planned - for example Arabic. The geographical scope of the platform is wider Europe and Northern Mediterranean; we aim at boosting the exchange between Europe and North Africa. Agora can be the virtual square for international visibility, both for small and big cultural actors. What is good for the small ones is that the usage of it is free access and, with the multi-lingual interphase and embedded translator, people will understand one another. So for example, if you are from Azerbaijan you can upload content in Azerbaijani and then this is translated with the embedded tool; it facilitates interaction for those with fewer resources.

Agora  can really be the virtual square for the creative industries in Europe; we hope that the platform inspires to cross-disciplinary inspiration, empowers professionals and students with an overview on implemented projects, on-going projects, upcoming projects as well as with events, jobs and much more.

A unique aspect of this platform is its search filters; you can search on interest areas in the same way you search for a holiday on a travel agent's website. For example, you can search for an opera festival in a certain country and during a specific time. Or you can search for creative economy related events or reports; you can receive weekly alerts on your choices directly to your inbox.

The platform is dynamic and in constant development. The key is that it serves those working in culture and the creative industries. Thanks to deadline filters we make sure that nothing outdated can appear. I hope for as many as possible visits and uses of the platform - it's at

Venu: Wonderful Johanna, thank you very much for telling me about this latest initiative and for sharing your passion for digital exchange.

Venu Dhupa

Venu Dhupa has just completed nearly three years work with Creative Scotland as Director of Creative Development as part of the senior start-up team. Her responsibilities included the Arts, a number of Investment Programmes and International Strategy and Engagement. Prior to working at Creative Scotland she was working as a consultant and had her own publishing company.

Former employment has been: World-wide Director of Arts for the British Council where she led and completed the first international consultation/review in 25 years on the Council's global arts strategy; Director of Creative Innovation at the Southbank Centre, London (Europe's largest cultural centre). The Creative Innovation unit was imagined as a tool for introducing new partners to the organisation as well as an organisational development tool; Fellowship Director at The UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) where she managed a portfolio valued at £13million; Chief Executive at the Nottingham Playhouse; and Producer (Mobile Touring) at the Royal National Theatre.
She was the inaugural Chair of the East Midlands Cultural Consortium appointed by the Secretary of State at the Department of Culture Media and Sport. Her career history has always balanced creative exploration and strategy with implementation and delivery. This has been an important balance in developing a judgement for accountability with risk. Her motivation remains good customer service, good value and positive social change and these continue to drive her as an activist.

She is or has been a Trustee of the Theatres Trust, a Member of University College London's Heritage Committee, the external examiner for UEA MA in Creative Entrepreneurship; a Governor of Guildford Conservatoire, a Council Member of Loughborough University, a Member of the Institute of Ideas and a Member of the European Cultural Parliament. She is a patron of the Asha Foundation. She has been awarded the prestigious National Asian Woman of Achievement Award for her contribution to the Arts and Culture.


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