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Performing Europe: Cultural Politics, Actors and Visitors at a European Festival

Dario Verderame

In light of the centrifugal forces that currently threaten its survival, the European project seems to need to rethink its symbolic and cultural infrastructure more than ever. From the 1970s onwards, culture (initially under a common cultural heritage label) and forms of political symbolism (a European flag, anthem. motto etc.) have been used to increase popular support for European integration. The point is that, in the context of the current legitimacy crisis, the 'ground bass', by which the EU has made itself a taken-for-granted social reality, is no longer effective. As emphasized by McNamara, "new cultural repertoires will need to arise to shape the meaning attached to the EU". Once again, culture has been invoked as being the 'trump card in the social deck' for dealing with the legitimacy crisis. But where does this new cultural repertoire originate? The paper tries to answer this question through a case study. Specifically, the subject of my analysis is the 2015 edition of Festival of Europe, a biennial event dedicated to European themes held in the city of Florence (Italy). I focus on three issues related to this case study: a) the institutional design of the festival, b) ideas of Europe performed by artists and cultural actors, c) visitor motivations and benefits in attending festival events. The paper explains the strengths and weaknesses of this manifestation and aims to provide evidence-based reflections on how European-centered cultural repertoires are developed and experienced within a local context.

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