Reclaiming civic spaces:

Imagination, expression and creation for social change


27 – 29 September 2017

Vienna, Austria


The 22nd annual Grantmakers East Forum (GEF) will take place in Vienna, Austria from 27 to 29 September 2017, hosted by the ERSTE Stiftung.


Many European societies are facing increasingly complicated challenges to their economic organization, political legitimation, and social cohesion. Coincidentally – or consequently – we witness governments constricting those civic spaces available and necessary for healthy political debate, expression, and interaction. Restrictions on freedom of expression and association allied to targeted discrimination and attacks towards specific societal groups are threatening inclusive and open societies. This is a phenomenon present not only in those societies that suffered historically from repressive or autocratic governments but also in democracies with longstanding traditions of supporting and promoting universal rights and democratic norms. It is in this context that the Grantmakers East Forum (GEF) will explore the role of institutional philanthropy in seeking innovative approaches to reclaiming and reasserting civic spaces. It will do so from a starting point that such approaches require mutual dependence and solidarity among a wide range of different actors seeking positive societal change.


Throughout the programme, particular attention will be given to the role of arts and culture in responding to the different threats Europe is facing. Plenary sessions and breakout discussions will explore how arts and culture can be powerful tools to re-open spaces and re-capture opportunities for open and challenging debate and expression.  Conference sessions will look at a wide range of different spaces which, taken together comprise the “civic space” which is increasingly under pressure. Cultural production spaces, physical spaces, education spaces, social innovation spaces, technology and digital spaces, safe spaces, will all be examined to be understand the role of philanthropy in making them more robust.


GEF is an open and welcoming space, a venue for inspiration, imagination, and free expression. It is a forum for discussion and a vehicle to boost change, nourished by the variety of experiences brought by the individuals and organisations who take part in it. In such accommodating open space, the red thread of the discussion will be how imagination, creativity and expression can be the fuel for social change.


Beside plenaries and breakout sessions, the 2017 Forum will offer participants a programme with plenty of networking time and lots of opportunities to learn, reflect and connect with peers and experts. We will also organise pre-conference sessions (27th afternoon), where a number of discussions that started at the EFC annual conference in Warsaw will be taken forward. Finally the conference will conclude with site visits to interesting projects and initiatives in Vienna on the 29th.


If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact Ali Khan, Thematic Networks Manager, at


Interested in hosting…

...future editions of the Grantmakers East Forum? Want to strengthen and promote grantmaking initiatives in your region? Then please contact the GEF secretariat to express your interest and receive further criteria on how this could be possible.