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Belgium/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.11 New technologies and digitalisation in the arts and culture

Flemish Community

In the Flemish Community, "e-culture" is described as the phenomenon that information and computer technologies are thoroughly impacting on the way we produce and participate in culture. For a number of years, several institutions, networks and projects in the field of e-culture have been developing their work. A first step in this exercise was to develop a vision for the sector. The outcome is the publication "E-cultuur. Bouwstenen voor praktijk en beleid" [E-culture. Building stones for practice and policy.] (Debbie Esmans & Dirk Dewit, "E-cultuur. Bouwstenen voor praktijk en beleid". Leuven: Acco 2006.). In recent years, a growing number of cultural actors participate in a project of the IBBT (Interdisciplinair Instituut voor BreedBand Technologie, Interdisciplinary Institute for Broadband Technology). Projects such as "BOM-Vlaanderen" (Preservation and Access of Multimedia Data in Flanders) and its successor Archipel brought together a variety of media and cultural partners around the issues of sustainable access and archiving of audiovisual archives.

In a longer term, the "Waalse Krook" project in the Ghent city centre should be mentioned. This will become a new multi-media site includes a new location for the city library, a new Flemish center for digital archiving and retrieval, and a center for new media.

Other recent initiatives in cultural policy include support for the digitisation of public libraries, the issue of digital literacy and the digitisation of archives and heritage collections.

In November 2011 the Flemish support centres for the arts organised an e-culture fair, a showcase of innovative cross-over projects between culture (art, design, heritage), research and creative industries. It was part of the World Creativity Forum organised in Hasselt by Flanders DC.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

The internet, which we take so much for granted in 2014, represents several issues for culture. Let us look at the internet as a means of expression, a medium for cultural participation by various types of public, and finally the internet as a digital forum for heritage conservation.

Artistic platform

Since 2006, the French-speaking Community of Belgium has been running a policy of supporting digital arts as a way of recognising and encouraging its artists and operators: this is an initiative which gets artists exploring fresh horizons every day.

But this was not enough. The point is that a work is created in order to be seen, and the public, both foreign and Belgian alike, is entitled to have ready access to what its culture is doing.

This was the thinking behind the idea of a Digital Fortnight: digital art, often misunderstood, gets up close and personal with the public, with families, with professionals, with students and more besides.

In 2013, the appeal for projects issued as part of this event succeeded in doubling the number of activities supported. The 11 projects in Digital Fortnight 2013, spread right across the territory of the French-speaking Community of Belgium, illustrated the diversity of the digital arts in terms of its subject matter and the types of events.

Other tools have been put in place by the French-speaking Community of Belgium. To help with digital creation, Web Creation project development and production aid is designed to support authors and makers of Web documentaries and Web fiction, thereby encouraging narrative creation on the internet platform. For digital dissemination, ‘’, created at the initiative of the Cinema and Audio-visual Centre (CCA) in partnership with the Cinema Library and Media Library of the French-speaking Community of Belgium, is the French-speaking Community of Belgium’s showcase for the promotion of documentary films on the net. The purpose of this service is to make the cinematographic and TV heritage of the French-speaking Community of Belgium readily available for dissemination in the socio-cultural and educational sector.

Public participation in culture

Internet participation involves encouraging cultural expression made and/or disseminated by that medium, which is extensively consumed by young people but also used by adults.

This participation also involves remaining attentive to the appropriation of this tool by everyone. Accordingly, an ‘Internet fest’ – now rebranded ‘Digital week’ – has been staged every year since 2001; the objective is to show how much the French-speaking Community of Belgium, and more especially culture, is involved in the knowledge society. It also gives the organisers the chance to raise awareness and inform the public about new media and digital platforms which they may find useful in expressing their ideas.

New products affording the various sectors of the public better access to cultural practice or consumption are coming on stream every year. For example:

  • the SAMARCANDE search engine, a portal to the collective catalogues of the public libraries, which offers some new services such as automated search, finding a work via the French-speaking Community of Belgium, or sharing views and comments.
  • MARCO, the artwork portal of the French-speaking Community of Belgium and the Mariemont Royal Museum, which offers some innovative possibilities for advanced searches starting with an artwork, on its artist, an associated event, the institution holding it, etc.

The French-speaking Community of Belgium likewise supports associations devoted to thinking about digital cultural expression, such as PILEn, the Inter-professional Digital Publishing and Book Partnership.

Heritage conservation

The main thrust in the development of new technologies has been e-administration (the development of sites, portals, offices and on-line services) and the long-term preservation of cultural heritage: digitisation of the heritage in accordance with international standards and norms.

A computerised programme for access to the collections held by the museum institutions (AICIM) is under development.

Its internet site currently allows access to the database including part of the collections of the museums participating in AICIM (Computerised Access to the Collections of the Museum Institutions):

The French-speaking Community of Belgium’s PEP’s Plan for the Preservation and Exploitation of Heritage, adopted by the Government in October 2007, is a digitisation plan for the cultural and heritage funds and collections conserved in museums, archive centres, libraries, audio-visual institutions and so on: www.numé

The PEP’s plan has a twofold objective:

  1. to preserve cultural heritages by ensuring the safeguarding and survival of the collections in order to deliver access to digitised heritage in the short and medium term;
  2. to attach value to cultural heritages by ensuring interoperable access to the services and institutions of the French-speaking Community of Belgium, the general public, education networks and researchers.

To do this, the PEP’s plan relies on the tools offered by information and communication technologies. Its implementation falls within the remit of the General Delegation for Digitisation of Cultural Heritages.

When it comes to audio-visual matters, the French-speaking Community of Belgium has a stake in SONUMA (the Society for Digitisation and Commercialisation of Audio-visual Archives). SONUMA handles the preservation, digitisation and commercialisation of the TV and radio archives held by the RTBF (public service radio and TV) and the local public service TV stations.

German-speaking Community

The most important project alongside the re-launch of the internet portal of the German-speaking Community is the continual expansion of a virtual library network. This is an electronic network in which the Media Centre, school media libraries and certain public libraries work in cooperation. The items in the German-speaking Community's art collection are being stored digitally and made accessible online in the form of a virtual museum.

Various concrete cooperation projects are aimed at further developing the cultural and media landscape by network-linking the various players and encouraging exchanges of tried and tested practices.

In conjunction with the areas of teaching and youth, the communication of media skills is being furthered by e.g. school classes taking part in the European needy, support of the "Jumix" online youth magazine, offering courses, projects and events via the Media Centre and the Community's educational server (learnbox).

Chapter published: 02-12-2014

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