Digitisation has had a profound impact on the functioning of the cultural field in Flanders and Brussels. It has especially received attention in relation to sectors where new technologies have disrupted the traditional functioning of value chains, such as the music and the audiovisual sector (see resp. 3.5.3 and 3.5.4). When summarising the debate on digitisation and cultural sectors, we can roughly discern the following issues:
- An intensifying attention economy: the creation and dissemination of culture has been drastically democratized thanks to the possibilities of digital technologies. This ensures that many providers of culture are active in the digital domain, each demanding attention for their cultural practice.
- A value gap between the providers of digital technologies and the many (cultural) players who use them. Those providers (such as big tech companies) can generate large revenues through the long tail of individual actions in the digital domain (revenues that do not flow proportionally to those cultural players) and develop into power factors with a problematic relationship to existing ethical and legal frameworks.
- Inequality in digital skills: the way in which cultural practices accumulate meaning and significance can strongly depend on the extent to which digital technologies are used to create and disseminate those cultural practices. Building digital skills is therefore an important part of the workings and professionalization of players in the cultural field.
- (A lack of) digital maturity: the choice for digital technology is not always easy and innocent in a context where, on the one hand, there is an almost unlimited supply of digital technology that promises solutions to all kinds of problems and, on the other hand, technological companies have created monopolies of dubious size. A widely supported vision of how such choices can be deliberately made, is still largely lacking in the cultural field.
Digitisation is a recurring topic in policy statements of consecutive ministers of Culture. In previous terms, Joke Schauvliege (2009-2014) and Sven Gatz (2014-209) have devoted strategic policy goals to this subject. Gatz also published a vision memorandum on “cultural policy in the digital era” (2018). Both Schauvliege and Gatz advocated a thorough digitisation of cultural sectors and linked them with goals such as achieving innovation, conserving cultural heritage, and enhancing participation to the cultural offer. These statements show a concern with the intensifying attention economy and the issue of digital skills. In stressing the importance of digital transformation and innovation, however, they largely ignored the issues of digital maturity and the value gap between tech players and the cultural field.
Similar to his predecessors, current minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024) — who is also minister of ICT — stresses the need for digital transformation and innovation. Intermediary organisations memoo, Cultuurconnect, and publiq — all funded by the Flemish government — are chosen as partners in implementing this.
Memoo supports the digital archive operations of cultural, media and government organisations (e.g. by digitizing and managing archive content and sharing expertise on this subject; see also 3.1) and is the recent merger of three non-profit organisations (Lukas, PACKED, and VIAA) that each provided different digital services to the cultural field.
The services, workshops, research projects, and network of Cultuurconnect are focused on tackling the digital challenges of public libraries, culture centres, and community centres. One of their projects is the development of a single digital library system throughout Flanders (which started under Gatz, see also 3.2). The organisation was formed in 2016 through the merging of Bibnet and Locus. Whereas the latter provided support for local cultural policy in general, the focus of Cultuurconnect is primarily restricted to digital issues.
Publiq aims to stimulate participation to cultural and other leisure time activities through communication, marketing and information services. Their services include an online database for announcing events and managing electronic event passes (see also 6.1). Publiq is the merger of the former Cultuurnet Vlaanderen and CJP (Cultural Youth Passport).
 For a summary of the debate on digitisation and the arts in Flanders and Brussels, see Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 133-137.