‘Reaching added value for culture and inclusive society through integrating e-culture and digitalisation in all aspects of the cultural practice’ is one of the ten strategic priorities of the Flemish Government for Culture in the period 2014-2019. By prioritizing digitalisation, the Minister of Culture wishes to safeguard the long term preservation and accessibility of cultural products such as books, art works, films and cultural heritage. The minister wants to stimulate cultural institutions to engage strategically with the digital shift in order to create value for society in a contemporary way. Also, he wishes to stimulate citizens to use the available digital tools and networks and position culture as an integral part of a digital vital society by stimulating and facilitating digital entrepreneurship in this field. The digital challenges demand support in the integral process of production, conservation, presentation and participation.
Self-evidently, in the development of this policy plan, the cultural policy makers connect to their counterparts in the fields of innovation. The Minister also reaches out to different kinds of cultural actors involved in innovation and the cultural field to collaborate in the operationalization of the policy, such as Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship, universities, the Social Innovation Factory, etc… The focus of these collaborations is to establish a vocabulary that is shared between culture and innovation, which allows for initiatives (projects, …) to target shared goals. A noteworthy initiative in this context is De Krook in the city of Ghent. This initiative of the city, the university of Ghent and Imec is a hub for knowledge, culture and innovation. It holds the public library of the city (in a fully new and up-to-date infrastructure) and several research and development centres, focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation in cultural domains.
The following cultural institutions also foster innovation by providing specific services to the cultural organisations. Besides this, every cultural institution incorporates digital processes in its own cultural practice. Hence this list is not exhaustive in describing the current situation:
The Flemish government facilitates the sustainable, digital preservation and dissemination of cultural goods for example by financing VIAA, the Flemish institute for digital archiving. VIAA is in the process of digitalizing the audiovisual archives of the public broadcaster (VRT), commercial and regional television stations, cultural heritage institutions and audiovisual materials of organisations in the performing arts field. Making digital heritage accessible to the public is a second prime goal of VIAA, with a current emphasis on education.
PACKED is the Centre of Expertise in Digital Heritage, focusing the development of knowledge, experience and expertise regarding digitisation and digital archiving, and in spreading the acquired knowledge amongst cultural actors. PACKED stimulates the take up of open data, sustainable management of digital data (creation, accessibility, preservation), persistent identification, by developing tools, collaborating on projects and advising cultural institutions. So far PACKED has developed activities in the field of cultural heritage and arts (related to archiving). The centre of expertise aims to align its activities with institutes and projects that develop similar activities outside the field of cultural heritage, e.g. university libraries and broadcasting corporations. PACKED vzw embeds its activities not only within the context of Flanders and Brussels, but evidently also within Belgium, Europe and on a larger international scale. Working on a digital society is a cross-regional matter per definition.
Since 2016, Cultuurconnect is the Flemish support centre for the network of Flemish libraries and cultural centres and is commissioned with the task to support these organisations in their responses to societal transitions. Currently the challenge of digitalization is top priority. It initiates experiments and projects in digital innovation in the fields of cultural dissemination, participation, community building, diversity etc. One of the projects of Cultuurconnect is the development of one united Library System for all Flemish libraries.
Publiq – the recent merger of Cultuurnet Vlaanderen and CJP (Cultural Youth Passport) is specialized in cultural marketing and communication. Their ambition is to make (more) people (more) enthusiastic for (more) culture. The UiT database is the heart of the organization. It is the central hub where all information on leisure activities in Flanders is entered, gathered and redistributed. This wealth of information is not only accessible through the calendars of local governments, but also through our own popular website UiTinVlaanderen. Gathering and sharing information is only a first step in a wider activating mission. Publiq offers local governments within the UiT network a useful set of tools with which they can develop policies to encourage public participation. One excellent example is the Flemish leisure card UiTPAS. This smart card combines attractive benefits for all cardholders with discounts for people with low or fixed incomes. In the meantime, UitPAS is registering valuable and anonymous real-time data on the participation patterns and preferences of UiTPAS users.
The Flemish Cultural policy on digitalisation and new technologies is in full development. In winter 2017, the government will launch a new policy paper.
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.
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, ‘laplateforme.be’, 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.
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): www.aicim.be.
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: http://www.numeriques.be/.
The PEP’s plan has a twofold objective:
- 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;
- 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.
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).