Report of the Work Group on "Cultures of Electronic Networks"
"We should build on European diversity through networking (pooling resources, expertise, using technologies) to increase the competitiveness of the European audiovisual industry."
Spyros Pappas, Director General, DGX, European Commission
Digital media will be at the heart of Europe's future prosperity. Economic growth will depend on the existence of a new media culture which is innovative, diverse, inclusive and challenging.
Cultural activity in digital media is driving innovation at all levels, with a constant movement of skills, ideas, individuals and infrastructures across different sectors. Innovative market activity can only be upheld insofar as the "non-profit" creative research it depends on is fostered on a permanent, continuous basis, and sufficient fluidity is encouraged between the commercial and "non-profit" sectors.
A new media culture is emerging in Europe – and this implies not only the countries of the European Union, but Europe as a whole. New practices in education, art, popular culture, the social sciences, and economic and industrial development are being fostered in independent centres of innovation in the arts and media, as well as in microenterprises. These agencies understand that technology is not culturally neutral. They are active in the public domain and engaged in fundamental research into the fast-changing structures that are the foundation of European societies: Development, education, employment, economy, law, distribution, and human rights. Technology is culture.
The talented and fleet footed organisations which comprise this network of innovation are small and fledgling. They straddle traditional boundaries and explore the creative spaces between different sectors and media forms.
Across Europe they constitute a dynamic network which is one of the true engines of the establishment of a cultural and social framework for the information society in Europe.
This report makes the case that European institutions need to develop policies which are in touch with the dynamics of digital practice. In the final section it makes specific recommendations for action to the European Commission.
2. MAKING USE OF MICRO ENTERPRISES AND CENTRES OF INNOVATION
Presentations to the working group demonstrated that an informal network of independent artists and producers, microenterprises and organisations driving creative innovation in media culture already exists in Europe.
The characteristics of the networks and centres of innovation represented in Linz include:
A participatory practice encouraging expression and participation as motors of cultural diversity (age, language, ethnic identity, gender, economic status, etc.) and catalysts for social cohesion in a multicultural Europe.
A socio-economic practice in which new partnerships are created between industry, government, civil society, art
Experimentation with the cultural and educational potential of new technologies and an emergent educational practice
that anticipates job opportunities and creates new professional job profiles.
Development of structures to facilitate and encourage the active participation of citizens in the Information society
through Community Media Centres.
Transnational partnerships and the active promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity, fostering communication and understanding in the wider Europe.
The role and practice of these organisations is covered in greater depth in The Amsterdam Agenda, a document produced during the "Towards a New Media Culture: From Practice to Policy" Conference in Rotterdam and Amsterdam in 1997 held under the Dutch presidency. This conference identified a number of areas (innovation, education, social quality) in which media culture is already playing a growing role. The Amsterdam Agenda makes a series of concrete recommendations to national and international governments for fostering this practice.
In order to strengthen collaboration between Centres of Innovation, we propose the construction of a European Cultural Backbone, that will not only consist of technical infrastructure, but will also be a social and cultural framework. Informal networking and one-off meetings are not adequate to support a growing field of research and practice which will make a very significant contribution to the digital media economy in Europe.
A technical infrastructure for cultural activity needs to be implemented along the same lines as the well-established frameworks of the scientific and academic networks. This requires public access to bandwidth and tools, and server capacity.
For an effective exchange of expertise and training, an open, online communication environment is required. Other means of distributing information and knowledge, including publications, newsletters and workshops should also be developed. Such facilities must cater to the multilingual reality of Europe through the provision of adequate software, design and translation.
To be effective, culture as much as science requires its domains of primary research, which need to be supported by appropriate environments and resources (e.g. independent research laboratories for media art).
Sustaining the public sphere is an essential factor in fostering an innovative European media culture. This means providing participatory public access to networks and media tools, and privileging public content, by developing the digital equivalents of public libraries and museums, as distinct from privately owned data bases and networks. This is the basis for the democratic development of the Information Society.
4. RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
The work and activities of cultural networks, artists and creative professionals can play a vital role in supporting the audio-visual and research programmes of European Commission. The working group made three sets of recommendations of ways in which the European Commission might actively support and invest in this field of activity.
4.1 Audio Visual Policy and the Media Programme
The working group welcomed the report and conclusions of the European Audio Visual Conference, held in Birmingham in April 1998 under the British presidency, but was concerned that the real needs of the "new" media sector were not fully represented or discussed. The Working Group recommends that the Commission should:
Extend and expand the Media Programme's support for research, development and training in digital media
Or establish a new programme tailored to the requirements of new media
Invest in primary research by artists and creative professionals
Develop appropriate forms of support for microenterprises and small organisations
Consult this sector in the development of policy and programmes through bodies like the Consultative
Committee on Audio Visual Policy proposed by Commissioner Oreja at the Birmingham Conference.
4.2 Research programmes - 5th Framework
The i3 programme recognises the contribution of artists and designers to ICT research programmes involving social scientists and computer scientists, to develop new tools for a more cohesive, participatory society. Through the themes of inhabited information spaces and connected communities, this profoundly human-centred ICT research is giving rise to valuable new models for collaborative, cross-disciplinary work.
We acknowledge the initial difficulties of building cross-disciplinary partnerships, and are sure that the current detailed evaluations will offer effective models for future collaborations under the 5th Framework.
Applications-driven collaborations involving artists are having a strong impact on technological development processes, with immediately discernible benefits to the market. These projects reveal an urgent need to nurture open arenas for cross-disciplinary experimentation. Without such arenas, artistic energies which are too systematically harnessed to market imperatives are likely to subside, and no longer constitute the vital creative resource needed by a dynamic society.
There is a need for more flexible policy and funding lines to support relays of networked small structures, which are playing an irreplaceable role in ICT-based cultural activity. Without these relays, ICT infrastructure developments currently being engineered by European industry, geared towards new visions of citizenship via a more participatory public, will remain barren.
4.3 General policy priorities
Policies need to recognise the participatory and democratic potentials of the new media. Citizens should not only be addressed as consumers but as active participants in the Information Society.
Diversity is a recognised hallmark and asset of European culture; Consequently, this diversity needs to be structurally reflected by European cultural policy. Current funding mechanisms must be diversified and made more flexible, to deal with rapidly changing lifestyles and forms of cultural expression.
5. NEXT STEPS
The collaboration and informal networking of organisations and institutions represented in the Working Group has been facilitated by conferences and seminars organised by the Commission and the Council of Europe. This process will continue, supported by the Austrian and Dutch governments, through a meeting of European Centres of Innovation in early 1999 in Vienna.
The network could serve as a platform of expertise to participate in further implementation of policy developments.
The network will continue.