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Members' Activities 2007

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Tentative Paths of Cultural Policies Development

An international meeting of the expert groups gathered around the Compendium project, initiated about a decade ago by the Council of Europe and displaying cultural policy profiles for 39 European countries (including Canada), was recently hosted by the Croatian Ministry of Culture in Zagreb, Croatia.

A long path has been crossed since UNESCO's World Conference on cultural policies in Mexico, which took place some twenty-five years ago and which accentuated the significance cultural policies have in the development perspective. The period in between has been marked by profound political, economic and sociocultural changes in the world, and especially in Europe.

On the cultural level, these were expressed through a new understanding of the relationship between culture and development, or rather through stressing the cultural dimension of development, new intercultural communication (the creation of a so-called "civilisation of networks"), strengthening of the regional development and creative industries as well as the affirmation of new cultural identities.

Changes in the Approaches

Changes in the approaches to the cultural policies topic also occurred. The necessity of proposing and embarking on cultural policies development research was posed as one of the most important recommendations by the World Conference in Mexico. The subsequent project was conducted from 1991 to 1993 by a group of Croatian researches gathered in the global network of networks Culturelink, with its focal point in the Institute for International Relations in Zagreb. The aim of the research was to analyse cultural policies in the UNESCO member states at the end of the 20th century and define the changes and directions of cultural development. Today, some fifteen year later, the cultural policies structure assembled by this research team seems very simple: it embraced the general outlines of cultural policy, instruments (legislation, funding, administration), sectorial cultural policies, cultural industries, cultural development and international cooperation. This structure, despite its simplicity, offered constructive insight into the changes that were happening in the societies at the time, especially on the communicational level as provoked by the emerging new technologies and mediums of information dissemination and communication.

The research had shown that the cultural industries were intensively developing (for example in Latin America), followed by increasing decentralisation tendencies in cultural decision-making and coordination of cultural activities (mostly so through the establishment of new bodies and administrative structures and new local institutions in, for example, European countries), strengthening of private initiatives (for example in Asia), and strenuous efforts in regional cooperation (for example in Africa). The research was based on the collection and analysis of the responses to a questionnaire that was sent to Culturelink Network members worldwide, and on reviews of literature and relevant documents and statistical data obtained from sources such as the Human Development Report. All of these research findings and results presented a sustainable platform for the building of a comprehensive cultural policies database. The established structure, or the standardised methodology, did however pose restrictions for the researchers as every cultural policy was constructed individually as a separate but flexible entity.

Doubts about the Compendium

Taking over the abovementioned structure, the Compendium developed and further elaborated the approach to the research of cultural policies in the European context. Throughout the years of its existence, numerous features were added to the original structure of individual cultural policy country profiles, with special emphasis given to the trends and challenges that define cultural development. By providing additional components, the structure of the featured cultural policies became more complex and wide-ranging. Among others, issues of language, employment, social cohesion, media pluralism, cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue were placed at the top of the agenda. Given the major significance that topics of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue bear on the global level, the Compendium did not only include them in the cultural policy overview structure, but offered a database of Best Practices of Intercultural Dialogue, initiating a process of monitoring UNESCO's Convention of the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. In that sense, the Compendium sets new challenges for the cultural policies research, which is to concentrate on assessing the value and impact of UNESCO's Convention on national cultural policies, strategies and legislative frameworks.

One of the most important traits of the Compendium work is that it operates in the virtual sphere, where it is freely accessible to all interested in the field of cultural policies (www.culturalpolicies.net). As much as its virtual positioning better facilitates the Compendium's operations, it also creates certain hindrances; namely the evaluation of the project's success after a decade of continued operation is extremely hard to undertake, given the fact that a benchmarking for internet initiatives and projects is yet to be established, along with methodologies which will attempt to measure how the virtual is transferred to the actual sphere and with what consequences.

Also, the current Compendium operation involves the work of some forty expert researchers, which are mostly representatives of governmental bodies of member states, which to an extent raises the question of objectivity of the displayed profiles' content and analysis. It is precisely this lack of involvement from the civil society and non-governmental sector that represents one of the major objections to the Compendium work. These existing models of presentation of cultural policies form a largely closed circle of information exchange between governmental bodies and experts, which is in opposition to the basic tendencies promoted by the Mexican conference – an open and flexible debate on cultural policies. This opens the crucial question of the Compendium operation: who is it targeted by, or which audience is the communicational strategy geared towards?

This question was posed by Robert Palmer, Director of the Council of Europe's Culture and Cultural Heritage Directorate, at the recent Compendium meeting held in Zagreb. He underlined the importance of and the need for a new communicational strategy and a deeper revision of the Compendium's governance and management structure. Generally, issues of governance and management structures are common to all organizations of the new generation, or to cultural organizations operating in the virtual sphere (namely cultural portals and networks) as existing cultural policies are yet to address this issue and propose a suitable rationale. Hence, problems caused by non-existing cultural policies incentives are usually accompanied by difficulties in obtaining funding. Everything mentioned indicates that it is high time for cultural policies to respond to the challenges posed by the digital culture and its profound impact on promoting international cultural cooperation and intercultural dialogue in the world today. Consequently, despite its protected status of a Council of Europe's project, the Compendium is constantly exposed to ever-emerging changes and issues, as endured by all virtual-based cultural organization and services. The future will show how successfully the Compendium will solve the encountered challenges and rise to the constant need of adapting to wider circles of users, creating more concrete interaction between civil and governmental sectors.

The article reflects the postitions of Biserka Cvjetičanin, Director, Culturelink Network