CultureMap - Reflections and Remarks
The rapid changes taking place in the field of digital culture in recent years are surveyed in the latest study by the European Commission, published at the beginning of March 2010 under the name of CultureMap, with the lengthy subtitle of 'Mapping and evaluating existing platforms (websites) within the cultural sector aimed at stimulating debate and cross-border exchange of matters concerning European culture'. At the end of the past and the beginning of this century, experts have been highlighting digital culture as a product of complex interactions (Gere, 2002), an earthquake in culture (Le Glatin, 2007), a new prospect of intercultural communication (Dyens, 2008), and emphasizing the importance of networks and portals in all of these aspects. This study for the first time encompasses websites in the field of culture in an array of new and interesting analyses, recommendations and results, which require a broader discussion.
The goals of this study, commissioned by the European Commission and conducted by empirica GmbH from Germany, with P.A.U. Education and IBK Remscheid as partners, were the mapping and analysis of existing platforms/websites in Europe, which focus on the exchange of information and debate on culture, including opinions on the European project. The study also aimed to formulate recommendations regarding the stimulation of the use of the Internet as a means of information exchange and discussion at the European level, as well as concerning the use of cross-border and cross-sector exchange/debate in the field of culture and artistic expression.
Since, as remarked in the introduction, many different cultural organizations and projects have established websites for the exchange of information and dialogue in culture, the European Commission considers 'the time (is) ripe to map the existing online spaces for debate on cultural issues and on the European project' among cultural workers, artists, managers of cultural organizations, researchers, etc. and the broader public. It is possible to expect that virtual spaces and debates will further contribute to the citizens' understanding of what European culture is and what its rich cultural diversity and common cultural heritage represents, and that they will promote intercultural dialogue and the development of mutual understanding.
However, it is evident from this study that the term 'European culture' encompasses 27 EU member states, plus three further countries (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), which means that a significant number of European countries have been excluded from 'European culture', and thus from European art, artists, cultural organizations and those working in them, as well as from the 'European market for culture', which is also discussed in the study.
The study analyzed 388 cultural platforms (websites). In some places the syntagma 'websites and platforms' is used, in others 'cultural portals and websites', which includes networks, making the categorization ambiguous. The study is based on criteria specifying the requirement that included websites be of a European dimension (covering several countries), that they be functional and fulfil more complex tasks than the mere presentation of information, and that they be interactive (providing for communication via blogs, forums and other ways of user input).
Even though one of the inclusion criteria was the interactivity of cultural websites, the analysis showed that 53% of the 388 websites do not offer their users/visitors possibilities of contribution of content to the website, i.e. of active participation in the creation of information and in the development of more complex forms of interactivity. In a large number of cases, the users are still limited to passive reception of information, and the study concludes that 'Web 2.0 has not yet arrived in the cultural scene' (forum, blog, chat, Wiki, etc., all under 20%). Cultural policy websites belong to the slowest changing ones (34%), which once more testifies to the fact that digital culture does not find its place in cultural policies, and that a new configuration of cultural policies is needed to include the already rather broad field of digital culture more prominently in cultural policy, but also in other public policies (educational, social).
Networks under an umbrella portal?
The European Agenda for Culture highlights the importance of 'pursuing a structured dialogue with the cultural sector', which should provide a framework for the permanent exchange of opinions and best practices. The study of the websites brings an array of recommendations on the development and the promotion of online access to 'European culture', that is to the culture represented by 27+3 countries. In addition to this very arguable designation, other questions arise. The concluding remarks speak of a 'jungle' of cultural websites in Europe, and a need of establishing a 'central access point' to the multitude of information and different types of services already available on the Internet for all cultural disciplines. 'This could take the format of a European umbrella portal'. Such an umbrella portal would provide a comprehensive structure within the framework of which existing cultural websites and portals would be organised, offering its visitors/users a transparency of needed orientation or navigation support, selection and direct access. The working title of this central access point is 'CulturEurope', and the study specifies the steps to be taken in the realization of this challenge, from the use of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) to the technical implementation.
It seems, that by mapping the websites/platforms, the nature of networks, as well as that of portals, has been neglected. We do not have a 'jungle' at hands, but rather the virtual world is evolving in a thousand unpredictable ways. Networks represent a dynamic system of communication, they bring new ideas and working methods to international relations, based on decentralization and non-institutionalization, i.e. on the nonexistence of closed structures. Through their openness, their non-hierarchical and horizontal character, and their flexibility, networks foster the exchange of different cultural values, promote cultural diversity and facilitate intercultural dialogue. They do not represent the 'services sector' for the users/visitors, as stated in the study conclusions, but are an authentic expression of cultural change and a new approach to cultural diversity. Networks come into existence and cease to exist (even such prominent ones as CIRCLE, the largest European cultural network, which disappeared quietly), but no umbrella portal will save them from a fragile financial situation, nor will a proposed 'superproject' dominate the scene.
From the definition of 'European culture' (27+3) to the central access point (umbrella portal), the fact remains that this study represents a static approach to a rapidly changing, dynamic virtual world.
Director, Culturelink Network
The study's main findings and conclusions are available here.