Memo November 2006

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in November 2006

That was the month that was.

Rio contested
The
Fórum Cultural Mundial has proved to be a major attracting force for a couple of colleagues, whom BO would have loved to involve in the Buda Retreat. Besides the many programmes of the Fórum, these colleagues attended associated events like a world meeting of cultural networks, an  international meeting of foundations as well as the annual meeting of the international network of cultural diversity. In our European winter we will be reading reports from the Brazilian summer.

BO first innocently believed the Fórum to be the successor of Barcelona 04. Oh, no, that one was a Universal Forum of Cultures, to be succeeded in Mexican Monterrey 07. The antecedent of this year's Fórum was São Paolo 04.  

BO retreated
BO and its eleven guests from ten countries retreated to the castle district in Buda, into the house of the
Hungarian Culture Foundation, to discuss about cultural observatories. Which we did according to the preliminary outline.

Pondering about cultural observatories became a habit this year. Before the Buda Retreat the same happened in Belfast , Bilbao and Bologna. Our seminar revealed an even greater variety of aims, formats and functions of observatories than anticipated, drawing from the experiences of veteran Grenoble and Vienna, vigorous Culturescope and deceased Center for Arts and Culture, through young Cupore to blossoming initiatives in Sweden. Common traits and aspirations of cultural observatories were also highlighted: the conclusions will reflect convergence in diversity. 

The retreat was organised in conjuction with the LabforCulture, whose site will display the said conclusions soon.

The Commission will communicate
Members of the European Forum for the Arts and Heritage (EFAH) received substantial briefing at their annual general meeting in
Helsinki about the strategic prospects of culture in the EU, and specifically about the role of the "Communication" that the Commission promised to issue on culture in 2007. BO answered the call and our views can be read among the responses on display. 

As usual, eastern Europe is underrepresented among the hundred and umpteen contributors. A cursory browsing of the answers revealed however a number of western voices that emphasise the need for further opening to the east, especially through culture.

On European culture in Patras
Our response to the above mentioned call was the basis of BO contribution to the
conference in Patras, organised as part of the programme of this year's European Capital of Culture.

The 2762nd on digitisation
As always in November, culture ministers of the Union held their
council meeting in Brussels. This time they supervised the digitisation of culture, which is too broad a field and too much in motion for ordinary citizens to follow. Although one usually has the impression of the Union lagging behind the advances of technology and of private capital, the conclusions of this 2762nd meeting suggest definitive progress, both in what has happened and what is planned. Instead of risky megaprojects on the one hand, and dispersed national trials and errors on the other, determined coordination appears to be the case.

In the complicated issue of a European Digital Library the council adopted the vision of „a common multilingual access point to Europe's distributed digital cultural heritage, hospitable to all types of cultural material (texts, audiovisual, museum objects, archival records etc.) and targeted at delivering rapidly a critical mass of resources to the users". From the steps to follow, we quote two of what the ministers agreed to do:

  • to prepare roadmaps and incentives for cultural institutions to bring existing and newly digitised material into the European digital library from next year onwards;
  • and to encourage private content holders to make their copyrighted material searchable and accessible through the common European multilingual access point.

In these efforts the work of the Michael consortium, combining public and private bodies, promises to be of great help. Less clear is the role of Minerva, too vague for BO to condense into a few sentences for the busy readers of this memo. 

The 2762nd on the economy of culture in Europe
The council meeting greeted the KEA
study on the subject, drew conclusions and set tasks. Among others a policy document was promised for the spring and „the Presidency concluded that there was wide consensus between Member States on the importance of harmonised cultural statistics at European level that would allow a solid assessment of the economic impact of culture. In this respect there was a need for close cooperation between Member States on defining a clear methodological basis". BO was pleased to hear familiar language from such a high body.

BO had certain reservation at the news of such a huge task commissioned to an organisation with an office at arm's length from the EU institutions in Brussels. (See also Europalia.) This study, however, withstood BO prejudice, is highly recommended reading. It contains much more knowledge than the hazy figure of 2,6% contribution to the output of the European economy.  

On the west-east slope
A propos two items quoted from the 2762
nd, digits and statistics, here is what Eurostat disclosed in November: In the EU25, 52% of households had access to the internet during the first quarter of 2006  (compared to 48% a year earlier). Next to the old fifteen, seven countries from our region were included in the comparative table:

  • Estonia 46%
  • Hungary 32%
  • Latvia 42%
  • Lithuania 35%
  • Poland 36%
  • Slovakia 27%
  • Slovenia 54%

None of the seven went above the average of the EU15 (55,7%, although Slovenia got quite near); on the other hand, two old members, Greece and Portugal remain below the average of east and central Europe (38,9%).  

Left to the December memo
Reporting about Le Mans, the European festival project, and more...

Buda Retreat

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From left: Magdalena, Svante, Katalin, Vladimir, Lidia, Péter, Aimee, Alexandra, Geoffrey, Iuliana, Ritva, Judit, János; not in the picture: Iván, Jean-Pierre, Orsolya, Sándor, Veronika and Zsuzsa.