Culturesmali : a new Malian cultural operators database

Southplanet, new developments : pooling cultural information

On 20 September 2011, Hamane Niang, Malian Minister of Culture, and Giacomo Durazzo, Head of the European Delegation to Mali, inaugurated the new Malian cultural portal, [click here]. At the same time, they launched the PADESC (Economic and Social Development of Culture Support Programme) website, which is part of the third Cultural Sector Support Programme implemented under the auspices of Malian-European Union cooperation. This marked the latest step forward in structuring cultural information in Africa.

Culturesmali.net (click here] is the fruit of the collaboration between the PADESC, which coordinated on-the-ground surveys of cultural operators in all the participant countries, and Africultures, architect of the Southplanet database. This international database already contained a wealth of information on Malian artists and their productions, which was added to here. Arts professionals were also contacted individually by email to complete their data via a system of specially-developed forms. Out of respect for discretion, they were also asked to indicate whether or not they wished to feature in the database.
Thanks to the PADESC study, a considerable number of cultural operators were added to the database ; Culturesmali.net thus now features over a thousand Malian organizations, nearly a thousand artists, groups and companies, some thirty festivals, 250 films, 250 books, etc.
The Cultures.mali database enables the PADESC to contact the country’s cultural operators directly with regard to its information and consultation actions on the country’s cultural policy. It also enables them to conduct polls on specific issues.
Being listed on Culturesmali.net allows artists, groups and companies to be contacted by email, to present their biographies, photos, and provide links for all their works and cultural events they participate in, news dispatches concerning them, etc. The same goes for cultural organizations, which can also present their activities.
Cultural listings and a news thread complete the data on the site, making Culturesmali.net a complete promotions tool for Malian culture.
Networking services and promotions tools (website kits, creation of group email recipients, etc.) will soon be developed, enabling artists and cultural organizations to manage their promotions better.
The motivation for cultural players
A host of initiatives are emerging, inviting culture players to supply their data. They cannot always meet this barrage of requests. A unique point of reference is necessary, but it has to be recognized as such.
For this to be the case, cultural players need to consider Southplanet as the place to be. There are plenty of convincing arguments. The database’s excellent referencing on Google means that its files feature in the top results of every search : Southplanet has achieved a level of importance that makes it a must, but there is still a lot to be done.
Southplanet records dozens of new entries per day on specially designed self-presentation and update forms. Operators create and update their files and an Africultures employee validates the new data. This procedure guarantees the seriousness of the information on line and avoids any inappropriateness.
But what if Africultures ceased to exist ? As the database is owner-free, it would automatically be transferred to a more stable partner operator capable of perpetuating it, preferably based in a country of the South.
Furthermore, Southplanet can assist in creating paper-free funding applications to national and international bodies, thereby avoiding repeatedly sending presentations and entering permanent data. This would also encourage operators to take their communications and promotions in hand via a coherent framework that enables all relevant searches.
A tool is currently being developed for festivals, which, thanks to the database, will dispose of Internet pages devoted specially to their programmes and the preparation of their catalogues. These two services will help them economize efficiently and avoid delays in their publications
Creating networks to boost motivation
At present, the various professions and activities often operate in isolation, without coherent information at their disposal, and without the possibility of exchanging beyond the few networks that have managed to constitute themselves.
Having access to information and to professional exchanges in one’s field is extremely advantageous.
With the Southplanet project, once listed, it is possible to benefit from pages devoted to one’s activity and which include :
an address book of contacts ;
professional information (a professional dispatches thread, listings of cultural events and training programmes, an address book of contacts by country, calls for proposals) ;
the exchange of advice and good practices (a professional forum, adapted documents) ;
services (job offers and applications, classified ads, partnership requests, efforts to create synergies).
Users will also have the possibility of subscribing to its professional news threads and forums, of creating them, of archiving their contacts and thereby personalizing their professional space where they will also be able to make documents available to web surfers in general or to professionals via a special access code.
National cultural portals in different countries
Following a series of in-depth surveys carried out on the ground throughout Burkina Faso, the cultural portal [click here] has been set up, based on the Southplanet platform. It is due to be officially launched by the Burkinabè authorities in October 2011, in conjunction with the publication of a national cultural directory compiled from the same database. This guide is a print edition, but the Internet site continues to be updated daily. With 1 300 artists/professionals, 225 cultural organizations, some 400 films, 450 books, approximately 40 festivals, etc. burkinacultures.net offers an almost exhaustive panorama of Burkina Faso’s cultural life.
Considerable spadework has also been carried out in Cameroon, where a team of researchers is being constituted across the country’s different artistic disciplines and towns. Funding has been requested for this from the Unesco Cultural Diversity Fund. The specificity of the future KamerCultures site resides in its graphics, which have been designed by Cameroonian visual and graphic artists. A competition was indeed launched in the country, thanks to backing from the MTN Foundation and MAM Gallery. Artists were invited to propose different « backdrops » for the site, each representing an artistic discipline or column. The aim was to give the site a specific visual identity which immediately presents Cameroon and its artists in a favourable light.
The three winners – Dejulius Moyopo (1 st prize), Armand-Tierry Nguélé, aka « Arthie » (2nd prize) and Louis Épée Mbounja, aka « Louisépée » (3rd prize) – were chosen by a seven-strong jury. Their work was presented to the public at the prize-giving ceremony, held at the MAM Gallery in Douala. Each of their three graphic interfaces will be proposed to site users, who will be able to choose their favourite for their future net browsing.
The site gained moral backing from the Cameroonian Ministry of Culture and may become a partner of the « Shoot in Cameroon » project in favour of the film industry announced by the Minister Ama Tutu Muna at Cannes in May 2011.
Another portal is currently in preparation in Niger, for which, like with Cameroon, a local operator has submitted a funding request to the Unesco Cultural Diversity Fund. An application has also been submitted to the ACPCultures call for projects to facilitate the realization of 22 other portals, half of which are in English-speaking countries, to balance the database in this respect, and in partnership with existing cultural networks in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific ; their logos feature on the Southplanete.net site, notably Arterial Network, the most important cultural sector network in Africa.
Multiplying the national portals to launch the tool
Culturesmali is another step forward in affirming the Southplanet venture conceived of by Africultures in liaison with an array of international partners : namely a cultural portal at the service not only of the artists and cultural operators of the South, but also all those who work or who are interested in this sector.
Ministers of Culture admit that they don’t know their cultural milieus or don’t have reliable data about them. Artists and managers complain about not being visible on the Internet. All the international conferences on culture as a factor of development clamour for a unifying information tool that is a single reference point giving artists of the South the same Internet visibility as those in the North.
Developed over the past ten years by Africultures, Southplanet is an owner-free database that any Internet operator can use, and which is managed in synergy by all the cultural players. On the site, anyone can directly create and modify their pages, of which they become the owner, thereby managing their own communications. Today there are thus almost 23 000 artists and professionals listed, and over 6 000 cultural organizations, 22 000 events, 11 500 films, 10 000 books, 2 000 music albums, 900 shows, etc. 7 500 news dispatches have been published. At present, Southplanet is the largest international database. Sudplanète/Southplanet’s new trilingual interface SPLA.PRO enables highly specialized searches to help finding the information required.
Backing from local European delegations, cultural cooperation organizations, cultural backing programmes and international organizations is essential : this makes it possible to fund the surveys on the ground that are essential for identifying and listing all the artists, professionals and cultural operators in order to create a quasi-exhaustive database and to make the tool operational from the start.
This launch phase is determinant in the cultural milieu’s appropriating of this tool, of artists or their managers’ using the files for their promotions. The advanced search engine makes it possible to access lists of artists that are most useful to cultural events organizers. It is thus essential that artists update their information. To do so, user-friendly forms are at their disposal, which are currently being entirely redesigned to make them as simple as possible.
The tendency today is to create a synergy between operators in order to work together to create a portal that is a real reference point for all. It is time to do away with the duplication of efforts ; a general database will help connect everyone in a single network. It is time to stop launching unsustainable projects here and there : a single, common, federating, and owner-free tool is necessary. The aim here is indeed to equip Southplanet with networking services that will allow this project to be the real professional tool that cultural players need for their communications, promotions, their visibility before both local and international audiences, and their development thanks to the circulation of their works.
A tool at the service of all
All other Internet sites can use Southplanet’s data by creating links, by adopting the database’s search engines, or by featuring the data they wish via a white label access system.
At present, the database features all artistic disciplines and is open to all artists, professionals, groups, cultural venues, organizations and public or private operators.
Navigation on Southplanet is possible today in French, English and Portuguese. Spanish and Arabic will be added as soon as possible, followed by other languages. The data is mainly published in English and French, but a whole range of languages can already be found on Southplanet.
The Southplanet venture was initially financed by a grant from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the frameworks of its support programme to cultural diversity. The database was consolidated thanks to Africultures’ participation in the management unit of the UE-ACP support programme to ACP cultural industries. Southplanet thus usefully served as a source of information and to seek partners, and for the polls and studies carried out by the ACP countries’ Cultural Observatory. As Africultures is part of the Unesco Global Alliance (which prefigured the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity), the latter officially recommends being listed on it and its usage. The OIF’s (International Organization of Francophonia) information superhighway fund backed and continues to back the creation of websites based on the Southplanet platform, notably Africinfo, Africiné, Afrilivres, and AfriBD.
Born out of Africultures’ grassroots experience, Southplanet is thus recognized and backed by national and international organizations.
The stakes of a coherent pooling of information
At a time when the Internet is being organized into major reference portals, it is crucial not to multiply initiatives, but to work together, in respect of each and everyone’s undertakings, on a common project that enables searches and the very necessary promotions.
The volume of data is such that this unique and unifying tool will not be possible without the mobilization and the control of the very people in possession of their own information : the artists, operators and organizations.
The extent to which such a database can help overcome the absence of the statistical information available to cultural observatories and decision-makers is clear, and will thus contribute to elaborating cultural and cooperation policies.
It will also serve as a directory of artists, operators and organizations and as a contact interface. Internet is developing fast, but it is still in its early stages in certain ACP countries : in this transitional phase, national directories can easily be compiled from information in the database.
All this is currently being developed : the national portals will benefit from this and, little by little, working jointly, Southplanet will become a veritable tool at the services of cultural diversity. Southplanet : together united !

///Article N° : 10452

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