For the cohesion and unification of the the ACP countries’ cultural information approach: the Southplanet example.

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Below is the speech of Olivier Barlet, head of the website development service at Africultures, at the « Culture and creation: factors of development » seminar (organized by the European Commission in Brussels from 1st to 3rd of April 2009) during the cross-disciplinary discussion group « Information and communication of the ACP cultural protagonists: what tools for what aims? » All the discussion groups advised creating a sole and federative website to improve the visibility and communication of the ACP cultural forms of expression (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) : it’s time for the operators to think together about a portal that would become a reference for everybody, as Stefano Manservisi, head of development at the European Commission, recalled during his opening speech of the experts meeting, when he urged to put an end to double purposes and considered that a general databank would favour the information networking.
A project based on work carried out on the ground since 1992
Africultures, created in 1997, followed the Lettre des arts et des musiques africains. So, since 1992, the Africultures team has been working in collaboration with African artists. The website was created as early as 1998 (today, more than a million people have visited the websites generated by Africultures) and the daily newsletter came in 1999 (to this day, it has nearly 100 000 addressees).
Soon, the question of cohesiveness of the information put online came up: the fields of the database evolved according to needs, getting more complex, little by little, and integrated new considerations, to meet information requests.
The website uses this database as its reference. (the African cultural information network site) uses it as well, just like (the African Federation of Film Critics website). But it is also used by, the cultural diversity portal which currently gathers all the ACP and the South East Asian countries but which could be expanded to any of the South countries. It also references the cultural operators and institutions of the North working with the South.
Any other website can use the information published by Southplanet, by creating hypertext links. We are now studying the possibility of offering this service to any website, by automatically highlighting professionals’ or artists’ names in the different texts, with a systematic link with the corresponding file, as it is already the case on the Southplanet website.
Today, the database covers all the artistic disciplines and is open to all creators, artists, professionals, groups, venues, cultural organizations or operators whether public or private.
It comprises 15,400 artists, groups and professionals, 16,000 cultural events, 4,300 professional organizations, 2,800 venues, 6,500 films, 9,000 books, 1,600 discs, 600 shows etc. Southplanet also offers a listing of about 750 festivals in the ACP countries.
The database is built around people:
– They are the possible contact and the source of information.
– They are given a unique login : their email address
– They can get a password which makes them the owner of their space; they can thereby manage the information given thanks to simple but accurate forms.
The artists and creators, cultural operators and communication managers of any organization working in the cultural field can thus manage the information in real-time, with equality, and without hierarchy or limits. The difference lies in the dynamism with which they present their information, and of course, in the quality of the artworks and activities. Their communications can be illustrated with photographs, galleries, videos, music excerpts, while the information they give may be used to generate their own website thanks to a system in kit form, in which they can choose the graphic design and content.
The website exists. But it still needs to be developed to reach all its aims: we are creating a new graphic design which goes hand in hand with better developed browsing and information searches, as well as new functionalities for personal websites.
International support:
Southplanet’s multilingual database (currently in French – English – Portuguese, but soon Spanish and Arabic as well) and its website were initially financed by a grant from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as part of a programme contributing to cultural diversity.
Africultures being in charge of the promotion of the management unit of the UE-ACP programme to back the ACP cultural industries, the Southplanet database is now used both as a tool and a reference for this programme which is developing the ACP Cultural Observatory.
Africultures belongs to the UNESCO Global Alliance which has officially advised being listed in and using it.
The International Organization of Francophonie’s Inforoutes fund has supported and still supports the creation of websites based on Southplanet, like Africinfo, Afrilivres and AfriBD.
The result of Africultures’ work on the ground, Southplanet is thus taken into consideration and backed by both national and international institutions.
The stakes of a coherent unification of information.
The promotion of artists and cultural operators of the South, and consequently, the distribution and the circulation of their works are limited by the lack of international visibility. No portal has established itself as a reference for all, yet. Information is scattered.
At a time when the internet is organizing itself into big reference portals, it is crucial not to multiply initiatives, but to work in synergy, respecting everyone’s approach, on a common project enabling the necessary research and developments.
There is so much data that this unique and federative tool cannot be achieved without the mobilization and control of those who possess the information about themselves: that is to say, the artists, creators, operators and organizations.
To be both achievable and federative, this tool must be used by those it concerns. The web 2.0 enables this: on the Southplanet website, anybody can become the owner of his/her pages, and so ensure, his/her own communication.
It would be beneficial if, in addition to the possibility of managing their own information, Southplanet offered all creators on their Southplanet generated websites (which can be given their own internet address linked to the Southplanet site) services superior to a simple blog. These would enable economies of scale:
– the publication of documents, photographs, videos and trailers, music excerpts,
– the newsletter to professional connections,
– discussion forums,
– downloadable press kits,
– downloadable high-resolution visuals for the press,
– links, etc.
Thus, dedicated websites can also be made for every creation (film, show, book, exhibition, etc.) and they can be given their own name, with a link to the artist’s or structure’s Southplanet website.
It is clear the extent to which such a database will help to remedy the lack of statistical information for cultural observatories and decision-makers and thus contribute to elaborating cultural and cooperation policies.
It will also serve as a repertoire of artists, operators and structures and as an interface of contacts. The Internet is developing fast but it is still hesitant in some ACP countries: during this transition phase, national repertoires can be easily edited from the database. Moreover, the deadline set is an additional motivation for those concerned, who will no longer be tempted to put the effort off until later.
The participants’ motivation
Many initiatives advising cultural players to enter their information are developping. They cannot meet this multiplicity of undertakings. A unique reference point is required, but it has to impose itself as such. Southplanet registers dozens of new entries every day. The operators create and update their file, and an employee at Africultures validates the new data. But despite our automatic reminder system, festivals do not enter information sufficiently, and the growth of the database is still too bound to the efforts we invest in it.
In the light of the experience, it appears the ways to solve that difficulty would be:
– To create a synergy by setting up a meeting between the operators working on databases on the ACP countries, in order to create a unique and federative tool, in respect of everybody’s work.
– To have the international organizations hold that meeting, and to get them to support the undertaking that results from it, so that the latter is taken into consideration by all the operators and the cultural world.
– A good means would be for those organizations to ask creators and structures who call on them for funding to supply information to that database, which would include all the required fields (public and internal):
* To prevent the duplication and repetition of presentations in the different applications and files,
* To limit the files that have to be transmitted.
* To encourage them to come to grips with their promotion and their visibility within a coherent framework, enabling any useful research.
– Festivals and other cultural events could do the same when works and artists are registered: that would prevent a late communication of texts and photographs which is detrimental to the catalogue quality, and causes delays in getting it to the printer’s on time.
Along with the quality of the proposed service, it is only thanks to this institutional support that a base and its portal will emerge as a reference for all; but it needs to offer an additional motivation to rally the cultural players of the South: information networking.
Information networking as a solution to stimulate motivation.
Nowadays, the different jobs and activities are often carried out in isolation, without coherent information at their disposal, without the opportunity to exchange, beyond a few networks which have set up successfully.
Having access to information and professional exchanges concerning one’s activity is extremely attractive.
Once registered in the Southplanet project, anybody can take advantage of the pages dedicated to his/her activity, including:
– Professional information : professional dispatches, cultural events and professional training listings, a list of contacts classified by countries, calls for projects,
– The exchange of advice and of tips : professional forums for discussion, adapted documents
– Services: job applications or job ads, classified advertisements, synergy research.
These attractive services will encourage networking, information exchange, exchange of tips, and the participants’ professionalization.
It is by pooling the backing of sponsors and the services rendered to professionals that the diversity portal will become the reference, and tool everybody hopes for.
To meet the demands of neutrality and to be above political or diplomatic interests, the joint realization of this portal, in collaboration with all those working in this domain, must be entrusted to a private operator which has proved itself in this field and whose seriousness and proficiency have been acknowledged. / N° : 8684


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