© VIAA. The Flemish Institute for Archiving (VIAA) strategy incorporates accessibility.
The Benelux region is a source of inspiration for many people working in the performing arts sector. I had the opportunity to enjoy time there in January during a two-week placement at our colleague organisation Circuscentrum, the Flemish Centre for Circus Arts, in Ghent. My stay was supported by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux.
The performing arts in Belgium are flourishing. It seems they are afforded a particular space of their own, as well as significant creative freedom, within society. In Belgium, there is a consensus that art has particular significance within society and the country’s cultural history is actively used to construct its future.
In population terms, Finland and Belgium’s Flemish community are comparable entities; of Belgium’s 11 million people, 6.5 million are Flemish. In Finland, the population is approximately 5.5 million. However, of the Flemish budget, 1.5% is allocated to the arts and culture, while in Finland the equivalent figure stands at just 0.8%.
It strikes me that Belgian culture in general is characterised by an open, progressive mentality throughout, which allows the arts sector to continue to evolve and avoid becoming confined in fixed and unchanging institutions. Decisions on arts and cultural policy, too, are taken in seemingly close proximity to the practitioners in the wider field. The application system for Flemish public grant funding, for example, was redesigned to better reflect the changes that have taken place in the sector. Applicants no longer need to limit their funding applications for cross-disciplinary projects to a single funding stream and the panels taking the decisions on how funding is allocated also comprise representatives from a number of different disciplines, rather than relying on expertise in a single area. I have also marvelled at the many diverse solutions that are available to meet the needs of artists and practitioners in Belgium. And even if a solution is not readily available, there is, at the very least, an organisation dedicated to addressing the issue in question, ready to contribute their knowhow and best practice. Networking and the sharing of knowledge and information are an integral feature of how things are done.
Alongside our circus project, I was able to familiarise myself with the digitisation and archiving of audiovisual cultural resources and materials being undertaken by the Flemish community in Ghent. Founded at the end of 2012, the Flemish Institute for Archiving (VIAA) has rapidly digitised one petabyte’s worth of audiovisual material, contributed by nearly one hundred cultural memory organisations. VIAA’s concept is to digitise and archive heritage material and to make it accessible to the public. In just a few years, the VIAA has succeeded in digitally preserving a quarter of the taped audiovisual material discovered as part of its preliminary survey. Altogether, the plan is to digitise 500,000 hours of material between 2014 and 2020.
What is particularly appealing about the Flemish digitisation model is that the heritage and cultural memory organisations are not required to have the technical expertise to carry out digitalisation themselves, as the task is performed by the VIAA for free. In exchange, the VIAA is entitled to make the digital materials available for teaching and research purposes. The VIAA’s staff includes teachers working in a voluntary capacity, who select age-appropriate resources for use in schools. This means that the cultural heritage is not only preserved but also made accessible and brought back into active use.
Flanders has set itself the objective of being a top region in Europe by 2020, which would require, among other things, a knowledge of the past, present and future; research and development; innovation and creativity; efficiency, administrative speed and power; and accessibility for all. Finland might well benefit from a similar approach to improving knowledge sharing and preservation, too.
The work carried out by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux in facilitating professional exchange visits between Finland and the Benelux countries, provides cultural organisations with excellent opportunities for networking and sharing their know how. The grass, naturally, is always greener on the other side.
Blog post of January 2019: In 2018, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme focused on Transition. In 2019, our theme is RE/definitions.
For some years now, I have tried to live my life with this principle in mind: because everything around us is constantly in transition, almost anything can become a reality. By this I mean our fears as well as opportunities, both the positive and negative ways of thinking about the future of our world. Personally, I would like to believe that we are capable of moving towards a better tomorrow, even if reality as filtered through our daily newsfeed often seems to contradict this.
Blog post of December 2018: How did you wake up this morning? Maybe to an alarm on your cell phone? What was your first thought? For many of us it’s “Can I sleep for another half hour?”. And, what was your last thought of the evening? Maybe you thought about whether you could watch just one more episode on your streaming service or whether it was really time for you to go to sleep. In fact, it is likely that these were the first and last risk management decisions of your day. Each of one us makes hundreds of risk management decisions whether we are at home, in our free time, or at work. Do you know the kinds of risks you are taking while navigating the digital world in our everyday life?
Blog post of June 2018: What if the future of music came from the Far North? There is no doubt that Nordic and Finnish musicians play an important role in the international music scene. Every category has a Nordic touch : vocal and instrumental music, metal, traditional and contemporary music, and jazz. Unlike here in the South, there are no fixed boundaries between musical languages in the North. Every musical genre finds its place between tradition and modernity, fusing into a fertile synergy without losing its own character. This is one of the cultural strengths of the Nordic countries.
Blog post of May 2018: For several years, this small international festival has been experimenting with new curatorial practices in a fierce and open way. The festival distinguishes itself by introducing co-curating, by politicising curatorship, and by rethinking the international. Baltic Circle hereby positions itself as a forerunner and is an ideal ground to visit with students who are themselves operating in the field of “expanding curation”. Three students, their tutor (Lara Staal, independent curator and publicist) and artistic director of DAS Theatre Barbara Van Lindt visited the festival and proposed some moments of exchange. In January we invited artistic director of the Festival Satu Herrala to visit us, and engage in a conversation where we reflected upon our visit (and already anticipated a next visit, in the autumn of 2018…)
Blog post of April 2018: Less than two months ago I moved from Tokyo to Brussels, straight into the heart of Europe and the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s great programming for 2018! We have our excellent previous Director Aleksi Malmberg to thank for carrying out the preparations for the start of the year, as well as our amazing team, with whom I now have the privilege of adding new initiatives and ideas to the programme.
Blog post of February 2018: “Okay, so there’s nothing here on the Sami people”, I noticed at the end of an introductory tour of the House of European History. I was visiting the relatively new House of European History at the beginning of February as part of a group of twenty odd individuals involved in the Remembering 1918 programme. Each one of us had the task that day of leading our own public tours of the House of European History. After the introductory tour, we were given a few hours to prepare to offer our own views on the museum’s exhibition which deals with European history.