Rasa Smite on Thu, 10 May 2001 18:17:15 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Report on "Baltic Cyber-corridor"--[NICE] Week of New Media Culture in Riga.


BALTIC CYBER-CORRIDOR -- was the name for the Week of New Media Cultural
events that took place in Riga, April 2-8, 2001. It was organised by
recently founded RIXC - The Center for New Media Culture in co-operation
with the participants of NICE - The Network Interface for Cultural Exchange
in the region of Baltic Sea and North-East Europe (http://nice.x-i.net).

*conceptual background

The "Baltic Cyber-corridor"[1] is not a neutral term. It was a challenge
addressed to the emerging information societies in the Baltics and the
high-tech Scandinavian countries -- to explore and develop the social and
cultural dimensions of the new media.

The Strategic image of a "corridor"[2] in cyberspace can obtain a positive
meaning -- it refers to an attempt of new media initiatives to connect the
Baltic and other countries in this region to each other (and beyond) by
creating dynamic social networks.

The NICE Network meeting and workshops held in the first week of April in
Riga, brought together representatives from media centres in the region of
the Baltic Sea and North East Europe. The aim was to discuss urgent issues
in the field of new media and cultural policy development in the region.

Parallel to these events in the same week, Riga hosted the international
forum, conference and exhibition Baltic IT&T 2001, bringing together IT&T
decision makers and policy makers, company managers and business
representatives from the countries of the Baltic Sea region. The aim of
this forum was similarly, by using the possibilities of information and
communication technology, -- 'to build a corridor' and 'to connect' the
Baltic States with the region it has 'friendly relations with' and to 'the
rest of the world'. 

By organising The Baltic Cyber-corridor Event's Week, the organisers wished
to address to the decision-makers, policy-makers and society at large, the
issue that 'connectivity' is important not only on the level of economic
and technological development, but also in discovering the potential of
global communication networks towards solving local social issues, and for
the development of cultural infrastructures.  

Beside the rapid development of e-commerce and e-business, here in the
Baltic Sea region new infrastructures also emerge in the cultural sector,
such as media centres, media labs, and networks for cultural exchange and

In order to identify the local needs of these emerging infrastructures in
this region, and in order for these issues to be put in practice, in the
beginning of the Week the RIXC organised The Training in New Media Cultural
Management for participants of the NICE network.

This Training Programme was developed for the culture managers and
administrators working in new media and media art & culture field primarly
from the Baltic/Nordic region. Participants included representatives from:
Atelier Nord/Oslo, Association for Contemporary Arts/Minsk, AULA/Helsinki,
Brandshof/Hamburg, Department of Media Art Lab/Center for Contemporary
Arts/Warsaw, CRAC/Stockholm, E-Media Center/Tallinn, K@2/Liepaja/LV,
Katastro.fi and Meta Lab/Helsinki, M-Cult/Helsinki, Media Art Lab/Moscow,
N2ART/NordicCultureNets project, NOD Media Lab/Prague, RIXC/Riga, Pro
Arte/St.Petersburg, SVAIGS99/Riga, VILMA/Vilnius; as well as group of
students from UIAH Media Lab in Helsinki, and others.
Workshop moderators and consultants were Lisa Haskel (Southspace/London),
Cathy Brickwood (Virtual Platform/Amsterdam) and Pamela Jennings (San

Recently founded RIXC centre in Riga, established on the basis of various
independent new media and youth culture organisations (E-LAB, Locomotive,
Baltic Center, and others), is the initiator and co-ordinator of this
programme. In its own development the RIXC is focusing on the investigation
of new models for cultural practice, based on networking and co-operation
among independent units, as well as infrastructure development and
maintenance of the real physical space (for public events, training,
digital arts production). These needs were taken into consideration in the
developing of the Training Programme.
The NICE Week events and Training Programme was supported by Soros
Foundation, Swedish Institute and Latvian Cultural Capital Foundation.

* Preparation part -

As a part of a preparation the organisers of the [NICE] Week and Training
Programme made the research in to local conditions. The RIXC analysed the
current situation in new media field locally and in the region, and
investigated the specific social issues that affect the society of Latvia
and its development in the period of "democratic transition". To become
aware of actual situation in this field, Normunds Kozlovs, a young
philosopher and sociologist from the RIXC together with E-LAB team
organised "Media massage" - series of real time interviews at the Internet
radio Ozone with representatives from various local and regional micro
social groups (http://ozone.re-lab.net). 

17 participating media centres of the NICE Network, present in Riga,
prepared their case studies and filled the questionnaire
(http://rixc.lv/training/questionnaire/), which reflected very diverse
local conditions (e.g. comparing Minsk case - "Hey, State! Don't impede our
integration with European art world!" with Norways' - "We just got all we
asked - from local ministry of culture"), different stages of development
and variety of needs. Still common task for the Training in Riga was
identified - to investigate new models for infrastructure development of
the media centres -- towards self-sustainable media cultural practice and
mutually supported networking. Also organising the training for the
regional partners contributed significantly to improving cultural exchange
and future collaboration, and provides those processes with continuity.

Transcripts of "Media Massage" discussions and interviews, Participants'
Questionnaire, some results of research (including introduction to Pamela's
Jennings "New Media Art | New Funding Models") and case studies, as well as
articles (Eric Kluitenberg "New Freedom, New Marginality - A Report from
the Baltic Cyber-corridor", and others) were published in the first issue
of NicePaper and on-line (http://nice.x-i.net/nicepaper).

* Part 1 - Training in New Media Cultural Management

3-days Training aimed to set up the framework for working environment with
various workshop and discussion set-ups, in order to move forward from
introduction-and-presentations-only type of meetings towards "making the
next steps".

During the first day right after the introduction of all participants' case
studies, work continued in 3 working groups: "media centers", "networks"
and "cross-disciplinary projects". "Media centres" group exchanged examples
of how media centres are run. In particular participants talked about
different approaches to access policies: how spaces are physically
organised, membership schemes, and so on. Also practical issues were
discussed: such as the balance between open-ness and security, between
access to different levels of production equipment, informal and formal
learning opportunities and the role of programmed events such as talks and
"Networks" group' discussion was based on studying Norwegian case, where 3
media labs from Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen have recently received
substantial contribution from local Ministry to set up the Network of local
Media Lab's. The question - "how to make decisions" in this particular case
seemed extremely important. Also management issue emerged, though most of
participants preferred to see networks first of all as social platform and
self-organising environment. Almost everyone agreed that networks should do
'added value things' only, not production. 

The workshop moderators also prepared discussions on specific topics.
Pamela Jennings, media artist from San Francisko presented her recently
made research on "New Media Art | New Funding Models"
(http://digital-Bauhaus.com). The topics discussed in the presentation
included an examination of the many ways that practitioners in the new
media arts field define the field, new and revised grant making approaches,
as well as need to build and strengthen the infrastructure for new media
Cathy Brickwood on the second day introduced the participants with the
subject: "Policy and Lobbying" and broader understanding of it, explaining
that "policy is not just about funding" and "lobbying means not just
applying for funding". Lisa Haskel was moderating the workshop about "small
organisations and the co-dependencies of larger and smaller initiatives".
Together with Stephen Emmott (London) and Jaanis Garancs (Riga) she also
moderated "Tools for networks" discussion, which focused on developing
shared tools, servers and resources for the NICE Network, as well as on how
to make compatible already developed systems, i.e. Thomax' Kaulmann ORANG
System, XCHANGE, BIN and NICE Database made by Jaanis Garancs, and others.
Also educational issues and alternative models for new media education
(e.g. katastro.fi initiative "Meta-Lab" project in Helsinki) were discussed
in the working group, moderated by Mare Tralla (media artist and head of
E-Media Center/Tallinn) and John Hopkins (presently teaching in

"Show and tell" evening sessions on the end of the day provided
participants with an opportunity to have more time to talk to each other
and to present their activities, art works and projects.

Several experiments with developing and answering different questionnaires
were made, too. E.g. Pamela Jennings introduced with a business plan
development exercise called NABC, often used in USA to assist an
organisation in identifying and refining an idea that has either
fundraising or business development potential by describing the value of
the project. NABC stands for Need, Approach, Benefits, and Competition
(which most of participants didn't like, so it was replaced with
Co-operation). The moderator slightly changed the NABC questionnaire,
developing it more relevant for cultural purpose. Participants were asked
to bullet point a few ideas using the NABC format as it related to their
organisation. Next the participants broke off into small groups of 3
individuals to discuss their work.  The groups were formed with people who
they did not work with on a daily basis, in order to have greater
opportunity for cross-cultural discussion and comparison of organisational
management issues. 

For the closing day the questionnaire on theme: "Skills, resources and
training needs+Evulation" helped to evaluate the training results and to
identify next steps that should be made towards developing the NICE network.

* evaluation 

Most of participants (as well as organisers) didn't have much experience
with such Training-(each other)-type-of-meetings, but all of them found it
extremely useful and interesting. We tried to experiment with as different
workshop set-ups as possible. Some of them worked well, some of them
didn't. But the necessity to keep organising the training programmes was
recognised immediately, just all participants agreed that the focus should
be narrowed - only choosing one issue (management, tools for networks,
education, etc.) per meeting. Very successful was working in groups.
Although sometimes, especially when all themes of the working groups were
equally interesting, it turned out that it is quite difficult to report
back for whole group what exactly was discussed in each of the working groups.
The Training programme didn't succeed to keep focus only on management
issue. The participants - even if they all are involved in running media
lab's - had very different background and experience. Thus many other
topics related to new media culture, i.e. - shared servers and tools,
education alternatives, networking, etc., - were identified as relevant as
issue on infrastructure development or daily management of the media labs.
Therefore very flexible workshop structure in combination with moderated
discussions and relaxed "show and tell" evening sessions facilitated
participants to learn a lot each from other's experience. The Training
programme achieved to clarify the cases, to identify context and to develop
powerful base for developing the infrastructure of the RIXC and other
emerging cultural centres and co-operation in the region.

Though most significant success of the Training was that it created
awareness of different stages where we always are in our daily practice. It
helped to participants to learn how important is to focus on "making next
step" in these kind of meetings in order to make most fruitful contribution
in future development of both - internal (media centres and labs) and
external (networks) cultural infrastructures.

* Part 2 - New Media Workshop @ The Baltic Sea Region Identity Conference

In continuation - the "New Media Workshop" and discussions about urgent
social issues of an emerging technological culture took place in the
framework of the Baltic Sea Region Identity Conference "The Sea of
Diversity". This conference was held in the second half of the week, and
was organised by the Latvian Institute and the Swedish Institute
(http://www.latinst.lv/news/identity.htm). The Identity Conference
consisted from 3 parallel working groups: "Identity", "Architecture" and
"New Media". "New Media" group was co-ordinated by the RIXC and it was
scheduled as the second part of the NICE Meeting, involving not only the
Training participants, but also other Identity Conference participants,
mostly students from different universities of Latvia, Finland and Poland.

2-day workshop started with the lectures at the Latvian University held by
the moderators introducing the public in the general context of working
group's themes.
Eric Kluitenberg (Amsterdam) in his lecture "the Network culture in the
Baltics after the dotcom meltdown" introduced the audience with the Global
Information age by IT technologies, the economic and social consequences of
so called "dot.com mania". He also made profound analyse of the new economy
and perspectives of net culture today. 
John Hopkins (Helsinki) opened discussion about the Networks and Networking
Normunds Kozlovs (Riga) presented his research on new media in local
context of Latvia. The research task regarding new media was to determine
how social conditions and their changes are influenced by the use of new
technologies and in the context of social work. What are the open
possibilities for such use in favour of disadvantaged and handicapped,
deprived from the power and knowledge social groups and sub-cultures in
Latvian contemporary society.

The last day was held in Liepaja's Karosta (WarPort) in newly opened space
"K@2"- The Center for Information and Culture, established by co-founders
of RIXC - Kristine Briede and Carl Biorsmark from film studio Locomotive
(Riga). Karosta is very specific, socially problematic place - former
Military Harbour (built by Russian Tzar Alexander III; closed military base
in Soviet era) located in West Coast of Latvia, in 3 hours bus trip from
Riga. After the Soviet Army left Latvia, most of Karosta's inhabitants are
so-called "leftovers" from the military contingent. Only 7.000 from 25.000
militaries are left. Today "many 'everyday tourists' are heading to take a
look at what Misery is like..." (more about Karosta:

Arrival of big 2-floor red-as-coca-cola bus from Riga in this grey village
with half-empty ugly block-houses was impressive happening for both - 70
conference participants and local inhabitants. The participants were
welcomed by up to 30 kids in different age and nationalities (mainly
Latvian and Russian), who also are the most active K@2 public and users of
the space and the internet. (2 young Latvian students from Riga, who as
many other local people most likely never been here before, asked each
other: "interesting, who is more astonished from the existence of such
extreme changes (like Riga -> Karosta) - we or foreign guests?").  

Hosts of K@2 introduced workshop participants with Karosta, new center,
located in old Admiral building and their future plans - about summer
residency programmes for media artists, workshops for local youth,
festivals, etc. 

The aim of this bus trip to Liepaja's Karosta was to show in practice how
independent media culture initiatives are dealing in their daily practice
with urgent social issues, such as - integration, minority cultures,
regional development, social changes etc., by using new media,
communication and networking as a tool for it.

Participants split in to 3 workshop groups, which continued the discussions
of the previous day. On the way back in the bus moderators were working on
summing up the discussion results (Normunds' Kozlovs report is available
at: http://re-lab.lv/rezone/arhivs/msg01324.html)

* * * 

For the closing part, the Baltic Cyber-party, the organisers Semema.org
project and Re-lab.net invited both training and workshop participants, and
the wider audience to club Metro. Here the public presentations of the
digital communication art projects, noize music subcultures environment,
minimal techno sounds and vjs' art took place.

The Baltic Cyber-corridor Event's Week aimed to bridge the traditional gap
between 'high' and popular culture, and the divisions between various
youth, sub- and minority cultures; and their activities, which often remain
invisible for the cultural policy makers and 'wider public' immersed in
their daily routines. The virtual space of information and communication
networks offers possibilities and tools for various sub-groups, intending
to become 'contra cultures' [3] -- who wish to become visible and recognised.

Probably the Corridor built in Cyber-space is what can help us to connect
across these gaps.

Rasa Smite (with a help of other participants)
April/May 2001


[1] "Baltic Cyber-corridor" name is used with the reference to the article
"Connectivity, New Freedom, New Marginality - a Report from the Baltic
Cyber-corridor by Eric Kluitenberg

[2] "corridor" - strategical/militar term, which implies to an image of a
disconnected country that needs a corridor through foreign, enemy territory
to connect to the rest of the world (or the parts it has friendly relations

[3] "Contra-culture" is this subculture that becomes open and tries to
present and
channel its values, codes, ideas and lifestyles outside.


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