Pit Schultz on Sun, 9 Nov 1997 04:08:32 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> The Amsterdam Agenda & first commentary

this is the result of the conference lately, a truly 'collaborative
document', while the process of its development is a good example for the
art of manifecturing consensus, and a landmark towards a new type of
'cultural policy' i'd like *you* to comment on it first.  
the spectrum of invited groups and institutions:  Ars Electronica Centre -
Austria, Art & Com - Germany, Artec - UK, de Balie - Netherlands, B92 -
Yugoslavia, C3 - Hungary, DOMUS Academy - Italy E-L@b - Latvia, FACT /
Miles - UK, Faculty for Image & Sound - Netherlands IRCAM - France, KHM -
Kunsthochschule, MEDIA-GN - Netherlands, Montevideo / TBA - Netherlands,
MUU Mediabase - Finland, Netherlands Design Institute - Netherlands,
Nettime - Europe, Open Studio / WRO - Poland, Paradiso - Netherlands, IUA
/ PHONOS - Spain, Public Netbase - Austria, Society for old and new Media
(De Waag) - Netherlands, STEIM Netherlands, V2_Organisation, Netherlands
ZKM - Center for Art and Media Technology - Germany (interestingly
'nettime' was the only one which had "Europe' as national nametag yet, and
no institutional or financial status) -- added also a commentary of Willem
van de Weelden of the p2p journal which came out the same day.


The Amsterdam  Agenda

fostering emergent practice in Europe's media culture

This document is the first result of the conference 'From Practice to Policy:
Towards a European Media Culture' (P2P) held in October 1997 in Rotterdam and
Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The conference was held under the auspices of the
Council of Europe and with the support of the Netherlands Ministry of Education,
Culture and Science (OCenW), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cities of
Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The conference is part of the programme of the Project
Group for New Technologies: Cultural Co-operation and Communication of the
Culture Committee of the Council of Europe.

The P2P Conference brought together expert practitioners in media culture from 22
organisations in 12 European countries. Their work exemplifies what 'good
practice' in media culture can be, in a variety of fields: art, design, music,
video, cultural theory, virtual reality and the Internet. Organisations at the
conference work in a variety of innovative ways and on a variety of operational

This Agenda identifies several themes which are of shared pragmatic interest to
these communities. It is not a statement of high principle with which all artists
- or policy makers in government and industry - are asked to agree. It is from
future discussion of these themes, among all parties, that a media culture for
Europe will emerge. This document is one part of that process.

1. What media cultural practice has to offer
1.1 Innovation
1.2 Education
1.3 Social quality
2 Media culture and the challenges of an information society
3. From practice to policy
4. ...and from policy to practical actions
5. Summary and next steps

1. What media cultural practice has to offer

Media cultural practice is thriving in many places all over Europe, but neither
its existence nor its cultural and economic significance is well-known to policy
makers dealing with the development of an information society. Yet media culture
can make a tremendous contribution to this project.

The artistic and cultural practice emerging in relationto new technologies is, by
its very nature, diverse, independent, interdisciplinary. It comprises both
production and research. Its practitioners develop creative ways to use new
information and communication technologies (ICT). Media culture is fostering new
ways of working and new thinking on social and political issues. Media culture
develops new approaches to education and organises a wide variety of cultural
programmes which reflect and celebrate cultural diversity. Media culture
constantly devises new and flexible organisational structures and responds
rapidly to the needs of diverse client groups and users.

Media culture is already a significant aspect of the information society in three

1.1 Innovation

* Artists are often advanced users of new technologies; their feedback can be
  valuable to developers of hardware and software.
* The involvement of users in the design and creative process is a natural aspect
  of media culture.
* Interdisciplinarity, which is a goal of industry and education, already exists
  in media culture; it routinely spans art and science. Co-operation between
  artists, designers, musicians, scientists, programmers, software developers and
  many others, is part of its everyday practice.
* Media culture constantly fosters new ways of thinking about technology, its
  applications and its consequences. Artists, who are by nature critical, ask
  important questions. Above all, in relation to ICT, they ask "what is this
  stuff for?".
* Important research related to ICT takes place outside of industrial and
  academic laboratories. Artists, designers and independent researchers in media
  culture regularly develop innovative interface designs, databases, Virtual
  Reality technologies, groupware and many other applications.
* Media culture promotes and creates media access points for both experts and
  beginners. These environments enable production, education and communication
  through various media, such as radio, video, tv, multimedia and the Internet.
  Face-to-face contact in public events is an important part of this
* Media culture contributes to the construction and transformation of new partly
  virtual public spaces, in which ICT is used to enhance social contact and
  enliven otherwise dead areas of the city.

1.2 Education

* The problem of education in and for an information society is not one of tools
  or equipment; the real challenge is to develop new content, ideas and
  processes. Media culture contains many radical new ways of thinking about
  the meaning and purpose of 'learning'.
* Media culture fosters new ways of learning. A lot of media culture activity
  takes place in informal learning environments such as museums, science centres
  and local communities. It will never be easy to change
  formal education (schools, colleges, universities) - but media culture can have
  a beneficial impact from the outside.

1.3 Social quality

* Media artists do not agree among themselves on their interpretation of ethical
  and political issues, but they do share a strong conviction that such issues
  are important.
* Media culture is, by its nature, critical of purely commercial agendas for new
  technology. This simple act of asking social and political questions enriches
  the debate about the purpose and meaning of innovation.
* Because so much of media culture exists on the margins of society, issues such
  as free access to networks are an everyday priority - not just a political
* Most media cultural organisations regularly work with local, national and
  international partner organisations. This co-operation is rarely formalised; it
  is mostly project-oriented and functions through extensive, informal networks
  of friendship and trust between larger and many smaller organisations. This
  patchwork of cultural identities and mentalities is the reality, and very often
  the great benefit, of European culture - meaning
  the whole continent, not just the Europe of the EU.
* Cultural diversity also means involvement with youth culture, popular culture,
  marginal cultures and grassroots activities; these are involved daily in the
  most innovative and creative fields of new technologies.
* Media culture helps create opportunities for public and community participation
  by providing skills, tools and environments which enable individuals and groups
  from marginalised communities to make contact, publish information and make
  their voices heard.

The actual practice and daily experience of independent media organisations are
interesting expressions of Europe's diverse political, social and economic
contexts. Policy makers and funding bodies are urged to visit media cultural
institutions and familiarise themselves with the work that is being done in this

2. Media culture and the challenges of an information society

New technologies have always had a significant impact on society - often in
unexpected ways. The media cultural community fosters critical discussions about
the social and political consequences of technological change. Particular
concerns are:

* The danger that the agendas for the Information Society are purely commercial.
* The danger of homogenisation and the Disneyification of European culture.
* The danger that culture may be understood only in terms of entertainment.
* The need to understand the fundamental transformation of the public domain
  through privatisation.
* The need to protect democratic control and cultural diversity.
* The challenges of privacy, cryptography and copyright - which are cultural as
  much as legal issues.

European media culture contests the idea that the Information Society entails an
ever tighter convergence of global players. A better vision, certainly in Europe,
is freedom for individuals and small groups to operate in an open media
environment alongside the large, commercially oriented companies. Diversity
exists, enthusiasm exists, and technical and political opportunities also exist.
The potential is there, but it has to be exploited.

Media culture accepts the fact of continuous technological and cultural change.
It recognises the dangers, but also sees the opportunities that the new
technologies are offering, and seeks to pursue these opportunities through a
creative use of these technologies.

3. From practice to policy

The Amsterdam conference has identified a number of practical ways in
which media culture is already playing an important role in the emerging
information society.  However, better interaction with policy makers and
processes is needed. 

In relation to industry and economic policy, media artists have a lot to
offer in the form of new interaction paradigms, new forms of collaboration
and new insights. A productive relationship in which art can maintain its
autonomy, and in which art and industry can learn and mutually benefit
from each other's achievements and talents, is desirable for both parties.
Many media artists believe industrial partners should not only provide
technical knowledge and money, but also contribute to the content of the
project. Public support can act as a catalyst for private sector
involvement. Media culture is at its most productive when it can work at
the intersection between art and industry, without being fully integrated
into either of the two fields. 

In relation to education policy, co-operation between media culture and
education can have two goals: educating people to be competent and
critical in their use of ICT, and development of methods to enhance formal
and informal education through the use of multimedia/ICT. Beside formal
education in new media that academic institutions and media art academies
now offer, numerous opportunities for informal education are offered by
independent organisations. Many artists and practitioners in new media
combine a high degree of skill and expertise, with an awareness of the
potentials and dangers of the new media. Co-operation and the exchange of
knowledge and skills between the independent art and cultural sector on
the one side, and the educational sector on the other, can be broadened
and deepened by such means as professional exchange programmes, and
multi-party projects which bring practitioners and education (and
students) together. 

4. ...and from policy to practical actions

There are a variety of practical ways to support and enhance the work of media
cultural institutions:

* Recognise media culture as a relevant field of cultural activity.
* Recognise interdisciplinarity and develop funding structures that
  support this way of working.
* Support the availability of non-proprietory software for publicly funded
* Make free access to public media an objective of cultural policies.
* Support free bandwidth on the networks (comparable to the Open Channels on
  the TV cable networks).
* Support networks of specialised institutions in preference to large-scale,
  centralised 'multimedia centres'.
* Establish small and medium-size centres for interdisciplinary research.
* Make small-scale and short-term project funding available.
* Provide for long-term structural support.
* Develop incentives for industry to co-operate in cultural projects.
* Provide opportunities for open-ended creative experimentation which may
  have no short term market application.
* Foster investment not only in technical infrastructure, or in traditional
  'content', but also in media projects that create access and participation.
* Above all, prioritise investment in people. Machines are important, but the
  people who can work with them are more so - and they have to live! It is
  currently much easier to get funding for a newer, faster computer, or for its
  building, or for the electricity and network lines on which it will run, than
  for the programmer, artist or system operator who is supposed to use it.

Other action points:

* Information distribution in several European languages about and through
  the new media is necessary for the other objectives within this agenda
  to be effective. Critical on-line journals (e.g. Nettime) and mailing
  lists (e.g. Syndicate, V2_East) and critical magazines (e.g. Mute) are
  important in the overall development of new media culture, and should be
  an area of development.

* The lack of clear points of entry into EU funded programmes limits the
  ability of many media practitioners to participate, and consequently
  constrains the programmes themselves. The administrative effortto meet all
  the requirements of such applications is a further disincentive for
  small organisations. The research, expert knowledge, lobbying,
  administration and communication necessary for participating in EU/EC
  programmes is beyond their financial means. Even medium-size
  organisations that have successfully tendered, experience the process as
  a major drain on their resources. Cash-flow problems, and the necessity
  to prefinance large parts of ambitious projects, further exacerbate the
  situation.  Strategies to alleviate these problems should be a priority. 

5.  Summary and next steps

The P2P conference concluded that policy makers in government and industry
can work profitably together with media culture on the basis of an
exchange of benefits. This relationship entails a view of media policy
that includes explicit provisions for independent media practice, and
which reflects the dynamic field within which media culture is operating.
Future policy should support interdisciplinary modes of co-operation,
possibly through the creation of interdepartmental funds (between culture,
education, science, economics, foreign affairs, etc.). Policy makers can
also encourage informal co-operation structures among media cultural
institutions for mutual support and concerted actions. The Dutch Virtual
Platform is a successful example of this already in place. Above all, it
is hoped that this document justifies including a cultural dimension in
discussions about technological development policy. These social and
cultural dimensions can be the basis of shared trust, value and quality in
relations between art and industry. 




Willem van Weelden (tansu@xs4all.nl)

1. AN AGENDA "For, once again, the world and its States are no more
masters of their plan than are revolutionaries condemned to deform their
own. Everyone plays a very uncertain part, 'face to face, back to back,
back to face...'.The question of the revolution's future is a bad one,
because, as long as it is posed, there are going to be those who will not
become revolutionaries. Which is precisely why it is done: to prevent the
becoming-revolutionary of people everywhere and at every level." G.Deleuze

Starting with a pretentious statement on 'the revolution' by a dead
philosopher is perhaps the best way to open a piece on the Pratice to
Policy conference, organised by the Virtual Platform. Though the plane of
this loosely fit body is based on a teaming up of organisations in the
media practice, and thus already a model for co-operation and shared
interests, it appeared not to be the key model the conference seemed to
need. Still the structure and initial of the conference was largely
determined by this work of good spirit and joined forces that gained, in
its short existence, already quite an appeal to policy makers on a
national level. Key figures in this horizontal plane musthave thought that
their model was not only useful for a extension on an European scale of
co-operation, but the only way to be able to formulate an agenda that was
supported by a wide scope of different media practices in the whole of
Europe. So the conference can not be discussed leaving out its trip to the
formulation of its manifesto:  the Amsterdam Agenda. This preconfigured
outcome of a two day lasting seminar on European media culture policy was
set up to be a 'piece de resistance' in the velvet battle of European
organisations dedicated to new media art and electronic communication.
This Agenda was supposed to be used as a tactical tool, be offered to the
Council of Europe and nationalpoliticians. The organisers ofthe Virtual
Platform held it possible that the document would become a landmark in the
history of media Culture, but wheather they were able to create such a
powerful tool has to be awaited. Fact remains that the formulation of this
paper was particularly difficult because the results of the discussions
during the seminar were not that clear cut as should be the case. With an
agenda on which 'cultural diversity' is a key concept, adopting and
appropriating the lingo of European policy makers, it should be understood
that a lot of the attention should be directed towards language problems
and the effort to tune the various voices stemming from fundamentally
different media practices.  This appeared to be a bigger problem than was
anticipated.  Maybe they judged the situation wrong.  In composing a paper
like this, a communal statement supported by a wide variety of
organisations, it is fundamental that at least one feature of the strategy
is clear:  the aim. The aim of the organisers was clear before the
conference had started :  to break open an entrance in the European
political and governamental framework and gain a stronger position in
which they can vocalise their interests. But the answer to the question
wheather that aim was congruent with the aims of the different invited
organisations is too much blurred by a cloud of misunderstandings, bad
communication and meta-linguistic excersises that formed the core of the
discussions in the seminar.  Maybe in smaller groups during the
intermissions and between sessions the quality of communication was
perhaps better, still it did not end up in straight forward contributions
to the various sessions and did not lead to an act of revealing of how a
possible alternative aim could be formulated. Thus leaving the editorial
team of the conference with the nasty and responsible task to correct on a
short term basis their draft of the document.  Walter Benjamin stated in
the beginning of this century :  'The tradition of the oppressed teaches
us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but
the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping
with this insight.' If the team didn't live by this historical insight,
they will now certainly do.


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