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Industry Report: Forum d'Avignon: Which Culture for Europe?

An alliance of representatives from all horizons is needed now more than ever


- With experts from 40 different countries, the Forum d’Avignon confirms its status as a unique place of high reflection and dialogue on culture and its link to the economy

An alliance of representatives from all horizons is needed now more than ever

Big Data, Digital shift, Copyright, Cultural policies and interest organisations…those are just part of the issues that the 2013 Forum d’Avignon dealt with, proving itself to be once again a unique place of high reflection and dialogue on culture and its link to the economy.

At a time of budget austerity and cuts in the cultural sector of all the Member states of the EU, the 6th edition of the Forum decided to address the issue of the powers of culture. It is paradoxical that Europe is not investing in its culture – a sector keeping a high growth rate in spite of the economic crisis, while other places in the world (like the Middle East or China) are increasing their expenditure. Is it the signal of a power shift in culture, going towards other geographical regions of the world?

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The absolute need to replace culture at the heart of politics has been discussed right from the first day during the debate “No politics without culture.” A reflection has also been conducted on which is the best-placed level (local, regional, national, supranational?) to support creativity.

Different experiences were exchanged during the second day’s debate, which attempted to answer the question “Do we want a cultural policy in Europe?”. Lourdes Fernandez, leader of Alhóndiga Bilbao, and Olivier Py, director of the Avignon Festival, considered the local level as the best place because it is where one can keep an eye on people who make the actual changes, people who otherwise lack political visibility.

From the same panel, Franco-Romanian director Radu Mihaileanu seemed more worried about the fight for cultural exception. “Culture is not a good and therefore it cannot be subject to market rules” he said, adding that cultural exception is a tool to protect all the specific expressions of human freedom of thought as part of our universal culture. To win this fight, a common front must be adopted at the supranational level. “The quality of European culture lays in its diversity”, asserts Paul Dujardin, CEO of Brussels’ BOZAR. “That’s why initiatives like the Lux Prize of the European Parliament are so important: it shows through cinema what this cultural diversity is that public televisions and governments keep fighting for.”

This apparent paradox of culture, being at the same time unique and universal, has also been discussed with Chinese director Yonfan, the former prime minister of Quebec Bernard Landry, and Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and law professor. The panel analysed the revolution brought on by the digital shift, which was a very important issue at this year’s Forum.

The digital advance exponentially increased the potential audience and lowered barriers of distribution, bringing major changes to cultural value chains as shown in the 2013 survey by Kurt Salmon (which can be downloaded here), but also to the new generation’s ethics, according to Paul Dujardin.

Ethics was indeed another issue of great concern at the Forum, with two of the four studies presented dealing with Big Data: personal cultural data is probably the most intimate data, yet they are not legally considered as sensible data.

They have an important economic value: 1/3 of Netflix’s income, for instance, comes from sales made possible by the management of personal cultural data.  The problem is that those digital champions, whose success is founded on the exploitation of Big Data, are not subject to antitrust regulation, underlines Matthieu Soulé from l’Atelier BNP, with a clear risk of information monopoly.

This is why the Forum has proposed a manifesto with some principles for a universal declaration for Internet users’ and creators’ rights in a digital era, calling for a regulatory framework for the exploitation of this data.

In the end, everybody agreed on the fact that to have a certain visibility and a solid weight on decision-making, an alliance should be created bundling actors from all the various levels and dimensions of culture in order to make a cultural plan capable of reasserting the vital role of culture.

Taking advantage of the CATALYSE network, which links Avignon to Bilbao and Essen, the Forum has decided to take a first step in this direction, organising two off-site Forums in the Basque country and in the Ruhr during the coming year.

If you want to know more about the 6th Forum d’Avignon further information about the debates can be found here. Cineuropa has also met some of the Forum participants such as Franco-Romanian director Radu Mihaileanu (read the interview here) or French cinema theorist Gilles Ciment (here). 

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