During the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the area of culture the main focus is on access to culture at a time when digital technologies are developing more rapidly than ever before. The inevitability of the digital turn is something that people need to recognise and get over the fear that new digital means will take over the place of habitual and traditional ones, writes Mirjam Rääbis, the Museums Adviser at the Ministry of Culture, in the ministry’s information bulletin.
Digital technologies are developing more rapidly than ever and this is impacting not only how we do things but also how we think. Cultural institutions have been created to fulfil public tasks and making culture accessible is one of their most important responsibilities. Therefore, it is strategically unwise to leave aside the possibilities and developments that the digital environment offers – it could mean missing the train on reaching the full potential vitality of culture. To put it simply, if a (young) culture aficionado uses the open digital collection of the Rijksmuseum to find inspiration for cool new products, while we are fervently thinking of how to sell cultural content and “protect” it, the young culture aficionado is still learning about Dutch art history.
Open digital culture is also a matter of protecting culture. However, this does not mean that all technological innovation is tacitly reasonable and should be put to use. It is important to know your users, because their needs and skills are developing much faster than the modus operandi of institutions. Cultural institutions and policymakers have to come to terms with the digital turn and get over the fear that new digital means will replace the habitual and traditional ones.
It is clear that the more digital content there is, the more we need to think about how to manage it and make it as accessible as possible for the audience. In Estonia, we have been digitising cultural (heritage) objects already for years and trying to make them accessible, but currently less than 10% of it is available for the public. Cultural heritage is our collective public memory and the common use of collections is a resource that offers a plethora of opportunities: the more comprehensive and rich in information the data collections are, the more they will be used and the more varied modes of usage will develop for our cultural heritage. Also, the more digital cultural content is created, the more the modus operandi of the field of culture has to change with it – both at the political and institutional level.
The field of culture will continue to lag behind the private sector and other fields when it comes to the uptake of digital technologies. This is the case not only in Estonia, but in the rest of Europe as well. The problem is that cultural institutions are more traditional and even conservative in the way they operate, however, the lack of resources in the field also has a role. Perhaps this is a moment, where we need to think about recalibrating the structures? Of course, great examples do exist, however, using digital culture and innovation could be much more widespread. There is certainly a lot of room for growth at the grass roots level as well, and more initiative can be taken by users and the audience themselves as well.
The times when cultural institutions (or even worse, policymakers) had singular power over what direction cultural content develops and proclaimed the ultimate truth are finished for some time already. Culture belongs to all of us and the digital environment has created the opportunity, perhaps even the responsibility, to share, create and comment on that content among a much wider circle.
During the Estonian Presidency, access to culture is in the focus
During the Estonian Presidency in the European Union level work, the field of culture has specifically prioritised access to culture through digital means, with a focus on expanding and including the audience. In July, the conference “Cultural Heritage 3.0: Audience and Access in Digital Era” will be held on the topic, geared towards policymakers, and in the fall Estonia will be leading work aimed at reaching conclusions on the topic in the Council of the European Union. Although the area of culture is generally considered to be at the discretion of each member state, through setting goals together and speaking about them, we will help maintain the importance and development of the field in the European Union.