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Path: Home | Events | Agenore | Antonia P. Recchia



International seminar on European culture portal and the intercultural dialogue
Assisi, 26-28 May 2005

First of all I would like to thank you all for taking part in this seminar: representative of the European Union, Mr. Guy Dockendorf, the representatives from the European Commission, HaraldHartung, Sylvain Pasqua and PatriziaChianale, and the representatives of the Member States.

The themes and problems this seminar will address, and the solutions we will try to find, are very topical subject in Europe today.

A warm thankyou to the City of Assisi for hosting such an important cultural, community event.Assisi has again taken on a symbolic role in action to strengthen inter-cultural links, reciprocal understanding between peoples and consequently, peace.


In order to organise the seminar correctly, it is important to clarify the reasons for this invitation and to explain the origins of the “AGENORE” project. During the Italian presidency of the EU, the then minister GiulianoUrbani invited the European cultural ministers to “reflect on the origins, indeed the roots, of the concept of Europe. This in order to offer national political-cultural contributions to build the future of the Union, with specific attention paid to the tools necessary for facing the three main challenges of the moment: enlarging the union, institutionalisation, re-launching social and economic development” (note of the President of the Committee for Cultural Affaires, 10th September 2003.)


AGENORE takes its name from the mythical father of Europe and “the will to seek founding reasons for European civilisation. Agenore is emblematic of many things. In the field relevant to Cultural ministries, a paradigm of all the great protagonists of art, literature, music, theatre, cinema and its offshoots, in our respective nations; the route which built that common European civilisation to which we all belong”

The political motives are very important: opening up to other nations; the creation of new institutions able to ensure a better overall government of communal living; re-launching the social and economic growth that has accompanied all the previous phases of consolidation of community institutions in the course of the last fifty years. It is these motives which form the “special” nature of the project: to introduce a “virtual gallery of the major contributions from the member states to the formation of the concept of European civilisation”. The project required high level leadership from the Commission (technical co-ordination and practical application of management) and the Council (policy guidance and general strategy)


Since its founding, the AGENORE project has grown in strength, demonstrating notable coherence with further community decisions, European projects and political projects of various States. First, the decisions:

Following the meeting of the Cultural Activities Committee on the 21st of September 2004, the presidency presented a draft Work Plan for Culture 2005-2006. It focussed its aim on Priority 3, Intercultural dialogue, to “Present a project plan to the Council including the role to be played by Member States (upgrading of European Culture Portal, initiated during the Italian Presidency in 2003) – giving substance to developing the Portal as a tool for increasing reciprocal knowledge of culture. In this document, Italy referred to the Agenore Project.

The theme “Cultural Portal for improving information on: mobility of artists, mobility of works of art, intercultural dialogue” was included in the work plan discussed in the meeting of the permanent representatives on 27th October 2004, approved by the Council and adopted (therefore definitive) on the 15th and 16th November.

The European Commission: present the Council with a project that includes the role member states must take on in the context of the cultural portal, the results of the project; deadline the first half of 2005.

MemberStates, the European Commission, cultural sector: put the project into action; the result is a complete cultural portal in late 2005.

The Cultural Portal: this is therefore the primary aim of the Commission.

It is closely linked with other aims. These are defined in the 2005-2006 work plan and are all closely connected with the theme of digitalisation: offer citizens reliable and unconditional digital access to the cultural heritage of Europe, to support the move to a digital Europe with rapid sharing of cultural knowledge and to thus contribute to creating an economy based on knowledge.

Cultural Portal and the digitalisation of the cultural heritage

On the one hand, we have the Portal for intercultural dialogue, and on the other the Digitisation of heritage in order to spread knowledge.

In the second case, that is digitalisation, and following the LUND principles, a lot has been done. European projects such as MINERVA and MICHAEL, which will be presented tomorrow by RossellaCaffo, ChristopheDessaux and David Dawson, have defined the borders of technology, semantic and standards and guide lines that every European project for cultural digitalisation and Internet publication of cultural contents will use as a reference point.

At the same time, we have seen that the “political” value of the Internet-Cultural relationship is highly topical and has been represented at the highest political levels.

In the “Rencontres de Paris pour l’Europe de la Culture” on 2nd and 3rd May 2005, Cultural Ministers from the European States met in order to produce a “Charte pour l’Europe de la Culture”. Projects such as the “European digital library” were discussed. This is in answer to the strong digitalisation campaign of powerful American search engines such as Google. Culture and the European cultural heritage, expression of “genius, values and the identity and particularity” of each European nation, must be widely present on the web.

The concept of the digital library should be naturally extended to the whole heritage, libraries, museums, archives, sites, landscapes and the entire audio-visual heritage. Cultural digital resources concern the whole world of culture and heritage.

The close connection with the world of ICT – Information Communication Technologies – is clear. Cultural contents pass through an informatics system but the relationship is not merely instrumental. In the context of ICT there are specific characteristics that profoundly influence the type of contents that can be digitised and manoeuvred on the web. Thus it is important to define standards, research techniques, exchange good practices and guide lines for digitalisation and for web publication.

The digitisation of the European cultural heritage and its on-line publication is so far a leitmotiv of the European governments; indeed some prime ministers of the European Union supported a call to the President in charge of the European Council and to the President of the European Commission, emphasising the will to create a digital library with European digital cultural content.

The European Commissioner Vivian Reding reacted to the call of the Member States defining lines of action for the near future and fostering the continuation of mechanisms for co-ordination: ”At a time when the internet and the digital technologies available on many platforms are an everyday part of the life of European citizens, tapping the potential of our written text, image and sound archives is of major importance in economic terms as much as in cultural terms”. She also announced that the Commission “plans to issue a communication by July outlining the stakes involved and identifying the obstacles to using written and audio-visual archives in the European Union. The communication will be accompanied by a proposal for a Recommendation aimed at enlisting all the public players concerned and facilitating public-private partnerships in the task of digitising our heritage”.

These activities should be carried out according to guidelines and recommendations shared at European level; these references should have the objective of making the European cultural content interoperable and providing a multilingual support for searching and browsing. Only the fulfilment of these requirements will allow a full exploitation of the European cultural resources by all the European citizens, regardless of status, language or ability.

The frame of knowledge

Principles, declarations and projects form the Frame of knowledge:

In its various forms (heritage, artistic production, literature, education and sport) culture in both Europe and also on an international level, is assuming an ever more important role as means of carrying positive messages that act as brakes or coolers to conflict. This principle was emphasised in the Wraclaw meeting of 8th – 10th December 2004 for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the European Cultural Convention on 19th December 1954.

There is a great need to conserve and valorise cultural diversity, as it is through conservation of diversity that we can create greater ability (the fruit of intention and will) to incentivate open dialogue between cultures.

Cultural heritage and culture in general are fundamental resources for an advanced society where information and knowledge are recognised to be positive, leading influences. We therefore need to integrate the cultural dimension into the context of advanced technologies, with the intention of:

Using the most varying technologies in the area of culture, both in managing cultural inter-relations, and in developing programmes and projects using cultural codes in developing and managing advanced technological tools for knowledge and communication. The language of technology is pervasive and cross disciplinary, as can be the language of culture.

It is therefore necessary to strengthen networks of cultural contents, starting from the vast field of digitalisation of cultural resources: heritage, library resources and archives, landscape, environment, literature, music etc.

The fundamental knowledge however, that most supports us in this historical period of technological development, is that the institutions of memory have the role of filling the global networks with cultural digital contents (from the plan of action and e Europe).

It is not a responsibility to take lightly, nor should it be delegated to others, as this would risk de-qualification of the cultural message and the basic information, or indeed, the loss of identity of the information.

ICT and cultural heritage

The digital revolution has speeded all relations in the structure of organisations, in the nature of processes and management of human and material resources.

Informatics systems have been boosted, right from the beginnings of the formation of knowledge up to its transfer.

From the advantages to construction of knowledge, derives the impact of ICT on the cultural heritage, which by nature requires a great deal of resources and organisation for access to its knowledge: ICT is widely spread, not homogeneous and complex. It is also a means of transmitting knowledge. Indeed, this fact constitutes the particularity of its nature.

Applying innovative technologies to cultural heritage and to culture in general allows us to establish “organic and concrete relations” between various components of the heritage, of local culture and traditions and between the components of other systems (education, tourism, industry, cities, etc.).

Furthermore it allows for making cultural baggage and high-level cultural information, such as cultural heritage, “common factors” .

Cultural experience is now correctly considered to add to the growth of human capital and to constitute one of the most important resources in every process of development. Lowering the threshold level for access and availability of this experience is the primary goal of every project of evolutionary training or teaching.

We cannot ignore the fact that nowadays, exactly because of the exponential growth of the sheer amount of information reaching us, the ability to receive complex messages such as those linked to the use of culture, is via the new technologies.

Consumer models are undoubtedly changing. In a post modern society consumption is no longer exclusively associated with the value of the heritage or the advantage to be drawn from it, but with a symbolic value that goes way beyond satisfaction needs. Together with dematerialization of exchange, we see a radical change in the reference target of every policy for cultural diffusion.

The Portal

Within this framework, the project of the European Culture Portal demonstrates its enormous potential: spread European digital memories in a structured form on the WEB.  So much has been produced in recent years but often with short term objectives, without the idea of its use on the network, therefore without widespread diffusion. This is also true for cultural heritage, for which digital production has been considered ancillary.  Virtual enjoyment certainly is no alternative to real enjoyment.  The emotional involvement of direct enjoyment is irreplaceable.  It is however also true that digital, with its extraordinary potential, permits a diffusion of knowledge that was formerly unthinkable, and in-depth study, links, reconstruction of contexts that enrich the cultural experience. In this way cultural heritage is rendered more enjoyable and a virtuous circle of cultural enjoyment as a moment of formation and didactics, but also as development of creativity, not just a pure aesthetic and emotional experience, is triggered off.

What is needed to feed the Portal is:

  • first of all, the recovery and production of the digital memory of cultural content, which by its very nature has degrees of vulnerability that are decidedly superior to those of other digital contents;
  • thenthe diffusion on the net of this memory, with the involvement of a number of users that are absolutely unreachable by traditional information circuits.

But the added value of this project with respect to any other ICT project applied to cultural heritage lies in the fact that it intends to give the wide globalized public, such as that of the Web, information on the European culture and cultural heritage that is of high quality, structured, and navigable even by a non-specialized user; rich and stimulating knowledge, comprising various segments and products, all linked by the thread of quality.

In any mass treatment of information the risk is: standardizing, trivializing, flattening.  

Our objective is: differentiating, structuring, making a hierarchy, even within a context of total integration and interoperability.

The European culture Portal grows on two bases:

  • development of its own contents (of which the ARGENORE initiative represents an important example, because it thematically links representative figures, places, routes that every member State chooses because they consider them emblematic for their identity and for Europe)
  • connections with national cultural portals.

            It is opportune at this point to remember the important community initiative MICHAEL. This is funded within the sphere of the eTen programme and is already collecting the data pertinent to digital cultural collections of France, Italy and the United Kingdom making them accessible from the one point and above all on a multilingual basis. MICHAEL is a first important response to the demands connected with the development of a European culture Portal.

At this stage I must also introduce the project of an Italian Culture Portal. This is a strategic project of the MiBAC. Its main object is to establish oneaccess point for all information regarding cultural heritage, cultural activities, cultural and entertainment events, in relation to territorial distribution. Its strength lies in the involvement of territorial and local bodies and University authorities.  In fact the portal does not just provide access keys to the Ministry’s information, which does certainly form an important part of it, but it also goes on to provide a possibility of interrogation and research to the digital resources made available by the most varied subjects who possess and produce cultural information.

Millions and millions of records: precious information that go from the catalogue card to the distribution of property, to historical city centres, to cultural itineraries complete with landscape and environmental resources, cultural events, entertainment, to the places and digital resources of archives and libraries, so integrating with the Portal of the Italian Digital Library. 

Technical reports will be able in the future to deal with the technological problems linked to access, through the European Portal, to on-line digital resources displayed in national Portals.  

Portal and Agenore

I would like rather to speak again about the strategic value of the European Portal and the AGENORE initiative.

The Portal has been given the function of being an answer to the GOOGLE initiative.  But the announcement of GOOGLE’s digital library is the tip of the iceberg represented by the new digital technologies which increasingly enter the sectors of civilian life, creating infinite new opportunities, which must however be managed from within a development framework based on the awareness and agreement of the various parties involved, in a spirit of continuous openness.  Public bodies, regional and local administrations, educational systems, citizens, businesses must identify common objectives and shared technical platforms, the countries of the enlarged Europe must dialogue and harmonize national initiatives in a necessarily, but not only, European framework; cooperation at international level must be encouraged. We must dialogue and cooperate with bordering countries and regions, with other countries outside the European Union, who do however share our language, history and culture. We must also open cooperation possibilities with the technologically leader countries who are often the first to experiment products and services, in order to learn how to avoid dangers and avoid mistakes, by which we might otherwise be overwhelmed.

The AGENORE initiative, which has its roots in the results of a technical and strategic reflection concerning the Portal and digitalization, is part of this evolving scenario. AGENORE can be interpreted as a model project: HOW TO exhibit, in an accessible multidimensional showcase, the highest cultural expressions that European countries propose as a common factor, for building a sort of virtual house of European culture: illustrious personages, important places of culture (be they famous or remote and to be discovered), famous collections that reproduce in digital form famous existing collections, or which viceversa reproduce in purely virtual form new collections able to express an extreme dynamism, able to reshape and redefine themselves on the basis of the desires of the virtual visitor, and many other ways of developing and making known the best of our culture and “making culture” together.  

Considering all the above premises, the demo has been conceived as a concrete and tangible example of digital cultural application; it has been the occasion to discuss technical and organisational issues related to the realisation of the European Cultural Portal, taking into account the various problems connected to on-line exploitation of the cultural heritage: IPR and copyright, image format, cultural web communication, accessibility (ref. to the Italian law n. 4, 09.01.2004), and so on.

Objectives, Tools, Contents

The AGENORE international seminar launched the objectivesthat  should be pursued in a short and mid term vision:

  • starting from the demo presented in Italy, discuss and define both technical and cultural standards, as well as criticalities, in the creation of similar products to be put on the Cultural Portal;
  • endorse and approve what has been done so far by the European Commission and by the Member States through the National Representatives Group, MINERVA and the Presidencies of the European Union from 1999 until today.
  • develop a strategy for the future, based on what has been achieved up to now, through the analysis and understanding of existing results.

In the light of this, the priorities established by the CAC offer a rather comprehensive vision of what a European strategy should address: the tools and the content.

On the one hand, the tools should be conceived as the combination of recommendations, guidelines, coordination mechanisms together with best practices, understanding of the technology and methods for the creation and publication of digital content on the network.

On the other hand, the content issue, intended in the widest perspective, should be addressed. It should cover the different stages of digital content creation, aimed at generating and highlighting visibility of the European heritage: to select and to identify content, to valorise the diversity that is the richness of European culture, to express concretely the European added value, to work together in a framework of integration, cooperation and coordination.

The works have thus been organized according to a programme that deals with the two different aspects: tools and contents.  The European Commission will inform us on what is new in connection with the development of the Portal that is under the leadership of the Directorate of General Education and Culture, the National Representatives for the digitalization of the cultural heritage of Italy, France and the United Kingdom will illustrate what has been done up to now for developing coordination mechanisms and shared prospects at European level in this sphere, while the president of the Directing Council of UNESCO’s Information for All programme will speak of the fundamental role of cooperation between international bodies for developing an intercultural dialogue.

Tomorrow afternoon’s debate is necessary for reaching a shared document, that will be the draft of a project to propose to the Commission as the product of the Priority indicated by the C.A.C.

Antonia P. Recchia


Copyright Minerva Project 2005-06, last revision 2005-06-08, edited by Minerva Editorial Board.
URL: www.minervaeurope.org/events/documents/recchia.htm
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