Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Thinking

In Stuttgart this week as part of a symposium on Creative Clusters and Cultural Heritage.  As is often the way of these European group meetings, introductions were glossed over and I didn’t immediately pick up who the different players were.  We were midway in a discussion about the difficulty in setting up clusters in cultural heritage when a very senior and clearly revered professor with a taste for mischief suddenly turned to me and growled: Where do you come from? – ‘Leeds’, I answered with some confidence –   ‘Leeds? – hmm, not one of my favourite cities’ he said.  Small titter around the room.  I bristled.  ‘So where are you from?’ I asked indignantly. He looked at me.  ‘Florence’ he said.  Instant collapse and the room roared!  But it got me thinking ……. Imagine being the Professor of Cultural Heritage at the University of Florence! – for anyone in that field, it must be like dying and going to heaven, mustn’t it?

It was an absorbing day.  A thought provoking presentation by Guntrum Geser from Salzberg Research looked at the application of ICT to the Cultural Heritage sector.  He’d taken the initial model created by Geoffrey Moore in his book ‘Crossing the Chasm. Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers[1] which offered an explanation of why it is so difficult to get new high-tech products from the (few) “innovators” + “early adopters” to the (many, but different) “early majority” customers .  Moore called it a Chasm and it was a theory that attracted a lot of attention in Silicon Valley – we still talk about it today in analysing a new market place.  Guntrum Geser, however, developed it further in the light of his work in cultural heritage and shows that there actually there are two ‘chasms’ that innovators have to get over.  Before the one that Moore identified, Geser suggests that there is an earlier one, Chasm 1, where researchers face the difficulty of getting the innovator-entrepreneur actually to take up the research prototype.  Guntrum was good enough to give me a copy of the slide to use in my own work so here’s a pdf of it for interest:  you can read more in his report on the EPOCH project[2]  (NB Had a bit of trouble inserting the image – it’s a bit too small but if you click on it, I think it will enlarge: if not, and you want to see it properly, just drop me a note)

I went on to talk about the work CidaCo has done recently with the University of Leeds Arts and Humanities researchers, exploring how we might help them widen the impact of their research.  Mixing the esoteric nature of the research specialisms with our instinct for exploitation had involved us in some stimulating discussions and I had really loved it.  There were a lot of nods around the table as people recognised the issues.  It is genuinely fascinating when you see the specialised world of cultural heritage inspiring innovation across disciplines, providing content for technologists whilst they in turn provide new and stimulating methodologies for engaging new and young audiences.  Perhaps more importantly, the mix of disciplines (cultural heritage, creative industries, social sciences, cultural economics, science and technology, amongst others) can stimulate collaborations both in Europe and across international borders that make a significant contribution to our knowledge about ourselves and our societies.  One of the other ‘external experts’ invited to the discussion was a chap from the Virtual Dimension Centre.  As he talked about their work, you could see a clear example of how cultural heritage inspires them to develop new ways of using the technology (using virtual reality, augmented reality, Second life- type applications and so on) but also how their technology could transform our whole understanding and appreciation of our history.  (I would have given a bit more here about this but when I went to their website to check some stuff, I was confronted with the image of a spider – as a long established arachnophobe, I couldn’t get away fast enough! But if you’d like to have a look, the site is http://www.vdc-fellbach.de)

The session then moved on to a presentation from Valentina Grillea of MFG.  MFG were the hosts of the event and they also host the European network EICI (European Interest Group on Creativity and Innovation) of which CidaCo is a founder member (http://www.creativity-innovation.eu ).  It’s proving to be a very useful network as it links to a number of other networks and projects over a range of other disciplines and has the capacity to bring together people from both related and unexpected fields, as in this case; but also it has been an interesting point of contact for non-European governments who are exploring the whole topic of creative industries.  The range of knowledge and experience available through the EICI network is remarkable, as was illustrated when we were invited to present to the Malaysian Government group recently.  A team of four of us went over from CidaCo and presented alongside representatives of Italian, Belgian and German groups.  The Malaysian Minister loved it and so did we – there is so much really interesting work going on and there’s such a danger that we miss it or, even worse, reinvent the wheel again and again. And who has time for that?  Actually, that is one area in which I must confess to real jealousy of MFG – they have a Communications team, led by the ineffable Evandro Oliveira, amazing chap!  Everything you’d want a Communications Manager to be  – have a look at the MFG website – you can see him at work, even charming blood out of stones!

The one thing that was really not great was the sympathy I got for coming from the UK.  Nothing to do with anti-British feeling, of course – absolutely the reverse!  They all hear their own versions of what is going on over here just now, and of course some of it is exaggerated, but basically the fact that most UK organisations these days are finding it really difficult to find the match funding for EU projects means that both we and they are diminished by our failure to participate.  It’s a great shame.

Anamaria Wills

Anamaria@cida.org   Twitter: anamariacida   Fb: http://www.facebook.com/CidaCoCreativityInnovation


[1] New York: Harper Business, published 1991

[2] Budapest: Archaeolingua 2008, http://public-repository.epoch-net.org/publications/RES_AGENDA/research_agenda.pdf Chapter 10, pp. 146-162)

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