Tony de Vuyst is the managing director of PointCulture, a network promoting cultural operators in the Federation Wallonia Brussels (www.pointculture.be). He is also the President of the Brussels Arts Network (RAB), which federates with its Flemish sister (Brussels Kunstenoverleg) more than 170 cultural operators in Brussels and vice-president of Jeunesses Musicales in Brussels. Philologist and musicologist by training. He is also violist in various ensembles including the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra and regularly participates in various musical projects.
Marlena Wieczorek: You are director general of PointCulture in Brussels (www.pointculture.be). What are the tasks of PointCulture? Is it more like a library or a house of culture?
PointCulture is a network of cultural establishment which purpose is to put the cultural operators of the French Community of Belgium in contact with each other in order to create transversal projects and at the same time to achieve economies of scale in terms of financial and human logistical resources.
Historically, we used to call ourselves La Médiathèque and for more than 60 years we built a rich collection of media (films, CDs, etc.) that we make available to a diverse audience and which also serves us for projects that we develop with our partners. We are an unique association that is something between a library and a house of culture, but whose social purpose is to promote the culture of our community.
MW: Our first meeting took place at the Médiathèque. Today, we meet at PointCulture. Whatis this change? It’s not just a change of the name – it’s a profound transformation. What are the differences between these institutions?
Originally, the Médiathèque was called the Discothèque Nationale de Belgique and it was founded in 1953. Following the communitarisation of the cultural matters, the Discothèque was divided into two distinct associations: the Médiathèque de Belgique asbl and the Belgische Mediatheek vzw.
The form, the organizational, the subsidizing methods and the missions of the Médiathèque are governed by the Royal Decree of 7 April 1971. In reference to the prescribed of this Royal Decree, the activities of the Médiathèque have historically focused on two fields: at first, the loan of physical sound and audiovisual media and then, gradually, the provision of information values on the multimedia content offered to members. As part of its activities, the Médiathèque has a heritage of nearly 800,000 physical media.
From the 2000s, the change in cultural consumption habits and access to musical and audiovisual works has profoundly affected the lending activity of La Médiathèque. The digital revolution has resulted in a decline in the number of loans and public attendance, resulting in a significant and recurring loss of revenue to the association.
Since 2013, a repositioning was indispensable. This repositioning has been made with reference to several key priorities of the French Community of Belgium in the field of cultural policies: strengthening access to culture and cultural participation for all audiences develop arts and cultural education in and out of school; support the promotion and dissemination of artists and creators of the French Community of Belgium and their works.
In close synergy with cultural, social and educational operators, the association, which is now called PointCulture, is now in charge of information, dissemination, education and cultural mediation missions for all disciplines and cultural and audiovisual aesthetics, for all audiences of the French Community of Belgium.
Dorota Relidzyńska: Cultural mediation – one of PointCulture’s missions – what is it? This conception is not yet well known and present in Poland.
It is a central conception of our activity, which, do not worry, is not always understood in the same way by the operators!
As far as we are concerned, we have defined it in our charter (https://www.pointculture.be/a-propos/mediation-culturelle/): to summarize, PointCulture considers cultural mediation as a triangulation between three active sectors: the public, the staff of PointCulture and its partners and the material and non-material objects used to carry out the mediation mission. We consider culture as plural, multidimensional, transversal and transdisciplinary.
It constitutes the cement of human relationships in a perspective of strengthening the debate and criticism, the true foundations of a life in society.
PointCulture considers cultural mediation as a creative action of links between artworks and public only if these relations are productive at the level of individuals and/ or communities. And this, without exercising authority in the transmission of values, but in the desire to generate open experiences.
In this sense we develop the programming of PointCulture: it is oriented towards the public and is considered as a sum of tools of social development.
DR: PointCulture’s missions have evolved alongside the development of the digital market and the decline of the sound and image market on physical media. How does PointCulture adapt to these changes?
As I mentioned above, the irruption of new technologies has been a real quantum leap for the association! Since 2001, the date of the explosion of the CD, the decline has begun and today we lend less than 20% of what we lent at that time. So, we had to reinvent ourselves. Very quickly we noticed that even if the digital was taking a considerable scale, what was lacking to the public was advises, orientation, what we call now curation, in short the contents which allows to widen one’s knowledge and cultural horizons.
PointCulture already had a great expertise, recognized, in matters related to sound and image and so we decided in the light of our new missions of promotion and cultural mediation to use this know-how, to develop a whole battery of educational modules related to these subjects. Thus we propose today a very complete catalog, for all types of public (but also and especially for the schools) of modules of animation. The other option chosen was to develop in our places, real living spaces where the public could ask and find a real cultural reservoir and a host of events, training, conferences of small concerts etc. in connection with our themes and our partners.
All of this has not happened in a day and the movement is still going on. We had to train for new jobs, but that’s also very exciting.
DR: What are the sources of financing for PointCulture? Do you have state’s support?
We are mainly financed by the French Community of Belgium and other public institutions, the rest comes from own revenues (media loans, training, etc…) for an overall annual budget of 9 million euros.
MW: Apart from the financial aspect, what are the biggest challenges for the Director General of PointCulture?
I would not tell you anything by saying that culture is a fragile sector and that, despite its dynamism and its major role in the creation of employment, remains the poor place in the budgets of governments… However, the creativity of the sector has always been successful. The big challenge, which is permanent, is to stay in close contact with the changes in the society in which we operate and to stick our activities to these changes, which are often profound.
Over the course of its history, PointCulture has suffered the shock of the transition from the physical world to the digital one, which has forced us to rebuild by creating new professions, for example by developing specialized technical skills of the members of our staff (video editing, photography…) and also skills in terms of cultural mediation so that they can develop training modules and animation in our areas of history expertise (the sound and the image to summarize). This transformation is still onthe agenda and will continue in the years to come.
MW: How does the institution benefit from being located in the capital of Europe? Is the proximity of the European Commission important?
Paradoxically, we have very little contact with the European institutions, even though part of the public who visits us is made up of European officials. It is mainly in the context of specific and already distant projects (for example in European Year of Education through Sport) that we have been able to collaborate and benefit from the financial support of Europe.
MW: The European Parliament dismisses the controversial Digital Single Market Directive. What is your opinion on this subject?
Copyright issues have always been central to PointCulture and we have always respected legislation that allows artists and stakeholders to have income related to their creations. In the past, we had launched a digital platform and negotiated a series of important catalogs from around the world to offer them for purchase to our users, the idea being that artists receive fair remuneration in this context. But the project was abandoned after a few years before emergence of streaming sites.
We are very dubious about the real will of Europe – in view of the real weight of lobbying – to want to achieve a system of fair remuneration of artists and especially its application throughout the EU.
DR: Does PointCulture cooperate with the twin institution of the Flemish Region?
Yes, we regularly carry out projects with our Flemish colleagues, for example in the context of Semaine Numérique – the Digital Week (www.lasemainenumerique.be) which highlights the activities related to the discovery of new technologies and which brings together in a week almost a thousand of proposals for all audiences. Another very recent example is the creation of the Belgian Music Days (www.belgianmusicdays.be), which offers for 3 days a panorama of classical music and jazz from Belgian composers. This project benefits from the financial support of the two communities (French and Flemish), and even the German community thanks to a collaboration decree that has been signed by the respective supervisory ministers. This is a good example.
In Brussels, we preside over the Réseau des Arts Bruxellois (RAB), which in close collaboration with our Flemish partner the Brussels Kunstenoverleg BKO, brings together more than 170 major cultural actors in Brussels and which already prepares Brussels cultural capital of Europe in 2030!
MW: I take this opportunity to thank you for our professional collaboration and the trust you have shown us. It is thanks to you that Fundacja MEAKULTURA was able to present Max Skorwider’s posters in Brussels, one of the elements of the Save the Music public interest campaign. I was fascinated by your open and cooperative attitude towards a little-known subject (music of the time of communism, an artist from Poznań…). Your cultural offer consists mainly of proposals related to Belgian culture. What part of your offer helps broaden horizons?
In fact, even though our main missions are to defend the cultural and mainly sound and audiovisual heritage of our community, we are open to the world! The major societal themes that we are clearing in our activities are much broader than the narrow framework of the French Community of Belgium. For example we worked last season on the theme of the city URBN (https://www.pointculture.be/dossier/urbn-portraits/) including offering portraits of Belgian cities, but also from around the world from audiovisual documents, building bridges, trying to define the various sensitivities found there … This season is devoted to the theme Work, in all its forms in all these latitudes, there is the true contribution of PointCulture in the enlargement horizons of the public (https://www.pointculture.be/dossier/le-travail/).
MW: Can you present us the process of the acquisition of the legal deposit by PointCulture? Which institution is subject to the obligation of the transmission of the legal deposit?
In fact the legal deposit exists in Belgium only for books, it is the Bibliothèque Royale which is the depository; nothing is done at the level of record or digital productions. Moreover, PointCulture has never had a heritage vocation, there has never been a political will to organize it in Belgium. Of course, with collections approaching 800,000 media, we have built up over time an important catalog in which we try to systematically keep all local productions, whether CD or video, or even vinyl.
DR: What is the percentage of audiovisual material collected on physical media (compared to digital documents)?
We do not collect anything at the digital level, it’s not in our missions, but our role is to direct the users of our services to these productions in case we do not have the physical version of the media.
DR: How many people view the documents each day? What are the trends? Do you have to fight to increase the number of customers? What are the rules for lending and on-site consultation of documents? Is it free or paid?
On average, we have 13,000 daily visitors to our website, who mainly consult our database and articles. As an example we organized last season nearly 400 events that interested about 16500 participants. The media are usually on loan for a week and are paid, the events are mostly free or requires paid access but still very democratic.
DR: How many people work for PointCulture?
We are 125 people or 99 full-time equivalents working at PointCulture.
MW: Personal question. Tony, apart from being Director General of PointCulture, you understand Polish, you know some other languages (Russian, Japanese, English, German, Dutch, Czech…). You can lead the conversation on Szymanowski’s songs. I have filled out a grant application form with you for European funding and I know that you are strong on financial matters. You play viola at a professional level, you are interested in insects. What are your other interests? How to reconcile all that, how to find the time for all that?
I will add that I am also a botany enthusiast… It seems a lot but in fact everything is a question of organization and as I do not need many hours of sleep… I manage to pin everything ;-)!