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Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 12 October, 1998 - ... open end

Subject:One People's experience with Cultural exchange via the internet
Date:Wed, 02 Dec 1998 15:22
Author:Charity Ellis  []

One People is a multi-cultural arts project that was first realized in 1997. In September (1997), Paul Jorgensen and I, Charity Ellis pulled out our sleeping bags, put on our backpacks, and departed the United States for six months of travel through Europe and Southern Africa. Our goal being to meet with and interview artists and representatives from local arts & cultural organizations and maintain a web site documenting the information gathered []. We wanted to maintain an informal level of dialogue, one in which each artist participated in an individual transcendence of time and space. The One People site provided not only textual information but photographs, QTVRs, Quicktime movies, and Real Audio.

During our initial stages of planning and pre-departure development, the internet was always an unquestioned integral tool and forum for our work. During these six months, One People met with more than sixty individuals and collectives, maintained a web site documenting travels, experiences, observations, meetings & interviews and in the process gained a much deeper awareness of the advantages and disadvantages facing cultural exhange via the internet.

In realizing One People, Paul and I faced many difficult obstacles -- from being self-funded, to having a 'virtual' pre-production period, to the nebulous state of available phone lines in other countries, local dial up numbers and the need to be on-line. Had we planned for a book to be the purpose of our trip - or a show curated at some later point in time - no, we would have had no real need for stable phone lines, universal connectors, or even a computer. But the question of finding artists, curators, and other cultural practitioners would still remain.

We made many contacts with artists, etc. through email before our departure from the United States. Many other people we met through international contacts while traveling. We found it exciting to finally meet with people with whom we had had a cyberdialogue. Oftentimes, the phone lines would fail us and we would find ourselves on an artist's doorstep before they had even received our email with arrival information. Predominantly, though, we were greated with great enthusiasm throughout our travels - even by artists who had no prior interaction with the internet, or in some cases, a computer. Finding these people, creating a dialogue, and sharing this information was the primary goal. The internet was merely the chosen tool ... which is all that it really is anyway. A tool for communication.

Our experience has become the pentultimate model on which I will position all future travels. There are small things to be learned and changed - like shooting digital video instead of 16 mm film. And to spend a little more time promoting the site through spiders -- otherwise who knows you exist? But most importantly to begin generating interest and making contacts - now ... as One People does in fact plan to travel through South America connecting arts and cultural practitioners in late 1999.

While reading through the forum discussions and essays regarding the »Cultural Exchange Via the Internet«, I have absolutely found valid points with which to agree in all of the forum discussions and essays, but I also tend to disagree with many participants' degree of unimaginative and unempowered pessimism on the potential of the internet's future. Though it is still in its infantile stage, the internet truly is what South African artist Wilhem Boshoff calls the ultimate 'tree of knowledge' - and the infamous 'second coming'. It is both a beginning and an end. While I fully realize that computer use is NOT accessible everywhere, I agree with Olu Oguibe, that it will be. The questions that we might choose to argue now, rather than whether or not the internet is a viable means for cultural exchange, might include how we choose to lead the internet into this beginning for future exchange. The tools are in our hands. We have before us an unfinished canvas. We are artists and curators with an opportunity to begin providing some answers in this virtual realm of freedom and complete possibility.

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Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, on the use of Internet in the cultural exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America.

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©  House of World Cultures, Berlin. 1998