Anupama Sekhar
is the Acting/Deputy Director of the Culture Department at the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and is actively engaged in facilitating cultural exchange and collaboration among artists and arts organisations in 53 countries in Asia and Europe. She holds degrees in English Literature and International Studies. She is also a trained dancer in the Indian classical style of Bharatnatyam.

Facilitating Asia-Europe Cultural Co-operation

Still, information gaps exist. For instance, relevant, up-to-date and publicly accessible online information on arts and culture and their professional management can still prove hard to find for some regions and countries. Anupama Sekhar presented culture360.asef.org, an online portal on arts and culture focusing on Asia and Europe to address this knowledge gap, at the ENCATC Annual Conference 2014.
culture360.asef.org presents aggregated and commissioned content related to 51 countries in the two continents and covers, among others: arts news, oppor- tunities and resources for artists, and country-specific directories and resources. The website is meant to be a one-stop shop for individual artists & cultural professionals, for arts organisations of all sizes as well as for policy- makers and government agencies (especially those focusing on international co-operation).
The development of culture360.asef.org should necessarily be viewed within the broader context of the changing cultural co-operation landscape in which we find ourselves. Over the last decade or two, there has been a clear shift from traditional cultural diplomacy towards greater cultural co-operation. This shift also tends from self-presentation towards mutual cultural practice, as Steve Green of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) articulated in his 2009zpaper New Directions presented at the conference La accion cultural exterior: definicion de nuevas estrategias (December 2009, Madrid). The emergence of mutual cultural practice has seen new actors enter the fray, including cultural networks and foundations. There is also growing interest in multilateral engagements, not merely bilateral exchanges.
In this dynamic landscape, funding is not always the only pressing issue. Access to quality information is also critical. Information gaps, no doubt, directly affect our cultural knowledge about other regions and countries, but they also impact the quality of cultural relations. It is just such a gap that culture360.asef.org fills as a credible, frequently up-dated arts portal. For instance, cultural professionals can easily access information on all the funds available to them as travel/production grants etc. through the Mobility Funding Guides on culture360 instead of having to scour hundreds of online and offline information sources. Arts organisations looking for partners are able to use the Directory of Organisations and the How to Partner tool to help them in their search. Policymakers often find their country profiles to be useful resources about on-going cultural co-operation initiatives. In these and other ways, the portal not only widens information access, but facilitates cultural engagement as well.
As the Discussion Paper for the international conference on Culture in EU External Relations (April 2014, Brussels) proposed: dedicated online information portals can facilitate cultural relations with other regions which are often hampered by insufficient information on both sides as regards their respective cultural systems, policy frameworks etc. culture360.asef.org is specifically cited in the above-mentioned paper as a successful mechanism that has stimulated cultural co-operation between Asia and Europe and which can further serve as a model for a similar portal connecting Europe and Africa.
Interestingly, the idea of creating such a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary Asia-Europe portal came from Asian and European Ministers of Culture in 2003, who recognised the existence of a vast existing information black hole. This need was further endorsed by cultural practitioners in a wide ranging survey commissioned by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). Work on portal commenced in 2003 and it was launched in 2008. culture360.asef.org was initia- ted and continues to be managed by ASEF, which is a publicly funded not-for- profit intergovernmental organisation and the only institution of ASEM (Asia- Europe Meeting). It is managed with the support of cultural and technical experts as well as a pool of experienced writers in both continents.
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