Technologies Beyond the Clouds: Six IT Tools for Developing Culture

How can technological advances help creative industries, and what is hampering digital progress? In mid-April, these issues brought together representatives of the public sector and business for the IT in the Cultural Environment of Ukraine conference. After analysing the discussions, we present the changes that await us in the future.


Each sphere of the creative economy – visual art, architecture, fashion, museums, libraries, archives, publishing and the media, advertising, television, film, crafts – is experimenting with digital technologies today. IT comes in handy when creating sites and performances, online courses and installations, virtual tours and digitising cultural heritage. In Poland, for example, two million publications have already been digitised, a significant part of which is available for free on Polona.

In Ukraine, despite the overall development of the IT sector and strong creative ideas, dialogue between culture and technologies is only just beginning. There are positive cases. For example, News Museum, a recent exhibition at the Mystetskyi Arsenal, made full use of the potential of interactive technologies and virtual realities. Or the country’s export strategy for the next four years, which was recently presented at the Ministry of Economic Development. The priority sectors for the development of trade include creative services and IT.

However, in overall terms we are behind our Western neighbours on the issue of interaction between technologies and culture. The premises of many national cultural and educational institutions today look as if they are stuck in the past, and information continues to be stored on compact discs and even floppy discs. Prior to 2005, a programme for the preservation and digitisation of library collections was implemented in Ukraine. However, it was only 30 per cent complete, and a new strategy has yet to be drawn up. Practical solutions for changing the situation were presented at IT in the Cultural Environment of Ukraine.

  1. Cloud Technologies

IT tools, particularly cloud technologies, can popularise the country’s national cultural heritage. This opinion is shared by Nadiya Vasilyeva, the head of Microsoft in Ukraine. Digitised books, paintings, ornaments, old films and other information can be stored on a remote server and made available to any person in the world. This will increase the attractiveness of the country as a tourist destination, while the State preserves its cultural heritage.

Moreover, this should be of interest not only to the State and companies whose bread and butter is digitisation, but also the creative sector, since such content can be used creatively. “If we can show at least part of our cultural heritage to the world, offer it in open access, many organisations would be interested in funding this,” Nadiya Vasilyeva believes.

  1. Open Access to Data

Despite all the advantages of IT technologies, Ukrainian legislation restricts their use. For example, State information and personal data – a rather nebulous concept – may not be stored on cloud services. Iryna Prokopenko, director of the Kyiv Scientific-Methodological Centre for the Protection, Restoration and Use of Monuments of History, Culture and Protected Sites, hit upon a similar problem. Not so long ago, a plan was approved for the creation of an electronic database of the capital’s monuments. However, it cannot be implemented because many legal acts prohibit the public dissemination of information about site owners. Current discussion about changes to the law “On the Protection of Personal Data” provides a glimmer of hope.

  1. Virtual Reality

“In the next five to ten years, the specialisation of virtual reality architect will become very popular,” says Oleksandr Danko, coordinator of academic programs at IBM Academic Initiative. The potential of modern technologies can be used by travel agencies, since interactive projects attract both real and virtual travellers. For example, in 2009, the IBM Academic Initiative created a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, and today this format has become an integral part of the content of museums, theatres, hotels and entertainment complexes. A great example is the website of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

  1. Digitising Museums

Until recently, museums in Ukraine were using the legislative base of the mid-1980s, which focused exclusively on paper-based ways of thinking and processing information. As a result, more than 95 per cent of information in museums is stored on analog storage devices today. To this day, we do not have a list of cultural heritage items which are subject to digitisation. In addition, only recently did the Government determine the establishment of registers of cultural heritage as one of the priorities of cultural policy.

“More than 40 museums are trying to use information technology in their accounting, but very often they transpose paper-based thinking to the products created by programmers,” says Vladyslav Pioro, Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian Centre for Museum Affairs Development. “They are literally trying to transfer the paper documentation into a structural database. The worst thing is that companies that are helping to create such products do not explain the risks and threats. Sometimes museum professionals try to go further, to offer something in the interpretation of these paper documents and they create the problem of structural incompatibility of databases.”

In 2016, the Ministry of Culture approved standards for the electronic description of museum pieces. It is very important to adhere to them so as not to depend later on a specific manufacturer or software. This will enable museums that generate information to freely exchange data and transfer them to the State register. 

  1. Freedom of Panorama

The freedom of panorama is the right to take photographs, draw, and take video footage of buildings, monuments, bridges, metro stations and other sites in public spaces, and publish these images freely without infringing copyrights. In the UK and Germany, this principle applies to all sites, while in the USA it applies only to buildings. In Italy, France and Ukraine, freedom of panorama is non-existent.

“If you wish to photograph or take video a building or monument, metro station or a memorial plaque for the purposes of publishing it, for example, as an illustration for a Wikipedia article, you need to get permission from the author, architect or sculptor,” says Yuri Perohanych, general director of the Association of IT Enterprises of Ukraine and founder of the Wikimedia Ukraine NGO. “Permission is not required if the author died more than 70 years ago – in that case, the work is in the public domain. That is, photographing the majority of Soviet buildings or sculptures and absolutely everything created since independence requires the permission of the author. Everything falls under this regulation: from the Verkhovna Rada building, for the photographing of which you need the permission of the heirs of the architect Zabolotny, to rural memorial monuments to the victims of wars and the Holodomor.”

The freedom of panorama could become one more step on the path to Ukraine’s cultural growth. Instead, its absence reduces the country’s tourism potential: first, it is impossible to freely share photos of interesting places, and, second, without having enough images, it is difficult to restore destroyed sites. It also prevents the creation of films and reports on modern architecture and art. 

  1. Free Distribution of Works Created with Money from the State Budget

Dozens of encyclopaedias and dictionaries produced by the Academy of Science and other state organisations and institutions are published every single year. However, often the cost of producing such publications is high, while the print runs are so limited that they do not make it to bookshops. These books end up in the offices of scientists and state libraries. “If publications of this type do not bring in money for the state, but perform an important function in the humanities, then they should be disseminated for free and electronically. Taxpayers have already paid for their creation,” says Yuri Perohanych. The online version of the 11-volume Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language is the embodiment of this vision and an example to follow.

What next?

“Growth comes from innovation, innovation is the result of a creative approach, a creative approach requires knowledge and skills in the sphere of culture,” says Tim Williams, head of the EU-EaP Culture and Creativity Programme. “Culture and business can no longer exist separately, innovation requires the joining of these two spheres.” Therefore, the programme’s experts worked out several recommendations to take cultural heritage to a new level, including with assistance from information technologies:

  • It is worth allowing cultural institutions to make money from their work: for example, set up a museum coffee shop or their own line of souvenirs, in addition to obtaining and using at their own discretion money from patrons and private donations;

  • Cultural institutions should take into account the demands of society, and their employees should report annually on the implementation of strategic work plans;

  • Museum workers have to learn to work with online tools, keep records and transfer information electronically;

  • An easy to use website offering an English version is absolutely necessary to provide the latest news and information about the institution;

  • A unified online database is necessary that would contain information about cultural heritage sites in addition to a unified system of statistical data to help the carrying out of evaluations of museums, galleries, theatres and other cultural institutions.

These steps are only the beginning. The Ukrainian creative sector already accounts for about 4 per cent of GDP, but we can do more. Striving for economic growth, Oksana Melnychuk, head of the PromCom association, recommends focusing on other world indices as well. In most of them, Ukraine lags far behind. In the happiness index, we rank 132 among 155 countries; the level of human development at 84 of 188; while the standard of living of the population is at 63 out of 133 countries. In terms of GDP level last year, Ukraine came 138th out of 189 countries. The index of creativity inspires hope: we rank 47 out of 187 countries. And we should use this as a starting point for the future.

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