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Gilberto Gil on Digital Culture

February 15-16, 2008

Media@McGill and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) were pleased to welcome Brazil’s Minister of Culture and Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Gilberto Gil, for a free public lecture on Friday, 15 February, at 6 p.m. at the Hotel Omni Mt-Royal. Digital Culture: Re-inventing America’s New World Dream explored innovative policies and practices at the cutting edge of issues like copyright, digital culture and Internet rights.

In addition to being a high-profile politician, Gilberto Gil has been one of Brazil’s most famous singers and composers, inspiring many musicians around the world with nearly fifty albums and two Grammy Awards to his name. He began his career in the 1960s as a Bossa Nova musician and, as his lyrical leanings became more politically and socially charged, helped found the popular anti-establishment movement called Tropicalia – a form that is a mix of bossa nova, rock, bahia folk music and Portugese fado. In 1968, Gil was imprisoned for several months by Brazil’s military government and went into exile, returning to Brazil in 1972 where he resumed his career in music and activism. Brazilian President Lula da Silva appointed Gil to serve as the country’s new Minister of Culture. He took office in January 2003.

‘As Brazil’s Minister of culture, Gilberto Gil has been one of the leading international advocates for the rights of artists, cultural producers and ordinary citizens with respect to new media technologies,’ said Marc Raboy, Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications and head of Media@McGill. Under the patronage of his Ministry, traditional and grassroots communities throughout Brazil have been turned into centres of digital cultural production. Gil recently hosted the United Nations Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro (November 2007) where he called for the establishment of an international Internet Bill of Rights. ‘As a creator of music, he is widely known as a central player in the search for more flexible forms of distributing artistic works, Internet rights, free and open source software, and digital culture,’ adds Raboy.

Media@McGill presented a second public event for Gil's visit: 'Broadband: a conversation with Gilberto Gil', which took place 16 February 10:00 am at the SAT (Society for Arts and Technology), 1195 St-Laurent Boulvard. At this event, Gilberto Gil discussed his thoughts on some of the issues that arise when culture intersects with technology and politics. A group of local researchers and activists asked Gil specific questions about issues related to networked communities, technologies of inclusion, governing the Internet, cultural development and Web 2.0. Gil also took questions from the audience.

Information on the issues that were adressed by the activists and the researchers :

-Cultural develoment and WEB 2.0 (Anne Goldenberg)

The Brazilian Ministry of Culture under Gilberto Gil has used projects such as the Pontos Cultura initiative to make media production a collaborative and participative activity that is accessible to everyone. The development of internet platforms such as wikis and digital practices such as open source development similarly contain unique possibilities for the practice of democratic communication. What would you ask Minister Gil about how such practices become politicized; both from the ground up as users appropriate the web 2.0 technologies that seem to hold so much promise for collaborative communication, and the bottom down, as governments use public policy and institutions to stimulate their adoption?

-Governing the Internet (Jeremy Shtern)

Brazil was an important contributor to the World Summit on the Information Society negotiations on internet governance and, as host of the 2007 UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF), has continued to be amongst the loudest voices for reform of internet governance. What sort of institutional arrangement for managing the internet is required to support the emergence of the digital culture that Minister Gil envisions? How does the current system of internet governance and the unilateral control of ICANN exercised by the US government restrict the development of internet, and the cultural practices around internet in individual nations such as Brazil that might see internet on different terms than the US and the supporters of the current regime of IG? Similarly, how does the current institutional arrangement for governing the internet restrict the development of internet globally, and the development of something resembling a global digital culture?

-Technologies of Inclusion (Catherine Roy)

The promise of new technologies are not realized in an equal mannner across all the communities to whom they should be benificial. Under Gilberto Gil’s direction, the Ministry of culture in Brazil has invested a great deal in the development of digital culture as a means of building cultural bridiges to those that are left out of existing cultural flows. What, from the perspective of inclusion of all communities and individuals, are the important questions to ask Minister Gil regarding the desirability and development of digital culture?

-Networked Communities (Michael Lenczner)

The Brazilian Ministry of Culture under Gilberto Gil has used projects such as the Pontos Cultura initiative to make media production a collaborative and participative “dispositif” that is accessible to everyone. These programs crucially also cover access to internet too. What questions would you ask Minister Gil that would be pertinent to supporters of the community wireless networking movement in Canada, as to how such initiatives can form the basis of government policy and, in particular, about how the idea of digital culture necessitates a shift in thinking about access to the internet away from the economic realm and into the cultural realm. The latter would be a shift that clearly changes how questions about ownership, management, deployment and participation in internet service provision are perceived.

On Satuday, 16 February, each participant had further developed her or his own statement and question(s).

Video | Broadband: Gilberto Gil in discussion with Montreal activists

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