Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Bellagio Publishing Network secretariat report

For the last three or so years, in addition to our regular work in support of African publishing and in particular APNET, the Bellagio Publishing Network secretariat in Oxford has pursued a strategy of handling projects and activities which are not paid for from the core funding we receive from Danida, NORAD and Sida. The aim is to take on work that can be of benefit to African publishing by making contacts and connections; also to involve African publishers in some of those cultural activities to which international agencies are increasingly devoting attention and money, such as the 1998 UNESCO Stockholm conference on cultural policies marking the end of the World Decade for Culture (see Newsletter 22).

Out of discussions in Stockholm, for example, emerged the idea of finding ways to support African arts and humanities publishing, and in September 1999, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, the secretariat organised a brainstorming meeting in the Italian village of Pratolino, near Florence, to explore and develop ideas on this theme. We arranged the meeting to coincide with a major World Bank conference on culture co-organised with the Italian government in Florence, so that participants in the arts and humanities publishing meeting could also contribute to the World Bank conference. The publishing meeting participants included African book and magazine publishers; publishers from the Caribbean, the USA and Britain with a track record of co-publishing with African publishers; writers, distributors, booksellers and librarians. A wide range of ideas emerged, some of which we hope to take forward at a seminar on African cultural publishing linked to the 2000 Bellagio Publishing Network meeting, being held in Maputo in December.

Also in the cultural arena, in 1999 we were called upon to support international activities of the Ubuntu cultural network for Africa and the diaspora. After detailed discussions at meetings in January and May 2000, Ubuntu decided to spend its funds on cultural programmes that were already up and running, notably Casa Via Magia in Brazil, and not to pursue a more formal structure at this stage.

The secretariat has been closely involved with the development of the strategic partnership agreement between APNET and its core funders. At the Bellagio Publishing Network meeting in New York in December 1999, when the partnership agreements were signed, some thought that the Bellagio secretariat had achieved its goals and reached the end of its useful life. Most, however, recognised that there is still plenty to work for in African publishing and book development, and were keen that the network should continue.

Secretariat funding from the Nordic donors continues at a reduced rate until June 2001, specifically for the handover to APNET of our co-ordinating work for their funding. Meanwhile the secretariat staff have been looking for ways to keep the other aspects of secretariat work going for as long as it is needed. In June 2000 we established Interculture, a not-for-profit company aiming to provide a range of services for cultural and scholarly projects, particularly those facilitating south-south connections. We plan to run Interculture side by side with the Bellagio Publishing Network secretariat.

In July 2000 Interculture helped organise a Ford Foundation meeting in Trinidad on Cultural Enterprises in the Caribbean, which became an opportunity for a group of Caribbean publishers to meet and take forward plans to form a Caribbean Publishers Network. CAPNET was born at that meeting. We were then able to support their successful application to the Rockefeller Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, northern Italy which, nearly a decade ago, acted as midwife for both the Bellagio Publishing Network and APNET.

A year ago Philip Altbach, who has been involved with the Bellagio Publishing Network from before its first day, who started this newsletter, published the Bellagio Studies in Publishing series, and ran the Network's Research and Information Center in the US, announced at the Network's annual meeting that his other commitments meant he was no longer able to continue his Bellagio work. Philip's quiet dedication to the Bellagio Publishing Network has been essential to its continuity through the years, and whenever the secretariat in Oxford has needed help and advice he has offered it willingly. He remains in touch with and supportive of our work, but the Bellagio Studies in Publishing will no longer be produced from Boston. We have been working with Philip to ensure that the series continues, and hope that in future it will be published from Africa.

In addition, we have continued with our regular tasks of collecting and providing information, building the mailing list, acting as a bridge between partners and potential partners, looking for new opportunities that can help strengthen southern publishing, organising meetings and facilitating contacts. At last year's annual meeting we invited North American publishers and booksellers to contribute to a discussion on marketing African-publishing books in the diaspora. At this year's meeting in Maputo we will have the chance to hear from CAPNET, the new Caribbean Publishers Network, PABA, the new Pan-African Booksellers Association, and the new director of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.

In October we moved offices in Oxford to larger premises which are more convenient for the wider range of activities we are now doing. (The Jam Factory continues to house the African Books Collective and INASP.) See the new secretariat contact details on page 40. [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 30.]

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