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interview kultplay

> - Could you introduce the Digital Vienna scene for us, please in a few > sentences

There are many, many initivatives and people here in Vienna that are part of the digital scene. ubermorgen ( are currently propagating their fastinating concept 'Google will eat itself', Sonance ( is a wonderful digital platform, Team Teichenbeg ( are working in the field of open source audio streaming software and e- learning, Metalab ( is a newly founded place for digital and analog hacking, Quintessenz ( organise the Linux Weeks Vienna and the Big Brother Award, 5upernet ( persent digital hi/lo art, EQUALEYES ( Vienna's united VJs and Visualists, and of course monochrom (, the group I'm part of, is currently dealing with free culture/anti-copyright projects, nerd theatre and a long-term political computer game project called 'Soviet Unterzoegersdorf'. But there are so many people working in the field, it's nearly impossible to present a full picture of the digital scene in Vienna.

> - What was the main idea behind the foundation of NetzNetz? is a Vienna/Austria-based 'meta-community' which consists of all kinds of digital initiatives, net artists and technicians who are associated with the term 'net culture'. Under the title a congregation of initiatives and individuals in the "greater electronic area" of Vienna is growing with the goal to enhance and also visualize connectivity between themselves and the public. In a 3-day convention at the Künstlerhaus in October 2004 activists sounded out the practices, collaborations and futures of digital Vienna. The motto "bring your own devices" was a call beyond the individual scenes to both past and future participants, and offered access to new techniques and strategies in horizontal working situations.

> - Could you share the process of convincing the city government to provide this reasonable grant for local digital workshops?

It all started with the frequently announced 'crisis of net culture' in Vienna. The well established institutions of the scene were cutting their services and activities, while many activists of the field had been relying on other means of income as a resource for their work for years, anyway. New forms of collaboration and presentation were emerging. Coordinating resources via a simple mailing list, the quickly growing netznetz-movement launched its first project in 2004 with the 'netznetz Festival of Net Culture', bringing together members of the open source community, net artists, people of the cultural sector, technicians and the audience in Vienna's Künstlerhaus. Further projects evolved, the so-called 'redraft of net culture funding' being one of them. Now for first time ever, a local government has agreed to support a local net community to decide over the distribution of its own funding. The new funding system strives for guaranteed and dispersed distribution of funding in the sector while the parameters of the distribution are meant to remain flexible, providing a dynamic scope. The aim is to encourage project-based collaborations by distributing various smaller grants. Therefore, everybody who is involved in the sector is subject to the principle of permanent reconfiguration of the system and the network.

Tired of waiting for net art's signal to register on the radar of established arts funders, we at netznetz have taken matters into our own hands. We convinced our local arts commission that software art should be funded the way it's made: through self-organized networks of distributed activity and collaborative effort. More than 100 net art groups will join forces in developing 'social software' that will channel available funding in a 'guaranteed and dispersed' way within 'elastic' parameters -- a continuous project altered daily. As called it in autumn 2005: "The FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) principles behind the current upswing of social software development propose that sharing is the most politically relevant and efficient way to do anything. Netznetz extends those principles to the thing most free software innovators are wary of sharing: money. The blog world was buzzing!"

> - How does Mana work? (Procedure, democracy, rules)

50% of the funding (250,000 Euro, roughly US$300,000) is reserved for infrastructure (backbone projects), newbies (microgrants), and common representation (annual convention) and is to be distributed by the administration together with the community during the course of processes like open space conferences. The other half of the funding is to be self- distributed among the community in the form of the 'MANA network grants', facilitating the everyday work of contributors, which is usually not supported at all in conventional arts endowment systems. So MANA is a system for the distribution of municipal grants developed and run by netznetz in which the participants distribute their own funding according to certain democratically agreed-upon rules and aided by custom software. It is run largely autonomous of the city government which provides the funds.

To be fair: the process to come up with an ideal system of self-governance amongst the net culture people and net artists has also been marked by disagreements. Critics fear that the system could lead to increased competition and hostilities between participants, favor well-marketed projects over substantiated ones or that too much trust is placed in as-of- yet unproven software. As one of the people inside the system, I think that the idea is an autonomous, democratic, open and non-bureaucratic model, and it is designed to reward collaboration. Some critics call the system 'neo-liberal', but Richard Barbrook, one of the key note speakers at the 'netznetz / Parliaments of Art' conference in Vienna called it an open and democratic approach. And Richard Barbrook really is one of the most radical critics of the neo-liberal cyber-elite. In contrast, Barbrook thinks that the importance of the latest wave of technological innovation lies precisely in its ability to challenge the ideologies of the self-proclaimed opinion leaders. The net allows for the emergence of spontaneous and flexible virtual communities, defining themselves less by market exchange than by social convention.

In terms of money two distributing processes already happened. In March 2006 the community distributed the first part (50.000 euros) of the 'infrastructure grants'. The method we used was the 'MANA Peanuts' alternative currency system) by A. Trawoeger. And in April 2006 the first part (125.000 euros) of the 'MANA network grants' were distributed. The method was the 'MANA Community Game' created by C. Theiler.

And currently we are working to smoothen the process, the incorporate the critical statements and to improve the flow for the next distribution in autumn.

> - This whole idea: Mana, NetzNetz, and the democratic way you share the government's grant sounds fantastic. Was this whole idea a local development, or there are other similar ways of gaining government support elswhere in Europe?

Thanks, it really sounds fantastic, but it's hard community work and we do our best. The parameters of the distribution are meant to remain flexible, providing a dynamic scope. The aim is to encourage project-based collaborations by distributing various smaller grants. Therefore, everybody who is involved in the sector is subject to the principle of permanent reconfiguration of the system and the network. And it's just the beginning.