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The WID Summit: the empowerment of women in digital creativity

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Laetitia Theunis

Chimiste et océanographe de formation, Laetitia a troqué son tablier de chercheur contre une plume de journaliste par passion pour la vulgarisation scientifique. Elle a fait ses armes au Soir, avant de rejoindre le Vif et de devenir rédactrice en chef du Daily Science. Adepte de la randonnée et de la cuisine sauvage, elle aime s'immerger dans la nature et sortir des sentiers battus.

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For its first edition, the Women in Digital Summit was a resounding success. Held at the TRAKK in Namur, it brought together inspiring women working in the domain of digital creativity. And opened up fields of possibilities for the numerous participants.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the first edition of the Women in Digital (WID) Summit was a success. On May 16, 2024, over one hundred people, primarily women, attended multiple activities aiming to promote the position of women in the world of the arts and the digital domain. And amongst the gathering, stars made numerous gazes shine.

‘Digital creativity is an important issue to further feminise the tech professions and market. Organising a day like this, highlighting this industry’s professions, but also women who are expressing themselves talentedly within them, enables visibility to be brought to the Walloon digital creativity ecosystem. And it is done so that other women can say to themselves: that might be for me. But also to remove the barriers which are often linked to the technical aspects of these professions,’ explains Delphine Jenart, coordinator of Wake! By Digital Wallonia, the new digital creativity community launched in January by KIKK, a non-profit organisation which explores the intersections between art, sciences, technologies and society.

‘We wanted this first edition of WID to be both inspiring and practical,’ explains Marine Haverland, the WID coordinator. ‘It is for that reason that the day was pretty rich and varied: in parallel with lectures and round-tables, workshops were held on technical knowledge, such as an introduction to Midjourney and online self-branding, as well as soft skills coaching.’ Including the ways of giving and receiving feedback. It’s a way of going back home with several new strings to your bow. That in any case is the opinion of one of the participants of the coaching session on ‘how to present your project to a financial institution?’ given by St’art Invest. ‘It was great, I learned a lot. I feel more confident about setting up my project,’ she says, all smiles, whilst heading to another workshop.

Video games galore

In terms of inspiration, the bar was straightway raised to somewhere in the proximity of the stars. At the age of just 30, Mélanie Courtinat, who defines herself as an immersive artistic director and a contemporary artist based in Paris, came to explain her journey, without any empty rhetoric. Going over the difficulties she has experienced, her faith in her work, the opportunities she has been able to prise open. And, on the basis of her experiences, she revealed her tips to making an honest living in the digital arts domain. Whilst she was giving her presentation, the notebooks of the participants were blackened with scribbled notes, it was that inspiring.

© Louise Adelbrecht

‘The special aspect of my work is that I create exclusively on the computer. I am fascinated by video game engines. I use software such as Unity to create video games, virtual reality, augmented, mixed reality. I also create images and films in 3D. Around 40% of my time is spent creating artworks which travel the world over via museums, institutions, festivals, art galleries, on the basis of a classic economic model of contemporary art.’

‘At the same time, since 2017, I have been working within the scope of commercial projects commissioned by brands or operators such as Dior, Dolce&Gabbana, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Cartier etc. In the world of luxury and fashion, there is a kind of curiosity and yearning for new technologies. And the video game lends itself to it marvellously. Working for brands always involves telling an emotion. It also means going very far in personal artistic creation, accepting dozens of back-and-forths with the client and numerous compromises.’ And the examples of the results projected onto the big screen in the TRAKK’s plenary hall are of a breathtaking beauty. 

The world of music also reaches out to Mélanie Courtinat in order to make video clips. As was the case with the group Agar-Agar, which granted her total artistic freedom. But also with Dixon, a famous house music DJ, for whom she created Nei, an avatar who shimmies along a pole dance bar. ‘It is completely crazy that what I have created at home is eventually visible on a giant screen to 11,000 people,’ says the enthralled digital artist. She also creates face filters. ‘My economic model, it’s a lot of bricolage. I learn a lot on the job, depending on the commissions. And I am careful about making sure that my technological skills are always up-to-date.’

Places up for grabs

No less than 16 events were programmed along the whole day, with 4 taking place simultaneously. And all the subjects appeared interesting. To choose is to forego. But Pauline Antoine, alias Poney, an illustrator with divine pencil strokes, was there to leap from room to room to sketch the day’s events. ‘I attended pretty much everything to give you a little summary of what you missed,’ she says in the agora, whilst scrolling her drawings one-by-one onto a big screen, sketches of people with disproportionate heads, accompanied by comments packed with humour… During the midday break and at day’s end, she thereby offered us a large dose of laughter, whilst devouring a veggie sandwich or emptying a beaker of coffee.

Quickly, we dash into one of the rooms in the building’s basement. In it is being debated the Walloon ecosystem in the domain of cinematographic special effects (VFX) and animation. And it has no reason to feel ashamed in comparison, it is that rich.

Representatives of the business companies Benuts, Dreamwall and Digital District have come to discuss the place of women in this specific world. And the overall assessment is unequivocal: there are too few of them. One principal reason put forward is that women are not familiar with these professions. It is for that reason that the three companies present for the round-table organise open doors, have their studios visit the schools, spotlighting the women who work for them in various posts. And they do so in the hope of attracting young girls or women in career change training and getting them to discover an enviable profession which is completely accessible to them. ‘We go into the schools to promote awareness of our activity domain amongst young people. We also welcome trainees,’ explains Stéphanie Pottier from Benuts.

Next is raised the perpetually repeated question: how to get trained in these professions? There are, of course, the classic pathways in university or higher education. But other actors involved in training are successfully throwing their hats into the ring. Such is the case with Interface 3. Based in Brussels, this non-profit association exclusively trains women, including in the digital professions. Each year, around 300 of them, aged between 25 and 40, take part in one of their 13 long training courses, each one leading to a qualification and free-of-charge, with vocational integration rates from 70 to 80%!

Following in the wake of Walloon business companies active in immersive technologies aiming to dust down the museums, such as Hovertone, ‘the domain of VFX and animation is clearly in the grip of a talent shortage. The advantage of this shortage is that we are obliged to be good employers. That means being very agile in terms of work flexibility, teleworking, ensuring the right work/life balance,’ adds Alice Gorissen, the CEO of Dreamwall. 

‘It is very important to allow companies to evolve as regards their culture. For example, stopping making comments to mothers who go to pick up their children from school at 17.00 along the lines of “Oh, you’re taking the afternoon off?” In fact, whilst first and foremost it involves attracting women to digital careers, it also means establishing favourable conditions to keep them there,’ points out Maryse Colson from Elles bougent, a French-Belgian association aiming to draw women into scientific and technical sectors and careers.

© Louise Adelbrecht

After this day, rich in encounters and inspiring activities, a date has already been set in the spring of 2025 for a second edition of WID Summit. ‘This edition was practically 100% female, with the idea of allowing women a maximum amount of speaking time. Next year, there will be a thinking through of how to work with the men who want to carry our message of the inclusion of women in the digital domains. On how to equip them with the tools as well, as they are keen on obtaining them,’ concludes Delphine Jenart. We already cannot wait for next year!

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