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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday March 21, 2022

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Sofie Taes

Sofie Taes

Research Assistant / Curator / Comms officer , Catholic University of Leuven

portrait of Georgia Evans

Georgia Evans

Senior Editorial Officer , Europeana Foundation

Professionals in Focus: Sofie Taes

Europeana Network Association Members Councillors have diverse jobs and experience across the heritage sector, but are united by their passion for digital cultural heritage. In our ‘Professionals in Focus’ series, we speak to Councillors about their roles, working lives and plans for their time on the Members Council. Today, Sofie Taes, Digital Curator at KU Leuven and Vice-Chair of ENA, tells us about her musical background, juggling projects and her aim to ‘curate and care’ with Europeana’s collections.

Sofie Taes seated at a table with a computer in a gallery
Collecting stories and images from Cypriotic communities for WeAre#EuropeForCulture, Limassol
2019 Cyprus University of Technology

How did you enter your profession? 

My background is in music. Even as a child I wanted nothing more than to be a musician and a conductor. So after attending a music academy throughout my youth I started to pursue a career as an orchestra musician at the Brussels conservatory, studying the flute. 

Somewhere along that journey, though, I got interested more in the stories behind the music than the athleticism of performing. I left the conservatory and switched to musicology studies at KU Leuven, where I stayed on after my graduation to explore philosophy and an advanced Masters in Medieval and Renaissance studies. I then was able to become part of a research group at the university specialising in Renaissance polyphony, and from there became an assistant programmer at a concert hall in Antwerp and then a communication manager for an orchestra. In the meantime, I had become entangled in the mesmerising web that is digital cultural heritage by shifting research groups and joining that of Fred Truyen at CS Digital - a unit specialising in digital humanities in general and policies and practices involving digital collections in particular. 

The very first project I was assigned to was EuropeanaPhotography: an immensely inspiring experience with a consortium consisting of people that today - almost nine years on! - still make up a circle of trusted friends. We’ve also jointly established Photoconsortium as an association devoted to promoting photographic heritage, which has become Europeana’s accredited thematic aggregator! I’ve remained active in the musical realm ever since (having established a small business of my own as a journalist-writer) but honestly, have never looked back on that switch of domains, allowing me to explore many more types, themes and styles of storytelling using Europeana and its network as a fabulous premise!

What are you currently working on? 

I’m involved as a digital curator in three projects running in parallel: CitizenHeritage, an Erasmus+ action dedicated to fostering citizen science practices in cultural heritage with a view to educational applications; WEAVE, a CEF-project in which we explore intangible as well as minoritised community heritage, enriching and improving metadata, investigating inclusive modes of storytelling, and building capacity with stakeholders; and in inDICEs, a Horizon project where we develop tools, guidelines and recommendations in aid of cultural heritage institutions embarking upon the highway of digital transformation. 

I recently got elected into the Europeana Network Association Members Council and became the vice-chair of its Management Board. This is one of my greatest adventures so far, and I can hardly wait to see what’s around the corner! 

Finally: as the proposal-writing season is upon us, I’m assisting colleagues and friends in developing concepts and ideas that, hopefully, will bloom into a range of fresh projects to pour our hearts and souls into!

What are some of the challenges in your role? What are some of your favourite elements?

Being involved in many different roles and contexts keeps the mind agile and makes the days run like crazy. But there’s a big challenge here as well: how to make sure not to lose track of what really matters to make a project succeed? How to strike that balance between investing time and effort without overcharging yourself? I am a notorious perfectionist, and this sometimes makes it tough for myself (and others…) to deal with the intense work that is often involved with our projects, meeting deadlines and enabling colleagues to proceed with their tasks. What I love: the rush of adrenaline I feel when meeting new people or longtime friends; the endorphins that ooze out when a task is beautifully accomplished; the joy of joint accomplishments when in a project all dots get connected and the pieces of the puzzle form a convincing whole.

What was your motivation for joining the Members Council? 

It just felt like a ‘now-or-never’ moment. Previously, I was mainly focusing on acquiring the knowledge, skills and experience to maximize my value as an actor in this sector. When I noticed that in the span of almost a decade I indeed had come to know a big part of the Europeana realm, I wanted to step up and give something back to the community that has given me so much. And finally: my amazing mentor Fred Truyen was stepping down in that very same round of elections. I saw an opportunity to follow into his footsteps and build on his legacy.

What do you plan to do as a Members Councillor? 

Listen, learn, explore, create and act! I’m not a silent passenger, but a vocal member of this extraordinary community of people who, as diverse as their skill sets may be, are connected through their passions and beliefs. I want to contribute to tightening and expanding our network, support good practices with regards to transparent governance and audience engagement, and explore innovative way to what I would call ‘curate and care’: use Europeana’s stunning treasury of collections to offer support to people, causes and concerns that are (or should be) at the top of everybody’s agenda.