Arts in a Digital World Summit Aims to Kickstart Digital Transformation

By Frédéric Guarino ● March 23, 2017 13:00

The recent The Arts in a Digital World Summit (March 15 to 17) was the perfect culmination of Canada Arts Council’s motto: “Bringing the arts to life.” 

The Summit brought together creators from across Canada to the breathtaking Arsenal space in Montreal, including five CFC Media Lab's IDEABOOST Network Connect companies (BemusedNetworkBrinx's MasterpieceVRFilmTymeVubble and Wondereur), who showcased their arts-friendly solutions in the CFC Media Lab | IDEABOOST lounge throughout the Summit.

Simon Brault, Director and CEO of Canada Council for the Arts, opened the Summit with a powerful address to the 300 attendees of the Canadian arts sector, stating that the level of digital intelligence is not what it should be in the arts. “It is undeniable that the world we live in, and our future, is a digital one,” said Brault, “For artistic creation and organizations to remain relevant, they must be able to face the challenges and seize the opportunities of the digital age. This Summit and our new $88.5 million commitment is aimed at supporting that regard. By 2021, the Canada Council’s specific investments in digital will represent over 10 per cent of its grants.”

Following Brault’s opening remarks, Sylvie Gilbert, Director of the newly announced $88.5 million Fund for the Arts in the Digital World, spoke in detail about the Fund’s goals and objectives. The Fund will run for four years (2017 to  2021) and is aimed at kickstarting the arts sector’s digital transition in a specific timeframe. It will support projects and initiatives that will support the Fund’s three components: digital literacy and intelligence; public access to the arts and cultural engagement; and the transformation of organizations

Guests speakers, including Ana Serrano, Jackson 2bears, Astra Taylor and Sylvain Carle, explored several important questions. How can Canada’s arts sector better respond to the shifts and disruptions provoked by digital technologies? How can we develop innovative approaches to renew and grow our relationships with citizens in a digitally empowered society? How can we transform our organizational and business models to leverage and optimize digital?

CFC’s Ana Serrano, a member of the Summit’s advisory committee, kicked off the questioning on Day 1 by sharing the committee's insights on how the arts sector should get future-ready. In their view, we are entering another technological (r)evolution as immersive media (VR, MR, AR), artificial intelligence and ubiquitous computing become mainstream. Their call to action is for the arts sector to seize the opportunity to be equal participants at the table with the technology sector to intentionally design what these new futures will bring. She believes that despite our present context, with its ongoing digital divides, privacy and security issues, techno-economic inequalities, with the arts sector's commitment, we can do better as a society.

Jackson2bears, a Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) multimedia artist and theorist, spoke about how his ancestors would refer to their “stories being written on the land” — because for indigenous peoples, the landscape is considered to be a living, animate, and embodied archive. A central aspect of Jackson 2bears’ research is the spatiality of storytelling: how story can be dimensional as well as durational, and how narratives are intricately interconnected with place, the landscape, and the environment. His talk during the Summit focussed on the digital divide and whether technology further marginalizes indigenous communities or will serve to amplify rights, traditions and protocols.

Sylvain Carle is a serial entrepreneur, CTO and co-founder since 2000 (Messagia, Interstructure, Praized, Needium). Before joining Real Ventures as a general partner in 2014, Carle was senior developer advocate at Twitter in San Francisco. Sylvain Carle described himself as a socialist, idealist and pragmatist who is convinced that technology will change the world in this era of the networked society. He spoke about how he’d like to see technology evolve into a more urban, local, sustainable, fair, open, transparent and more human world.

Astra Taylor is a writer, documentarian, organizer and, most recently, the author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, which won a 2015 American Book Award. Taylor said that for all that we “tweet” and “like” and “share,” the Internet reflects and amplifies real-world inequities at least as much as it ameliorates them. Online, just as off-line, she argued, attention and influence largely accrue to those who already have plenty of both. She provided the call to action for Day 2 as she asked:

On top of inspiring speakers and contributors, the Summit featured workshops on topics such as: Our Opportunities in a Connected Society and How Do We Bring Our Vision to Life? Its exploration of how the arts can become more immersed in the digital world was summed by Simon Brault’s final words that before we are removed from the process entirely, let’s use our ability and power to make some conscious choices, so that:

-- We don’t become tourists in the ruins of our past
-- The decrees of digital giants don’t unilaterally determine how art is created and shared
-- We can counter the dehumanization of and by digital;
-- Art and culture remain central to the destiny of our fellow human beings, as an anchor for society and civilization
-- We can work together, in solidarity, as players in a future we insist on being part of.

For more detail on the event visit The Arts in a Digital World Summit.