Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Digital R&D in Arts Forum and our project for Mogoro

Last week I went to the conference ‘Digital R&D in Arts’ in Manchester Town Hall organised by the Arts Council England in partnership with Nesta and the Humanities Research Council. People from the national arts and cultural sector gathered together to discuss about the possibilities of using technology in the sector bringing existing examples and reflecting on new opportunities for the sector. I attended the conference as a young arts management graduate and so with the curiosity of who wants to listen and absorb new information and ideas.
My first thought off the top of my head is the irresistible comparison between the UK and Italian cultural sectors and observing how the UK sector is 15 or 20 years ahead of the Italian one (I am definitely not the first one to think it). If in Italy we are still struggling on how to bring additional services such as bookshops or cafè within our museums –although some of our organisations has been doing well, for instance ‘La Triennale di Milano’, many are still stuck with the past-, in the UK, cultural organisations hold a meeting to discuss the use of technology and share ideas all together. Indeed the UK has been undertaking a structured dialogue on the use of technology since the 90s, whereby there is now a special £7 fund (The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts) to support arts project that involve technology.
My second thought and the more developed one, regards my personal experience of using technology in culture that for a couple of months has been the object of meetings and skype calls with a group of friends from home. Everything started one day when all of us were back in our Sardinian home-village Mogoro for the Christmas break and in front of a pint we were reflecting on the cultural assets of Mogoro and how it could be good to do something to make the most of them. The cultural assets in Mogoro are both tangible such as churches and some relevant archaeological sites (in particular the ‘Nuraghe Cuccurada’*), the landscape, the traditional crafts and the agricultural products, among which Mogoro is particularly renowned for the production of wine; and intangible, such as traditions and the Sardinian language. Moreover, Mogoro has an incredible number (around 40!) of cultural associations among its inhabitants (about 5000), that are involved in organising events in the village but that are not always able to collaborate and often compete between each other to obtain funding from the local council.
Thus, the idea that came out from our buzzing mind is that of using technology to create a network among those cultural assets and associations in order to channel the energy of all the actors together into the regeneration of our little village. We think that technology can be the right tool to bring the associations of Mogoro together, to help them collaborate and to make all the actors aware of the cultural resources of our territory. Our challenge is that of encouraging the cultural associations to work together within a virtual sphere in the ideation of events around the cultural assets of Mogoro, with the aim that the virtual dimension could be then translated into a real dimension.
But, can then technology actually help people doing things more easily than in a physical sphere? During the conference at the Town Hall, many experiences were presented and among them one of the thoughts I have found particularly interesting is the key idea of “making things relevant to people” expressed by Ben Templeton, creative director of the digital studio based in Bristol ‘Thought Den’. Technology can offer new ways to engage people together and with culture, but that needs to be carefully and accurately planned. One of the barriers of using technology can be that people don’t always have the same level of technology literacy and therefore they can see a digitalisation of interactions as a distant world and be put off of. It is important to think about what people need and what is the value that technology can actually add to the experience of doing things and engaging with culture in ‘the real world’. I do think that technology can really be an important tool to open new possibilities of engagement and address social needs offering, as in the case of our project for Mogoro, new way of organising existing cultural assets and people’s energies. But I also think that to make our project actually relevant it will be necessary to create a conversation with the people of Mogoro and build firstly in ’the real world’ the basis of what technology can then help to work better.
At the moment, my friends and I are struggling to find funding for our project and in the meanwhile we are working on our next steps to lay the ground. Our question is how easy it will be to bring a discourse on technology and culture in a virgin terrain such as Sardinia and Italy in general. In our country, it looks like that the most relevant support could be received only by private foundations, that in the arts and cultural sector have been the most 'illuminate' actors in the latest politically troubled context. The answer is likely to be: "it won’t be easy at all"! However, we are just at the beginning...


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