Today I went to the San Francisco presentation of Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity, a government-sponsored report on how information technology relates to arts and culture, and how to encourage that relationship. It was quite interesting and I’m looking forward to reading the report.
William Mitchell kicked off the presentation by discussing the motivation for the report, which was the recognition that creativity increasingly drives our economy, yet efforts to fund creative work involving technology lag far behind more traditional technological research programs. He pointed out that art and technology have a symbiotic relationship in which technology opens new domains for art, while art contributes new insights and understanding to technology. Finally, he spoke of the “emerging global race” for creativity and the need for the creation of “clusters” of information technology and creative practice which would contribute to economic growth, quality of life, and cultural and political influence. The emphasis on “the creative industries” as drivers of economic growth reminded me of Japan, where the culture industry and “gross national cool” are thriving, even while more traditional industries have stagnated.
The next speaker was JC Herz. She made some general comments about moves toward openness and dispersion both in art and science and works which straddled the line between the two disciplines like Ken Goldberg’s Telegarden and the SETI@home project. She also touched on the emerging field of narrative intelligence and works like Terminal Time. Perhaps most interesting were her observations about standards and the way they work for for and against creative practice using IT. Encoding common practices as standards or templates may limit creativity (this is a criticism the Garage Cinema Research projects receive all the time). Other standards may limit transparency, either purposefully, like DRM or incidentally, like compression standards. On the other hand, standards are necessary to enable exchange and collaboration (and to prevent centralized controls on the technologies being used).
The final speaker was Michael Century, who focused on funding for ITCP. He pointed out that unlike Europe and Japan, the United States does not have a tradition of public support for arts and culture. He called for a new view of creative practices that went beyond the traditional triad of composer, performer, and audience to include instrument builders and “media givers” (his catch-all term for proponents of free software/free culture). In his view, these new developments in ITCP blur the distinction between “content” and “technology” and show how art and design have value beyond pure aesthetics. Thus he saw a need for traditional sources of arts funding to fund more “basic research” into science and technlogy and for traditional sources of science and technology funding to fund art and design projects (echoes of the Third Culture here). He concluded by looking at what kinds of spaces are needed for ITCP to thrive. Given the lack of a U.S. equivalent to The Banff Centre or Ars Electronica, he suggested that universities were perhaps the best hope, assuming that they create new curiccula that tear down the walls between the arts and sci/tech departments and enable more information exchange and collaboration in teams.
It was a great afternoon and a great way to kick off the semester for my Digital Media Design Studio course. I’m hoping that some of my projects this semester help to realize the vision laid out in the report.