Arts & New Media conference

I’m back from the one-day seminar held on the arts & new media at Dublin Castle, sponsored by the Arts Council. It was a lively day full of interesting discussion and presentation– for me the best aspect was meeting others in the Irish blogging community, and hearing how various organisations in Ireland are utilising social media and other web 2.0 technologies in their work. Damien Mulley and Fearghus Ó Conchúir have already recalled their experience at the conference on their blogs. Others appeared to be blogging the conference live, but I haven’t yet found their sites or responses… in principle it’s an interesting idea, but sitting next to a blogger furiously tapping away during a presentation (or indeed surfing the web or checking email) reminds me of the kind of things we kick undergrads out of lecture for doing! A bit irritating, to be honest.

To my mind the discussions based around the opportunities offered by web-based media to organisations were more productive than those that focused on their potential within art practice. Also I have an interest in the deeper implications of web 2.0 on processes of social interaction and creativity within organisations, which were addressed sporadically but not with any particular rigour. That being said, the initial fiery exchange between keynotes Andrew Keen and Charles Leadbeater was particularly enjoyable owing to the strong feelings and ideas it provoked. Leadbeater’s boulder and pebble metaphor seemed to resonate particularly well and was repeated by others throughout the day, but I suspect many in the audience found themselves surprisingly in sympathy with Keen’s point of view. I myself am concerned about the overly American-centric view of the world presented by web 2.0 utopians, and worry about the social inequalities and new hegemonies it tends to gloss.

In terms of the ‘open’ sessions, I was a bit disappointed to realise that they had been predetermined, and not left open for participants to decide, as in true Open Conferencing style. I suppose this is more achievable in a 2-day conference environment, but given the unusual diversity of attendees it felt like an opportunity not seized. Finally, I would have loved to have seen policy addressed in a more concrete way, which the last session promised but did not deliver. I suspect many in the audience were not actually that interested in discussing policy (fair enough), and although I appreciate Andrew Taylor’s response to my question, I would have much preferred a response from the RTE and Arts Council reps on the panel, who are more familiar with the Irish policy context and the giant ‘boulders’ in that arena. So much of the conversation on the day seemed to need more time– it often felt like folks were just getting started before it was time to move on to the next session! Clearly there’s a high level of enthusiasm out there for the subject, and I’ve heard from several people disappointed there was no space for them to attend (though they plan on catching up on the streaming audio).

I find it difficult to criticise any new initiative, mostly because I’m so delighted anything’s been done at all! Indeed the large turnout to the event is testament to the hunger for these conversations, but I also think it led to the conference ‘vibe’ feeling somewhat diffuse and unfocused. That’s a personal response of course– but I think the most productive work at these events gets done when a smaller group of participants are united around a central agenda and set of concerns, though their views, approaches and experience may differ. I hope a more concentrated series of events or get-togethers will emerge out of this first effort, and that the dialogue begun yesterday will translate into a more vibrant online arts community in Ireland.

Finally a big kudos to Annette Clancy and her team who put the whole event together– well I know the difficulty in managing such an event, and it was superbly organised and run.

12 thoughts on “Arts & New Media conference

  1. Emily MFG says:

    I should make the caveat, it was the email checking/surfing that was annoying, not the blogging per se! Although the tapping sound was quite distracting in both cases… c’est la vie.

  2. Omaniblog says:

    Emily Mark FitzGerald,
    Thank you very much for your post. It’s great to tap into how you found the day. I’m surprised and sorry you had difficulty finding my blog. It comes up if you put “Arts Council of Ireland conference on new media” into Google. You make a great point I think: it could be distracting for people to have someone sitting next to them who is blogging the event live. I’m going to think more about this. I admit I didn’t give it a moment’s thought yesterday. So I could have been more considerate.
    I bet someone out there has developed some ‘rules of engagement’ for live bloggers. I’ll google that. Yesterday was a trial run for me: I have a bigger ambition – to work with a team of bloggers to produce a virtual ‘conference’ alongside the concrete event – a bit like the blogfringe festival. This would be a space where people displayed their response to what’s going on live, and created the space where people could casually drop in with a comment on what they’d just been to – a kind of sophisticated notice board I suppose. I’d envisage there being photobloggers, and podcasting bloggers alongside the more conventional writerbloggers.
    Forgive me going on at such length. It’s a bit indulgent but I’ve been carried away with the spirit of adventure. I would love to know what you think of these ideas, please

  3. Emerging Writer says:

    Hi, I enjoyed the conference and it was obviously a popular area. I found though that the mix of delegates was so wide, from tech-heads to novices/policy makers that it was difficult to follow one train of thought through. Points which were touched on but not followed through:
    The internet is 90% rubbish/teenage angst/flaming/porn. How can arts organisations/artists stand out. filter?
    It is rife with property/content stealing. How do we protect ourselves?
    There is a huge generation gap/technology conversant gap so one size will not fit all.

  4. annette says:

    “In terms of the ‘open’ sessions, I was a bit disappointed to realise that they had been predetermined, and not left open for participants to decide, as in true Open Conferencing style. I suppose this is more achievable in a 2-day conference environment, but given the unusual diversity of attendees it felt like an opportunity not seized.”

    I may be taking you up incorrectly here Emily but every delegate who registered was asked to indicate whether they wanted to host a Your Space event – we then organised enough spaces to accommodate everyone. All delegates were then emailed with the list of sessions and invited to think about them in advance. Nothing was pre determined by the conference organisers – perhaps as a panellist you didn’t see the conference registration form?

  5. Emily MFG says:

    You’re right there, Annette– I didn’t see the reg form, so I stand corrected. However I had imagined that the Your Space would evolve organically on the day from the sessions as I’ve seen happen in other Open Source conferencing events, but as I mentioned, this probably works better in a 2-day conference or retreat-style event, than in the 1-day seminar, when time is more compressed. In any case it’s great that participants were able to help shape the content of the day, rather than being passive consumers of sessions!

    Emerging Writer – no easy answers there! The fact that the internet is so much crap is a frequent rebuttal I come across from university staff who are not interested in its potential, and who choose to ignore it altogether. Personally I think that forward-thinking arts organisations can be real leaders here– witness the Tate, the Metropolitan Opera, and others who have innovated in the area of new media & the arts– they’ve helped build a reputation that is based on connectedness with audiences, and as a consequence benefit from the dynamic relationships they create with visitors both virtual and real! In terms of the generation gap, it’s possible to bridge old media with the new– as with the Met Opera’s streaming of live performances on radio, etc. I think in particular radio is an excellent way to demonstrate the potential of new media for arts experience to more established audiences– so much worldwide is available to us now, it’s simply astonishing.

    Omaniblog – the blogfringe idea is an interesting one– I think perhaps concentrating blogging activity would be a good idea. I was searching for the live blogs on the conference website, where they weren’t linked to initially, but now Annette has an index up there which is very helpful. I think the kind of ‘impressionistic’ blogspace you descrive is intriguing, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for simply absorbing presentations and talks as they are occurring, digesting them and then reflecting afterwards? This seems to me a very different thought process & experience than what live blogging seeks to capture. There’s room for both of course, and I think the conference tried to make space for both… I do think sometimes that instant, ‘from the gut’ responses are not always helpful or particularly insightful, apart from the gossip quotient they provide.

    I always tend to go back to my main domain of experience, which is the classroom. Would I want students ‘live blogging’ my lectures/presentations? No way! They are there to learn and participate in discussion, not chronicle every individual reaction to the material for a future imagined public. In such a case blogging would be a distraction, not an aid to learning. A class blog built cumulatively would be a different matter– and I’ve heard of lecturers using the form very successfully. In a conference format, the intended outcome is different, and casual comment & reaction has more of a place I think. I would be interested to hear of conference examples where the live blogging format has been successful, that have had mixed audiences (not just the tech crowd!).

  6. annette says:

    Emily you might be interested in what’s happening at the University of Kansas – the way new media and technology are being used to shape the learning experience here is fascinating. Check out the Youtube channel particularly their video ‘a vision of students today” fantastic stuff

  7. Andrew Taylor says:

    Hey Emily,

    Great to meet you in Dublin. And sorry that I was the only one that responded to your great question about cultural policy in the face of all the changes described at the conference. It struck me as quite odd, actually, that I was the only one to respond, as ”policy” in the United States is necessarily vague and unfocused, where as policy in Ireland’s arts ecosystem is such a major player.

    In an environment of so few major arts funders beyond government, of clear interest in preserving heritage while also sustaining a rich arts community, and in a small enough country to wrap your arms around the problem (not all the way around, to be sure, but further around than most countries can manage), I would have guessed the majority of people in the room would be voracious policy wonks.

    Yet, the word fell just as flat in Dublin as it does in U.S. conferences.


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