Digital Reconfigurations–For this final digital literacy micro-bite, we originally thought we’d examine what the digital future has in store for us while addressing some larger issues like the environment, cybersecurity, and self-sufficiency. But given our current, exceptional circumstances, we decided to take a more practical approach and look at the notion of reconfiguration.
Dissemination, mediation, and production
By Isabelle L’Heureux
For this final digital literacy micro-bite, we originally thought we’d examine what the digital future has in store for us while addressing some larger issues like the environment, cybersecurity, and self-sufficiency. But given our current, exceptional circumstances, we decided to take a more practical approach and look at the notion of reconfiguration.
The closure of nearly all public spaces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the enforcement of physical distancing measures have wreaked havoc on every aspect of society and, more specifically within our own context, on our modes of creating, disseminating, and experiencing art. Therefore, we’d like to map out some approaches that artist-run centres may explore for reconfiguring their activities in response to this exceptional situation.
Needless to say, any reconfiguration should be relevant to your centre’s mandate and activities, and suitable to your membership and audience. And while not every centre has the necessary technological infrastructure, skills, and means to undertake a major reconfiguration, some processes or migrations can be quite simple. What’s important is to define your needs clearly and to identify what resources you possess to launch something new that is coherent with the centre’s programming, without imposing a lot of extra work on those involved in carrying out the centre’s ongoing activities. To find out more about issues regarding public engagement, read this article on digital engagement in the arts: “From arts marketing to audience enrichment: How digital engagement can deepen and democratize artistic exchange with audiences.”
Dissemination activities in the digital realm can take many forms. In the previous chapter, we looked at online dissemination of artist-run centre documentation and archives. On the positive side, the current, unanticipated interruption of regular ARC programming can provide the impetus for this, as the cancellation of exhibitions and other public programming may have freed up some time for staff to reallocate resources to this type of project.
For example, many centres have focused on presenting documentation produced as part of a cancelled gallery exhibition, making that content accessible online. Reconfiguring regular programming as audio walks, essays, photographs, filmed tours, and even virtual exhibitions are just a few ways of providing access to artworks and artists’ practices that were originally meant to be experienced in person in the gallery. This way, artists may still enjoy some of the visibility they would have received from a regular exhibition. Other centres have also opted to highlight their archives and other documents by featuring profiles of their artist members and revisiting past programming—for example, by providing access to certain thematic documentary files on their website or through programmed publishing on social media or newsletters. Some centres have even created original content in response to the pandemic. Various initiatives have been aimed, for example, at recording stories from artists and cultural workers, conducting virtual studio visits and interviews, or launching long-distance collaborative projects. For purposes of such initiatives, CARFAC and RAAV offer guidelines for paying artists during the pandemic. For online reproduction of works, please refer to the Reproduction Royalty Schedule – Non-commercial, Non-advertising.
Issues such as cultural mediation and the aesthetic consequences of transitioning to the digital realm demand further exploration and reflection. It’s useful to note that not all works lend themselves well to digital translation, and so it would not be advisable to present a digital version of a piece if it worked against the artist’s original intent. That said, the artist-run centre network was built upon a willingness to rethink institutional conceptions of aesthetics and to experiment with new ways of producing, viewing, and critiquing art. We may assume that the organizations, artists, and cultural workers that make up the artist-run centre network are typically inclined toward experimentation and research-creation, and will be ready and able to come up with relevant ways of reconfiguring some of their cultural offerings in light of the current rules on social distancing.
Reconfiguring dissemination activities for the digital realm using available resources can contribute a certain dynamism to the community. Whether it’s to highlight existing content, to provide an opportunity to see or hear work that would normally have been presented in a gallery, or to create something entirely new, each act, no matter how large or small, helps promote our members and our network. We invite you to read, or re-read, our earlier chapter, “The Levers of Discoverability,” if you’re interested in making such initiatives more public.
We might also note that regional artist-run centre networks (or other, similar groups) can also take part in promoting their members’ activities. This could involve relaying information on social media or making room on the organization’s website for member news. To find out more about automatic aggregation of new website content, check out PressForward, a free WordPress extension for aggregating and editing RSS feeds.
Many artist-run centres complement their programming with cultural mediation activities, which bring together audiences, objects, and cultural knowledge. Even before the current pandemic, Marilyn Farley and Marie-Laure Robitaille noticed a change in how some organizations talked about digital mediation rather than cultural mediation (see their essay “La mediation culturelle en confinement : entre distance et connexion”[in French ]). This shift from the social (the relational in cultural mediation) to the technical (the apparatus behind digital mediation) illustrates the distinction between the act of disseminating content online and that of convincing audiences to interact with that content. For Farley and Robitaille, reconciling these two concepts in an effective digital cultural mediation means encouraging interactions that are sustainable and that allow sharing among all participants.
Artenso, the Centre for Research and Innovation in Art and Social Engagement, has an impressive list of resources (in French) on digital cultural mediation to help readers strike a balance between relational mediation and technology. Elsewhere, the International Council of Museums has a few suggestions on how to engage with audiences during the pandemic, some of which may be applicable to artist-run centres. In May and June 2020, Artenso will be hosting “midi-demos” (lunchtime demos) during which invited guests will present their digital cultural mediation tools and initiatives as a means of helping the cultural sector to reconfigure its activities.
Many organizations have turned to various videoconferencing tools to provide cultural mediation activities such as conferences, talks, meetings, and even workshops and training sessions that lend themselves to virtual formats. A few tips to remember for this type of virtual activity include: limiting the event’s duration (videoconferences should be no longer than 90 minutes); stimulating attention and engagement by increasing interaction among participants; and explaining the software’s functions (turning camera and microphone on or off, chat functions, etc.) to participants as clearly as possible. Such reconfigurations can be done at little to no cost, and many online videoconferencing apps are available for free or for a small fee. More than anything else, time is vital for planning and coordinating such changes (proposing meeting times, confirming participant attendance, selecting a proper app, emailing instructions) and for adapting your activity to a virtual environment (reorganizing, if needed).
Reconfiguring an artist-run centre’s production activities presents significant challenges, some of them perhaps insurmountable. Public access to workshops and studios, and the lending of equipment, for the most part, cannot be virtualized! However, issuing user licences for software and apps is technically possible. Some production centres are exploring this method of working. Some artists—including visual and sound artists, digital and media artists, performance artists, and others—have access to some or all of the tools they need to continue working within their own studios. In this case, centres with production facilities may consider offering technical support services via video or telephone, based on the availability of their technicians. Other artists may wish to apply for virtual or home-based residencies and other calls for submissions. Such initiatives allow organizations to maintain and support their production activities, and provide grants and fees to artists who are able to work (see the Canada Council’s micro-innovation grant program Digital Originals). Another possibility is offering virtual training sessions and workshops via videoconferencing, as discussed earlier.
We have already discussed some basic digital tools above. Here, we explain in greater detail some accessible tools and services that can help you to digitally reconfigure your centre’s dissemination, mediation, and production activities.
Computer and Internet connection
If artist-run centre staff do not have access to computers, then obviously any form of remote work that demands communicating and coordinating with others will be very difficult. Any digital reconfiguration of ARC activities rests on having computer and Internet access. However, such infrastructure and hardware cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, the issue of access to funding for computer and software upgrades for artist-run centres seems all the more relevant in the context of this pandemic.
An artist-run centre’s website is a window onto the activities of the organization and its personnel. It’s also a space that demands development and reconsideration in light of today’s needs and aspirations. A centre might consider showcasing some of its archives (currently lying buried in a forgotten sub-folder) or starting up a blog with short essays, updates, images, and audio tracks, or simply promoting the centre’s digital reconfiguration initiatives.
Social media can be used to present work, highlight content, and promote events, calls for submissions, and other activities within your broader network. It can also act as a hub for assistance and exchange in response to current events (see the Artist-Run Centres and COVID19 support group on Facebook).
Videoconferencing services are not only useful for meetings, mediation activities (conferences, talks), and workshops, but also to provide technical support for artistic production. The most common videoconferencing services are Zoom and Webex. These commercial services have free or paid account options, and the terms and conditions of use vary depending on the package you choose. Both offer several functions that allow you to screen share, annotate, hold breakout group discussions, chat, record your meetings, and more. These services are supposedly encrypted, but Zoom’s security features have been called into question in recent weeks by organizations that uphold strict privacy standards and require confidential meetings, such as governments, international organizations, and private enterprises. Alternatively, Jitsi Meet offers a free, open-source, and anonymous solution for your videoconferencing needs.
Live streaming services can be used to stream conferences, performances, virtual tours, and more. They can also be used in tandem with a videoconferencing service (e.g., a Zoom chat may be live streamed on Facebook). Many live stream service providers are available, the most popular being Vimeo, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch.
Other immersive experiences
For more daring folks, cyberspace is overflowing with options. Over the past several years, the Indigenous research group AbTeC has been headquartered in Second Life, where it organizes its activities. The Quebec/Canada XR community keeps a list of alternative virtual or augmented reality solutions (in French) for large cultural gatherings (for one example of this kind of innovation, see the Museum of Other Realities, which hosts several virtual events).
It is up to each artist-run centre to assess its particular priorities, needs, and available resources, what activities or ideas are most relevant, and whether to use the current moment to slow down or be more proactive. In digitally reconfiguring your centre’s activities, however, what is more important than anything else is to be mindful of everyone’s availability, as well as their health and well-being.
Online Documentation and Archives
This article considers the possibilities of archives and documentation, with a specific focus on their online dissemination and circulation. Particular emphasis will be placed on archive and documentation access and reuse by the greatest number of users possible. In the history of archiving, this was not always the most popular approach. Some archivists continue to advocate for the idea of protecting the integrity of an archive by limiting physical access to it. > Read previous brief