DeVos Institute Launches Technology Initiative With Debate on Technology's Impact on the Brain, October 17 at The Phillips Collection

August 26, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland launches its examination of technology’s impact on the cultural sector with a debate on how digital technologies have changed the brain and altered audiences’ expectations.

“Technology, the Brain, and Audience Expectation: Vying for Attention in ‘Generation Elsewhere’” brings together experts on neuroscience, gamification, and the arts to address how technology-driven “mind change” has shaped the way audiences interact with the performing and visual arts. Baroness Susan Greenfield, an internationally esteemed research scientist, author, broadcaster, member of the British House of Lords, and co-founder of Neuro-Bio Ltd., will open the event with a lecture that familiarizes the audience with the topic and provides a starting point for debate. She will address recent research on mind change and explore the implications this will have for artists, audiences, and producers in the years to come.

She will be joined by thought leaders from the tech and cultural sectors, to be announced in the coming weeks, in a debate moderated by DeVos Institute President Brett Egan.

The debate will be 4 – 6:30 p.m. on Monday, October 17, at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public. Space is limited and will be restricted to a registered audience. To register, visit  


This is the first in a series of four debates on technology and the arts that comprise “Generation Elsewhere: Art in the Age of Distraction,” the DeVos Institute’s in-depth exploration of how 21st-century technologies are impacting artists, arts organizations, and audiences.

Arts managers and artists face a deep and growing disconnect between the traditional notion of the performing arts and the way in which the human brain has adapted to the 21st-century media landscape. In an age of digital substitutes, the cultural sector must navigate—and leverage—changes in consumers’ attention spans and reward patterns, driven in large part by screen culture.

“Anyone who’s seen a toddler ‘swipe right’ or has awakened to an iPhone on their pillow understands that as tech changes, so do we,” said Mr. Egan. “Our debates respond to this new era—one we might call ‘Generation Elsewhere’—marked by tech that relentlessly distracts focus from the here-and-now. In a business that has, for centuries, relied on the attentive presence of paying audiences, we can’t ignore the depth and speed of this change. We are staging this series out of concern that, as a sector, we simply have not kept pace with its effects.”

“Screen technologies are driving unprecedented changes in the 21st Century brain, and hence in the way we think and feel,” said Baroness Greenfield. “This transformation of the 21st-century mind-set will have enormous implications for the cultural sector in its expression and exploration of the human condition.”


“Generation Elsewhere: Art in the Age of Distraction” examines the opportunities and challenges that 21st-century technology creates for the cultural sector. The debate series, conceived by DeVos Institute President Brett Egan, asks artists, arts managers, and thought leaders to consider:

  • What are the implications of these forces today? How might these forces accelerate, or change direction, in the years and decades to come?
  • How will audiences’ usage of technology to understand, navigate, and produce meaning from 9-to-5 affect their appetite for traditional art forms and institutions?
  • What action must artists, managers, architects, and arts funders take to keep pace with decreasing attention spans and ever-more sensational, inexpensive virtual content?
  • Which cultural producers and institutions will flourish in this new environment?

“Generation Elsewhere” is advised and co-curated by Tod Machover, composer, inventor, professor, and head of the Opera of the Future group at the MIT Media Lab, and Sydney Skybetter, technologist, choreographer, writer, and founding partner of Edwards & Skybetter Change Agency.

Four debates will frame the discussion, which is designed to benefit arts managers, arts funders, artists, policy-makers, marketers, students, and academics. In addition to the first debate outlined above, “Generation Elsewhere” will include:

  • Virtual Realities and the Public Sphere: The Future of Cultural Architecture. October 27, 2016, at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island). What impact will an infinite supply of low-cost, high-quality, on-demand digital surrogates for art—available without leaving home—have on today’s cultural institutions?  Which cultural institutions will compete with most success in this environment? This debate investigates how tomorrow’s museums, concert halls, and arts centers will fare in a world changed by virtual and augmented reality.  
  • The Emerging Means of Production: Anticipating the Next Digital Divide. November 15, 2016, location to be announced.  As more cultural content moves online and into the digital realm, will organizations that can acquire and monetize these new “means of production” capture market share before others even enter the market?  This debate will investigate the economic and representational complications that may result from this gap.
  • The Artist: Form, Means, and Meaning in the 21st Century. December 9, 2016, at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts). What new stories can be told—and new experiences created—that are maximally synergistic and complementary with evolving tools and techniques? How will artists map their work on to the changing contemporary brain? Can artistic practice somehow evade—or perhaps benefit from—the changes affecting audiences in virtually every other aspect of their lives? What must managers and theater architects know about artistic practice in the digital age in order to ready their institutions for new modes of creation and distribution? How can technology enhance and extend—rather than inhibit or replace—human potential for expression, connection, and collaboration?

Segments of each debate will be carried via the web.

The series is made possible with the support of the University of Maryland.


Joseph Heitz
Director, External Relations
DeVos Institute of Arts Management  |  301.314.0957

Katie Lawson
Director of Communications
University of Maryland, College Park  |  301.405.4622

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