Debate Explores How Digital Technology Will Shape, Enhance, or Replace Shared Cultural Spaces

October 07, 2016

Register at for
Virtual Realities and the Public Sphere: The Future of Cultural Architecture,
October 27 at the Granoff Center

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND — The Granoff Center at Brown University hosts a debate on October 27 to examine how cultural institutions will cope with the proliferation of low-cost, high-quality digital surrogates, now and in the years to come.

Part of an initiative led by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, Virtual Realities and the Public Sphere: The Future of Cultural Architecture asks leaders and innovators from across the tech and cultural sectors to consider how tomorrow’s museums, concert halls, and arts organizations will fare in a world changed by virtual and augmented reality. Will audiences of the future view their homes—outfitted with increasingly sophisticated technology—as a surrogate for the public sphere? What kinds of cultural institutions and content will compete successfully in this environment? Debate participants include:

  • Liat Berdugo, Net Art and Special Programs Curator, Print Screen; Co-Founder and Curator, World Wide West; and Co-Founder and Curator, Living Room Light Exchange;
  • Justin Bolognino, Founder and CEO,;
  • Elly Jessop Nattinger, Experience Engineer, Google;
  • Thomas Forrest Kelly, Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard University;
  • Philip Kennicott, Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic, The Washington Post; and
  • Sydney Skybetter (moderator), Choreographer, Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University.

The debate will be 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 27, at Brown University’s Granoff Center (154 Angell Street, Providence, Rhode Island). The event is free and open to the public. Space is limited and will be restricted to a registered audience.

Registration for this event has closed.

Professor Kelly will frame the debate with a discussion of theater and design over time.

This debate on technology and the arts is the second in a series of four 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.

“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 DeVos Institute President Brett Egan, who developed the “Generation Elsewhere” series. “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.”

“Emerging technologies, from the proscenium stage to the light-emitting diode, have always affected the ways and means of the arts. Change is nothing new. Yet the arts face disruption in the form of emerging media platforms such as virtual reality, most of which are far cheaper than and more accessible than going to a theater,” said Mr. Skybetter. “Ultimately, the question we are wrestling with through this programming is, ‘Do we in the arts mimic and encompass other forms of media, thus ceding what has defined us for centuries, or do we stick to our proverbial guns on the gambit that there has always been an audience for the arts, and thus, presumably, always will?’”

About Generation Elsewhere: Art in the Age of Distraction

“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 Mr. 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 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 Mr. Skybetter, choreographer and Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University.

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 debate outlined above, “Generation Elsewhere” will include:

  • Technology, the Brain, and Audience Expectation: Vying for Attention in “Generation Elsewhere.” October 17, 2016, at The Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.).
    As new technologies have dramatically altered 9-to-5 modes of communication, work, and leisure, have they also changed—consciously or unconsciously—what today’s audiences expect from their encounters with art? How will the cultural sector’s ability to develop and market its content compete in an era of cognitive and behavioral change accelerated by new technologies? This debate explores how the contemporary brain is changing as a result of its encounter with new technologies, and how this change must be addressed—even manipulated by—administrators and artists.
  • The Emerging Means of Production: Anticipating the Next Digital Divide. November 15, 2016, Ford Foundation (New York, New York).  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.


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

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