Debate Examines the Evolving Interplay Between Artists, Digital Technology, and Society

November 18, 2016

Register at for
The Artist: Means, Meaning, and Impact in the 21st Century,
December 9 at the MIT Media Lab

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Thought leaders at the intersection of the cultural and tech sectors will debate how artists may leverage technology to expand their creative output in The Artist: Means, Meaning, and Impact in the 21st Century, part of an initiative led by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland.

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?

Debate participants are:

  • Hasan Elahi, Interdisciplinary Artist and Associate Professor of Art, University of Maryland
  • Tod Machover (moderator-speaker), Composer, Inventor, Professor and Director of the Opera of the Future Group, MIT Media Lab
  • Hiromi Ozaki (Sputniko!), Artist, Designer, and Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab
  • Kevin Slavin, Designer, Social Theorist, and Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab

The debate will be 3 – 5 p.m. on Friday, December 9, at the MIT Media Lab (Building E14, 75 Amherst Street, Lecture Hall E14-633, Cambridge, Massachusetts). The event is free and open to the public, and the debate will be followed by a reception. Space is limited and will be restricted to a registered audience.

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This debate on technology and the arts is the final 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.”

“Over the past 30 years, technology in the arts has gone from being experimental, edgy, and exciting to seeming ubiquitous, app-like, and utilitarian,” said Tod Machover of the MIT Media Lab, an advisor and co-curator of this series. “This investigation will serve to identify the truly significant value that technology has brought to the arts, and to re-kindle the explosive excitement of technological thinking. Truly inventive technology—hardware and especially software—is our era’s most vital and powerful creative medium for translating radical imagination into transformative artistic experience, for practitioner and public alike.”

Click here for biographies of participants.

About "G
eneration 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 Mr. Machover and Sydney 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” included:

  • 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 explored 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.
  • 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 investigated 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, at the Ford Foundation (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 investigated the economic and representational complications that may result from this gap.

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

About the DeVos Institute of Arts Management

The DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland provides training, consultation, and implementation support for arts managers and their boards.

It operates on the premise that while much is spent to train artists, too little is spent to support the managers and boards who keep those artists at work.

At the same time, rapid changes in technology, demographics, government policy, and the economy have complicated the job of the manager and volunteer trustees. These changes continue to accelerate.

Organizations that have mastered these trends are flourishing—even leveraging them to their advantage.

For those that have not, however, the sense that “something’s not quite right” can seem unshakable. For too many, these changes have led to less art, decreased visibility, diminished relevance—even financial collapse.

These challenges inform our approach. Never has the need to balance best practices and new approaches been so urgent.

Institute leadership and consultants—all arts managers themselves— understand that, in today’s environment, there is no time or resource to waste. Therefore, Institute services are lean, direct, and practical.

The DeVos Institute has served more than 1,000 organizations from over 80 countries since Michael M. Kaiser founded it during his tenure as President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. While environments, objectives, and disciplines vary, each of our clients shares the desire to create, market, and sustain exemplary cultural programs.

The DeVos Institute has designed its services to assist a wide range of institutions, from traditional performing and presenting organizations, museums, galleries, art schools, and libraries, to botanical gardens, glass-making studios, public art trusts, and nonprofit cinemas, to name a few.

In 2014, the DeVos Institute transitioned to the University of Maryland, where it continues to offer support to individuals and organizations around the world.

About the MIT Media Lab

At the MIT Media Lab, the future is lived, not imagined. In a world where radical technology advances are taken for granted, Media Lab researchers design technologies for people to create a better future.

Now, as it looks beyond its 30th anniversary, the MIT Media Lab is focusing on “human adaptability”—work ranging from initiatives to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression, to sociable robots that can monitor the health of children or the elderly, to the development of smart prostheses that can mimic—or even exceed—the capabilities of our biological limbs, to music that can radically shape community or reshape the mind.

The idea for the Media Lab came into being in 1980 by Professor Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT President and Science Advisor to President John F. Kennedy, Jerome Wiesner. The Lab grew out of the work of MIT's Architecture Machine Group, and remains within MIT's School of Architecture and Planning.

The Media Lab opened the doors to its I.M. Pei-designed Wiesner Building in 1985, and in its first decade was at the vanguard of the technology that enabled the “digital revolution” and enhanced human expression: innovative research ranging from cognition and learning, to electronic music, to holography. In its second decade, the Lab literally took computing out of the box, embedding the bits of the digital realm with the atoms of our physical world. This led to expanded research in wearable computing, wireless “viral” communications, machines with common sense, new forms of artistic expression, and innovative approaches to how children learn.

Now, in its third decade, the Media Lab continues to check traditional disciplines at the door. Future-obsessed artist-designers, nanotechnologists, biologists, neuroscientists, data-visualization experts, industry researchers, pioneers of computer interfaces, and social activists work side by side to tirelessly invent—and reinvent—how humans experience, and can be aided by, technology, and to make sure that developments are deployed throughout the world for maximum benefit to individuals and societies.

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

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