Is tech a creative medium for artists?
NEA + Knight, Ford foundations report says yes
The National Endowment for the Arts announces the release of the report Tech as Art: Supporting Artists Who Use Technology as a Creative Medium, the result of a two-year field scan, an initiative of the Arts Endowment in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
The field scan and report explore the multi-faceted practices of artists who engage with digital technologies in both the creative and functional aspects of their work. The report also looks at the training and exhibition infrastructure that tech-centered artists have developed to pursue their creative practices, and diagnoses a critical need for funding to advance the field.
A key finding of the study is that even with the willingness of audiences to move to digital spaces for arts and cultural programming during the pandemic, many cultural organizations lack capacity and the resources to adequately support the growing needs of tech-centered artists and their audiences. At the same time, these artists have demonstrated their unique ability to respond creatively to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by engaging with audiences and responding to calls for greater equity and inclusion.
“Tech-centered artists can be invaluable partners for leaders in the arts and non-arts sectors alike,” said National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “Not only are equity and inclusion increasingly embedded in their artistic practice, but they also explore ethical issues around technology, such as data privacy and artificial intelligence, presenting complex ideas through a creative and accessible lens.”
A virtual launch event celebrating the culmination of this work featured arts funders and artist/technologists discussing key findings of the report. Panelists for the virtual event were Refik Anadol, Amelia Winger Bearskin, Stephanie Dinkins, Ruby Lerner, Omari Rush, and Eleanor Savage with moderator Hrag Vartanian. The event will be archived and available on the Media Arts impact page.
In addition to featuring more than a hundred artists and organizations in the report, Tech as Art includes nine case studies offering a more in-depth look at leading tech-focused artists and practitioners. Case study artists are 3-Legged Dog, Refik Anadol, Design I/O, Stephanie Dinkins, Darcy Neal, Processing Foundation, Scatter/DepthKit, Lance Weiler, and Amelia Winger-Bearskin. Videos created from the case studies are in a YouTube playlist. Finally, the recommendations in the report are expanded upon by ten commissioned essays.
Key findings from the report include:
- Code, computation, data, and tool-building are fundamental to tech-centered artists, enabling them to create works across artistic forms and contexts.
- Because the field is so diverse and dynamic, more traditional arts organizations and funders often have trouble engaging with tech-centered artistic practices. Since these artists create projects within and between virtual and physical spaces, they require distinct approaches to presentation, public engagement, accessibility, and archiving.
- Tech-centered artists have successfully established peer organizations, regional hubs, exhibition spaces, festivals, information networks, and academic departments across the United States. However, there are also significant resource gaps which inhibit the growth of artistic and professional development.
- Career pathways for tech-centered artists are highly varied, though as a group these workers encounter many of the same obstacles as artists in general. Despite formal education, tech-centered artists describe themselves as largely self-taught and reliant on artist-founded organizations, community hubs, and online resources.
The report’s recommendations include:
- Expanding technical expertise and capacity among cultural organizations working with tech-centered artists.
- Reviewing programs and outreach plans from grant makers, arts service or presenting organizations, and traditional arts institutions to ensure that funding program guidelines and documentation requirements align with, and welcome, tech-focused artists and projects.
- Lifting barriers to collaboration across arts and non-arts sectors to encourage relationships to exchange information, seed partnerships, and launch initiatives.
- Embedding technology assets in the broader arts and cultural infrastructure to address the lack of funding for digital capacity-building; existing digital divides across geography, ethnicity, race, and gender; and inadequate access to high-speed internet.
- Increasing project development, presentation, and exhibition opportunities.
- Deepening public understanding of the value and impact of tech-focused artists by conducting further research and education that supports greater public recognition of artists’ creative approaches, innovations, and contributions.
In addition to publishing this report, the Arts Endowment has deepened its commitment to supporting activities at the intersection of arts and technology through the agency’s major funding program, Grants for Arts Projects. In the Media Arts discipline, organizations from any artistic discipline can apply for support of arts projects that use new media, creative code, and emergent forms. The Arts Endowment also provides technical assistance to prospective applicants and connects tech-centered artists with other grant makers, arts organizations, policymakers, educators, and tech companies.
About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more.
About the Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit www.kf.org