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Jason Rapp

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 practicesSince 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

Converse College premiere of “Troiades” pushes boundaries of traditional opera

A Converse College School of the Arts collaboration is pushing the limits of traditional opera through the use of innovative technologies. TroiadesConverse musicology and composition professor Dr. David Berry, an accomplished composer, and co-creator Dr. Ronald Boudreaux, former director of Converse Opera Theatre, will premiere their opera-oratorio "Troiades" at Converse Jan. 23-25, 2015. For info and tickets, visit culture.converse.edu. Scenery for the production is created with projection mapping, and performers are accompanied by digital orchestration. “These are fairly new and somewhat controversial concepts in the world of opera, but these technologies open up new possibilities for use of space and selection of venue,” said Berry. “In many ways, Troiades is like a laboratory for Converse to explore some approaches that are not being done elsewhere in our state or region.” The setting has a graphic novel (comic book) style. While the term “projection mapping” is not widely recognized by the general public, it will be familiar from its use in such events as the Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, and for Carrie Underwood's costume on stage at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Graphics for the opera's set and action scenes were created by Converse freshman art major Hannah Stewart, who attended the Governor's School for the Arts in Greenville, S.C. prior to coming to Converse. Stewart adapted set designs created by Converse interior design students as a class project. Combined, these technologies push the boundaries of traditional opera and expand the limitations typically dictated by a venue. “Daniel Recital Hall is an intimate setting for an opera, and that would not be possible without the use of these technologies,” said Berry. “This is about exploring new ways to make art and impact the experience of our audiences.” The story of "Troiades" is told through the viewpoint of women who lived through the Trojan War. The female perspective is rarely captured in accounts of early historical times, and Berry was drawn to that angle as a way to honor Converse's mission as a women's college. He blends historical accuracy of the Bronze Age with 21st century twists, like the graphic novel design and a contemporary narrator who provides commentary on the action. “Everything that is happening to the Trojans in this story is happening in our world right now – it is mirrored by today’s news headlines,” said Berry. “That is why the mix between the Bronze Age and 21st century was an important focus for me.” Several notable Converse music alumni will perform alongside students, and the production is directed by Elizabeth Margolius, a 1990 Converse alumna and professional director from Chicago. The production demonstrates how colleges can expand into new arts areas to meet the needs of today's students – a priority for the Converse School of the Arts. “It provides students with a broader range of experiences as they prepare to explore career paths and make their mark as artists," said Berry.

How are arts organizations using digital technologies?

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (PIP) has released the results of a new survey, "Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies." The survey was designed to understand how arts organizations are using the internet, social media and other digital technologies to connect with the public. The survey focused specifically on how arts organizations are navigating the changing technological landscape, how it has impacted their mission-driven work, and the challenges and opportunities. Individuals from 3,644 arts organizations that had received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in the past five years were invited to take the survey; 1,244 completed at least part of the survey. Eye on Flat Panel Monitor An excerpt from the summary: "The internet and social media are integral to the arts in America. (The) survey finds that technology use permeates these organizations, their marketing and education efforts, and even their performance offerings. Moreover, many organizations are using the internet and social media to expand the number of online performances and exhibits, grow their audience, sell tickets, and raise funds online, while allowing patrons to share content, leave comments, and even post their own content on organizations’ sites. The internet and digital technologies have also disrupted much of the traditional art world, according to these organizations. It has changed audience expectations, put more pressure on arts groups to participate actively in social media and, in some circumstances, undercut organizations’ missions and revenue streams. Even the notion of art is changing: 77% of respondents strongly agree or somewhat agree with the statement that digital technologies have 'played a major role in broadening the boundaries of what is considered art.' Tied to this embrace of technology is a widespread sense among arts group leaders that digital technologies are critical to the spread of the arts." Read or download the full report here. Video: Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour's Art Beat interviews Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, about the survey findings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgUlcgjloRw&feature=youtu.be Via: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.  "Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies" by Kristin Thomson, Kristen Purcell and Lee Rainie. Jan. 4, 2013