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Why arts and culture orgs should embrace tech culture — and vice versa

TechniCulture 2015, held at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. April 12, 2016 Category: MethodShort

Disclosures

Disclaimer: Philly Tech Week, during which GPCA’s TechniCulture event will take place, is presented by Technically Media, Generocity’s parent company. That relationship is unrelated to this story.
Despite our differences, we all have something to learn from one another.

That’s why Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance‘s director of learning programs and co-director of GPCA’s TechniCulture initiative, Tracy Buchanan, thinks the arts and culture sector should bring technology into everyday practices.

“Technology has the potential to help in every sort of nook and cranny of an arts organization, from streamlining administrative processes to freeing up more time for creative endeavors to connecting with new and existing audiences,” Buchanan said.

It goes both ways, though: “Arts and culture communities can benefit from having a more entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture around it,” she said, “and the tech culture can benefit from the creative spirit that is sort of ingrained in the arts community.”

"The tech culture can benefit from the creative spirit that is sort of ingrained in the arts community."
Tracy Buchanan

In keeping with this ideal, GPCA will host presentations by the three arts organizations that participated in its technology residency at the second annual TechniCulture event, held again during Philly Tech Week on Friday, April 29. 

The residency program was first imagined as an awards program that would highlight interesting tech-related projects or concepts already happening in the arts and culture sector. After last year’s event, though, TechniCulture’s cross-sector committee found that instead of awards, arts and culture orgs needed help figuring out how to produce tech-related projects in the first place.

“They needed an entry point into how to develop technology initiatives or tech projects or how to engage in that discovery period with a technologist,” Buchanan said.

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The ensuing residency application was purposefully vague to encourage organizations to come to the opportunity with an idea only, she said. Three awardees from about 30 applicants were announced in September. The selected organizations — Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Tiny Dynamite and Christ Church Preservation Trust — have been working with technologists provided by GPCA in developing tech-focused initiatives for the past four months. The projects are now in varying stages of development.

Christ Church came to GPCA with only a challenge, not an idea for how to overcome it, Buchanan said. Visitors to Benjamin Franklin’s grave throw coins on the marker, in accordance with Franklin’s adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned” — a practice that is destroying the limestone marker. Christ Church is exploring new, safer ways for visitors to participate in this tradition.

PYP is seeking to improve its engagement with both teachers and students by creating a digital common space and gamifying students’ work, which new executive director Lisa Nelson-Haynes has championed.

“They’re pioneers in this area of creating these collaborative common spaces of resources where not only can [teachers and TAs] access these different types of resources, but also contribute,” Buchanan said.

Tiny Dynamite is the org furthest along in its development process. The theatre company is currently in the production stage of a cross-continental collaboration with a company in the United Kingdom. Artistic Director Emma Gibson will perform in a U.K.-based play about, appropriately, a long-distance relationship, via Skype and other similar technologies, while physically in the U.S. In 2017, Gibson will perform the same play from the U.S., and her acting partner will perform from the U.K. (again, via Skype), so the story’s perspective is reversed.

Other arts organizations have encouraged collaboration with tech culture, too. Youngmoo Kim, the director of Drexel‘s ExCITe Center, recently took a yearlong sabbatical to help Opera Philadelphia figure out how to incorporate technology into opera development

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