What does a positive, inclusive and accessible digital future look like, what steps must we take to get there and what role does the arts have to play?
Those are some of the questions participants pondered during the latest session in our Business Workshops for Artists Series, “DigitalASO.”
Approximately 30 people joined this free, online session on February 22, which featured a discussion with Jessa Agilo, founder of ArtsPond, Artse United, Hatch Open, Together There, I Lost My Gig Canada (a platform created in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic), among other initiatives; and Margaret Lam, founder of BeMused Network and Design Research Lead at Octagram.
As co-founders of DigitalASO (which aims to support the digital transformation of Canadian arts services through shared knowledge-, ecosystem-, and platform-building), Agilo and Lam shared their own stories and expanded on the role of DigitalASO, and of artists in a digital society, in an information-packed session, followed by a Q&A.
Having a varied background as a classical pianist, a digital designer, and a published researcher in information sciences, Lam shared, has allowed her to approach problems from multiple angles and facilitate conversations across sectors within interdisciplinary teams, “both of which are essential in working our way out of some of the challenges that the arts and culture sector is confronting, not just now, but for the last couple of decades,” she says.
Part of DigitalASO’s commitment, Agilo explained, is to try and understand the needs of Indigenous and other equity-seeking groups and how digital art services and support organizations can support those needs through digital strategies and platforms. Founded in 2017, she says, the DigitalASO project has encompassed a number of activities, including Digital Arts Services Symposiums (2017, 2019 and 2023), Digital Arts Services Alliance and “Managing Creativity in a Digital World,” a national bilingual survey to discover what small and medium-sized enterprises and gig workers need in terms of digital software and support.
Currently, Agilo says, the team is scoping to see if there’s a need for a national Digital Arts Services Alliance (DASA). “Basically, how can we help incubate and encourage a collaboration and connection and innovation in the arts and culture community around digital that supports equity seeking communities,” she says, which includes Indigenous peoples, people of colour, those outside the core (suburban, rural and remote) and those with disabilities.
“So we’re really trying to understand how can we build an ecosystem of support in the digital sphere that supports human lives and monitors our impact on the natural world for these kinds of equity-seeking groups.”
The team is also preparing to release “So Far: Collective steps toward a positive digital future in Canadian arts and culture,” as part of the final report for DigitalASO Phase 2.
While these conversations can feel overwhelming at times, Lam adds, it’s important to remember that ultimately, innovation isn’t about tech, but about people and understanding their needs. It’s also about process, she says, which artists and creatives are well acquainted with.
“There’s a very similar creative process or cycle that’s applied to determine exactly how we incorporate digital into our lives at the most mundane level, to how are we going to connect and unite….these different disciplines, different communities.”
When we centre those voices that are not often heard, Lam adds, “we begin to realize that there’s a lot of knowledge and wisdom to be gained and if we paid attention, if we made room for them to be heard, and to have meaningful dialogue, there’s just so much richness to be gained.”
Innovation, Lam says, also comes from breaking silos. “The most interesting ideas come when groups from different regions, different backgrounds, different practices, find a reason to get together and solve a common problem…and because they bring different perspectives, different experiences, different knowledge, really innovative and creative thinking happens that was not possible before. And we actually generate more collective knowledge and understanding as a result. And so this is the premise of DigitalASO.”
Ultimately, Lam says, the goal is to reassert the role of the artist in digital society. “We know the value of art in society, in our world, but maybe we haven’t quite articulated what that role looks like in the digital society, in the digital economy. And I think if we can anchor ourselves in that central question and contribute to it in different ways, we’re kind of free to still pursue what’s important to your community, to your region, but still contribute to this larger conversation that’s needed,” she says.
“And that’s what’s really exciting to me about DigitalASO and the work we’re doing, is that by sharing what we know and sharing this framework, we can help people and organizations tackle the more regional and local challenges they’re facing; we learn, collectively, in the process; and somehow magically everything we learn coalesces together into a really strong voice…that can say to the world, this is the value artists bring to a digital society, and here’s a really articulate and creative way of expressing that.”
Join Jessa and Margaret for a follow-up workshop in April, where they’ll dive deeper into these concepts. Participants will also have the opportunity to learn about and experiment with some of the tools and knowledge the DigitalASO team have been developing (this is a paid opportunity). Check our website soon for details!