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Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 8:47PM   |  5 comments


The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture

Biannual Conference

Boston, Massachusetts

August 26-29, 2009


Stand close to the wall of eight images. See eight head shots of Albert Einstein.

Walk back 15 paces. Albert transforms into Madonna and Harry Potter.

A visual inversion from physics to popular culture, "Eight Einsteins: Hybrid Illusions", by Aude Liva, Antonio Torralba and Amanda O’Keefe, is an installation at the MIT Museum. The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture conference, entitled CommonWealth, opened with a party where conferees migrated between installations probing interfaces between new technologies, the body, perception and data flows.

"Eight Einsteins" stands as a digital trompe l’oeil : it superimposed two images, one at a low spatial frequency and one at a high spatial frequency. Depending on where you stand, you’ll see either Einstein or Madonna—interpretation resides as a function of viewing distance. Einstein inverts into Madonna.

This installation serves as a structural metaphor for the entire conference, a system of superimpositions of different spatialities and altitudes of our complex, endlessly inverting public media ecology.

Like "Eight Einsteins", depending on where you stood at the NAMAC conference, you might see something different. Telecommunications public policy or creative arts. Social media marketing or questions of real live audiences. Grant funding or business models. Digital possibility or digital divide. The euphoria of the Democratic administration or the uncertainties of the recession. User-generated content or business models for institutional survival.

The well-organized, provocative conference evoked "Eight Einsteins" by offering panels on current telecommunications policy initiatives, social media and new artistic practices. Overflowing with conferees Twittering comments and rapidly scribbling notes, the panels were jammed.

But a smaller spatial configuration also emerged: open space sessions. The CommonWealth NAMAC conference might be the first public media conference to deploy this process of sitting in a circle with like-minded people unpacking a topic of mutual, pressing concern through focused conversation, a brainstorming strategy growing out of the open source community. These open space sessions pulsed with urgency and new-found community around unresolved issues such as digital exhibition, disabilities, building audiences for events, youth media, boards, film festivals, youth media, volunteers, art house challenges, gaming.

The panels and plenaries jumpstarted conferees into the battles for net neutrality, broadband access, low power radio, proactive boards, software development, arts stimulus packages, digital arts, and strategic visioning. Jaoquin Alvarado, VP for diversity and innovation at CPB, observed hip hop has spurred technological innovations in mobile, social networking, and remix. Harold Feld (Public Knowledge) pointed out that the US is the only industrialized country lacking a national broadband plan. He argued for a shift from the broadband market to a broadband ecology where consumers would no longer be "slaves to the marketplace" and the MPAA and RIAA could no longer control copyright.

Holly Sidford (Helicon Collaborative) explained that organizational focus and nimbleness were more important in these economically challenging times for nonprofits than size. She forecasted significant funding reductions which could possibly total up to an 85% projected decrease in funding.

Craig Aaron (The Free Press), insisted that the field move from defense to offense. He argued that Washington D.C. is changing, and it matters who is at NEA, CPB, FCC. He lamented the paucity of public media lobbyists compared to the 500 plus commercial media lobbyists in Washington. The U.S. spends about $1.37 per person on public media, compared to $22 per person in Canada and $80 per person in the UK.

San San Wong,( San Francisco Arts Commision) asked how public media can move beyond a black and white paradigm to a more nuanced, multicultural and global way of thinking, given that the margin of immigrants and people of color will become the center by 2043.

A range of panels on social media, social networking and digital technologies mapped significant inversions in our conceptual frameworks about public media. The audience is now a participant. Limited access to media works is now dispersed unlimited access. A precious curatorial zone is now a user-centric community. Finished works that premiere have shifted into works continually in process and in public.

Jessica Clark (Center for Social Media) contended publics form around media. "A commons," explained David Bollier, (Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own) "is created when a community gets together to manage resources for sustainability, like wikis, blogs and social networks."

Aggregate, collaborate, amplify, transform: Suzanne Steggerman (Games for Change), Christain Ugbode ( National Black Programming Consortium), David Kirsner (Fans, Friends and Followers) and David Dombrosky (Center for Arts Management and Technology) repeated this digital mantra. Wendy Levy (Bay Area Video Coalition), suggested new media systems offer "two way communication in a multiplatformed distribution space."

Boot camp and strategy session, CommonWealth superimposed telecommunication policy on creativity, technologies on arts organizations, and public media on cultural policy. Pushing beyond the comfort zone, CommonWealth hurled out a 21st century public media game plan.

How do you envision public media for the 21st Century?  Join the discussion in the comment sections below!








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