pilot funding proposal

Last night I did a remote presentation (from New York to Adelaide in South Australia) for the Festival of Unpopular Culture. I was invited to talk about this project which gained its first grant from the XTK crowdsourced funding program for “funding cross-disciplinary ideas that don’t make sense“.  It was kind of tricky to explain how the project is going since this northern hemisphere trip I’m on at the moment is more pre-production than the main event. I’m reconnecting with old contacts who I would love to be involved at some stage, talking through the idea & getting some feedback. Oh and meeting some awesome people along the way!

As part of this development, I recently completed a funding application to the Australia Council. I love to keep things open and flexible so it’s entirely likely things will shift over time, but I thought now might be a good time to share where I’m at with my thinking (especially since my ‘on funding‘ repost!).

I don’t know if this is really ‘done’ with funding applications; I didn’t blog so much when I last spent my life completing application forms… so I hope this doesn’t get me in any trouble! Oh well… here’s an edited project proposal, taking the main questions from the application form as a starting point & expanding on a few things for context. I’ve mainly posted the ‘what’ and taken out some of the ‘how’ and ‘who’ parts because I’m not sure that’s so interesting/appropriate to discuss publicly right now. Feel free to ask if you want to know more, though!

What are you planning to do?

reallybigroadtrip.com aims to document the breadth & diversity of creative digital culture currently taking place all over the world, starting with a pilot in Australia.

“Digital culture” as a phrase is rife with counter-definitions and contexts. This confusion is in part what leads me to need to run this project in this first place. My personal perspective stems from fifteen years experience across the international media arts space. Through my UK based company, the-phone-book Limited, I have watched the sector grow exponentially yet still be considered ’emergent’ and ‘niche’. Creative technological practice is seemingly ubiquitous and yet countries such as Canada, the UK and Holland have recently severed financial support (and therefore recognition) to precisely this growing cultural economy.

My (somewhat ambitious) aim through this project is to dispel the myth that digital culture is niche. I want to map the breadth & diversity of media arts practice and its tendrils stretching across other creative technological spaces. Through this I will document how such practice continues with or without financial support & recognition in different countries. All this will start with a pilot small scale version in parts of Australia.

This documentation will take place via informal interviews & quantitative analysis surveys with artists, arts organisations and policy developers around the country. Additional perspectives will be gained by inviting international and national practitioners to join me on parts of the journey & recording their observations, activities and all the conversations held while driving through the amazing Australian landscape.

This pilot journey will start from Hobart in Tasmania, travelling up through Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns, Brisbane and finally Sydney (route tbc). This will take us directly in contact with artists/organisations/communities/audiences/policy developers/etc across parts of the country, engaging with any art works/events we find along the way. It will take place in a modified campervan, rigged with cameras and microphones so that no moment of conversation is lost. The project will last about six months, spending about three months on the road with six guests joining me for about a week each. This allows for some downtime between each guest for me to edit gathered footage whilst continuing to interview people I meet along the way.

All these activities will be documented and shared via the project blog (this thing!) and my pre-existing social media spaces (of which there are quite a few! See http://flavors.me/technoevangelist). Eventually (not within this project application) the material gathered could form the basis of an ebook and/or interactive documentary, as well as provide interesting data analysis from the surveys. Regardless, this pilot alone will provide a fascinating snapshot of a pre-NBN Australia.

This grant (which totals $30,000) would assist me to:

  • run a pilot to polish the #rbrt concept & test the systems required.
  • raise the profile of Australian work in this field all over the world by sharing documentation of work created here & its producers.
  • bring international talent to Australia and help them make contacts for future collaborations.
  • map current Australian digital arts practice & engagement in a pre-NBN country.
  • develop a concept for an art work that best exemplifies the outcomes of this research.

Once the initial Australian trial has proven a solid model I will apply for further funding and international partnerships so that the journey can continue around the world. For example, I have already started conversations with a colleague in North America about setting up the model there.

How are you planning to do it?

one of my past campervans, aka "little bus"

one of my past campervans, aka “little bus”

This pilot stage depends on resourcing enough funding to get hold of a campervan and cover travel costs & honorariums for my guests. Should this grant be successful, the project will start in Australia in December/January 2011 when I will start to rig the campervan, make confirmations with my guests & send out eventbrite interview invitations to artists, arts organisations & creative digital communities in each location. This will be done both through my established digital and physical networks. It is important to reach out to the communities across both analogue and digital means and through the hubs that naturally connect them locally/contextually.

This ‘open call’ will work much like the two artsdigitalera national consultation tours I ran for the Australia Council. An eventbrite page was shared across my (multiple) social networks so people could book a slot to talk with me about grants. Only this time I’ll be able to drive out to more remote locations, document their practice, and interview both them and their audiences. [NB: You can see a previous example of the system I used at http://vicmeetings-eorg.eventbrite.com. All those past meetings were based on full days of half hour slots with added public speaking events and were almost all fully booked everywhere I travelled].

As soon as the campervan is ready, my route is confirmed with all guests booked on flights and my eventbrite bookings are filling up, I will start driving out to locations to gather the informal interview material and documentation of digital arts experiences. I will leave enough time between each set so that random driving tangents can also happen in places we might only hear of when we’re actually on-the-move; such is the beauty of digital flexibility.

While each guest is with me I will take them to the places of interest they have indicated (see my questions to them, below). There they will be able to share their knowledge (whether through a workshop or a talk or however they best operate), gain insights from their hosts and (hopefully) make some future arrangements for further discussions. Where appropriate (i.e. as privacy and respect dictates) I will document these events and add them to the #rbrt collection.

Throughout the rest of our journey we will discuss the state of digital culture in their country (or in the case of Australian nationals, their specific location) and professional context through some quiet interviews shot in some of Australia’s rich variety of locations. These will produce some interesting (and hopefully visually rich) segments, I hope. But in many cases I have known these guests professionally for many years & know what else will happen. My belief is that – while they are important to capture – it is all-too-often not the more structured interviews where the real gems of knowledge emerge. Having been spoiled from several Banff New Media Institute Summits & Interactive Screens, for example, the most mind-blowing conversations for me happened in the bar, cafe, dining room or at Sara Diamond’s infamous spa cocktail parties. It is these tangental – outside the conference room – conversations that generally produce the richest insights, the almost after-thought moments of realisation & result in the strongest future collaborations. This is what I want to attempt to capture by recording our conversations as we drive each day from location to location.

As each guest leaves and I wait for a new one to arrive, I will spend some time alone in the van, gathering the recorded material, editing short samples for release on the blog & sharing smaller insights across the various social media spaces. I’m already quite an active social media user (ahem!), so I expect there will be ongoing conversations in these spaces throughout the trip. In fact it has already started – like asking people to share their definition of digital culture (see http://rbrt.cc/WTFisDigCult). I’m also considering challenges such as a daily or weekly question (some might be sponsored) that I can ask everyone I meet as I travel around. Feel free to suggest some…

As I travel to each new place, of course I will essentially take the knowledge gained from the last place with me. I will be able to run impromptu presentations, showcasing the work, artists and opportunities I am finding along the way. You could think of this as an adhoc touring exhibition.

Over the course of the pilot I will be developing a more formal survey. This will invite artists/organisations, audiences and policy/funder developers to contribute their insights into qualitative and quantitative analysis of digital culture practice, resourcing & engagement. This is being done with the support of Frederik Lesage, Assistant Professor Information and Communication Technologies at Simon Fraser University in Canada. I met Fred at the Banff Centre earlier this year where I discovered his interest in qualitative research methods, e.g. in ethnography/participant observation, discourse analysis and document analysis. We have agreed to exchange his knowledge of research methodologies for my gathering of the data which he can use non-commercially within his own research.

As an artist, I am also working on a few creative concepts that I will be discussing with these guests and developing as I travel. At this stage I don’t know how this will manifest, but I am fascinated by the complexities of creating a meaningful remote live performance experience. My hope is that through travelling extensively through regional Australia, talking to makers and audiences about their experiences of digital arts and the discussions with the guests, I will begin to hone these ideas and devise a new work. Paolo Cirio’s ‘Recombinant Fiction‘ is an especially intriguing model that I have just started discussing with him and wish to explore in some depth on his visit. (You can see some of his other work here).

The pilot aims to trial a model for a much longer program. I am developing a co-production funding proposal for the same model to work across North America. Non-english speaking countries will take longer to research & make connections, but I have a number of contacts I will be talking to in the coming months. I hope to get everywhere in the world eventually, and would take Australian artists with me (as some of my international guests) to those places as they are secured.

Why do you want to do it?

I am a new permanent resident of Australia under a distinguished talent visa. I have a track record of exploring new technologies as creative platforms and then sharing those skills with other artists/organisations around the world. I am probably most known for the-phone-book Limited (2000-2008) and my work at the Australia Council (see http://artsdigitalera.com 2009-2011), but I have been engaged with digital culture as a media artist & creative producer since 1996.

In that time i have seen a significant growth in digital culture practice around the world, but no significant increase in financial support or recognition for this growing global community. I regularly meet people all over the world who ask “what is media arts?” or who misunderstand how it works, thinking of it as simply arts marketing, some new commercial opportunity, or just a delivery platform for generic content.

Even within top-down policy development around the world, there is a strong perception that media arts is an “emerging” and “niche” practice. This is despite long traditions of globally interconnected networks who continue to somehow sustain themselves regardless of a lack of funding or “mainstream” recognition. For example, recently many inspiring practitioners with long histories in this field have lost funding in Canada, UK and Holland. Right now it feels to me like Australia is the only place in the world where the recognition of & support for digital culture is growing, not shrinking. Perhaps this is ‘rose-tinted-spectacles’ thanks to my deep love for my new home, but I hope not.

The National Broadband Network (NBN) currently being installed has the potential to change Australian culture completely. Not just how we make and share Australian content (analogue and digital), but how that will be perceived around the world. This country is unique in its combined scale and distance from the rest of the world. While many Australians feel frustrated that they cannot reach their Northern Hemisphere counterparts, many internationals wish they could more easily visit and engage with Australia.

I have long been passionate about working with Australia to help raise awareness of the technicalities of the NBN and what it really means for the country if we get it right (see http://www.residentgeeks.net/2011/07/01/nbn-geeks). My hope is that this project (both the pilot and a more in-depth national version) would allow my natural technoevangelist to share that knowledge with people where they live & learn what matters to them as I go. Perhaps showing them what types of interactive engaging experiences could be there for them might give them a reason to believe that the NBN means so much more than the “American TV exports, sport and porn” mantra of mainstream media & Tony Abbott. In return I will gain a new perspective on how and where interconnections can work most effectively, most collaboratively, regardless of where that originates.

In any case, by driving around the country, listening to people, showing them great work and seeing how they respond, I will be capturing a snapshot of what this country looks like before the NBN actually switches on. Perhaps in ten or fifteen years, with careful contact management, I could return to the people who participate and see what has changed.

Regardless, it is time to dispel the myth that media arts and digital culture is niche, document how much wonderful work there is out there, and explore how these artists and communities function and sustain. This project is therefore both a fun, crowdsourced, social-media-powered focus of attention, and some serious research into this creative conundrum.

I want to do this because I simply can’t NOT do it.

Who are the artists or other professionals involved and what are their responsibilities?

The early #rbrt idea (about 2 years ago) was for me to just travel around the world talking to people about what they did, how they did it and how they subsisted. After I stopped working for the Australia Council for the Arts in September this year I have taken some time out to revisit friends and family in the Northern Hemisphere. As part of this trip, I started some pre-production discussions by attending ISEA2011 in Istanbul (a festival/conference I have been actively involved with since 1998) and the ReWire Media Arts Histories conference which took place alongside the ANDFestival (Abandon Normal Devices).

I have always treasured my strong international network of digital culture practitioners, gathered from spending fifteen years in this space. These conferences & festivals enabled me to catch back up with some of this old network & meet a bunch of new people. Through discussions with them about my intentions with #rbrt it became clear that many were fascinated with what was happening in Australia especially as opposed to current shifts in other countries. They clearly have some valuable contributions to add to the project’s discussions.

I have therefore invited a broad range of artists, academics, producers, digital innovators (and generally a sample of those people who have inspired my thinking within the digital culture realm since I became a geek in 1996) to join me as my guests. Since this is a small pilot it is not possible to bring them all over to Australia – yet. But I hope to bring over a small sample of three internationals to see this country through their eyes and learn from their experiences. In exchange I will show them why I have chosen to become a permanent resident here, and leave them with a greater understanding of the amazing digital culture which blossoms here.

And let’s not ignore the fine range of national practitioners! Not only are there many people nationally who continue to inspire me, but they also hold far more local knowledge, and can provide an alternative perspective that would simply be impossible for me to access alone. For the future vision of the project, by creating international partnerships and continuing the road trip abroad, I will also have the opportunity to take some of this ‘local’ talent with me to other countries.

It’s an exchange of knowledge, context, perspective and passion.

For my invited guests, I will provide return flights, food, accommodation (their choice of the campervan bed or a swag for authenticity) and a small artist fee. In my invitation to them, I have encouraged them to stay longer in Australia. They can propose a specific location they would like to explore and people/communities they would like to meet. If I can, I will help them make those connections. Should any events happen while we are together, I will document any talks/workshops/projects/etc they create as part of their visit.

I have asked that they consider the following questions:

  • what do you want from your trip to/around Australia?
  • where would you like to visit while you’re there?
  • how long would you like to stay for?
  • who would you like to meet while there?
  • what dates especially would or would not work for you?
  • is there anything else I can do to enable you to fall in love with this wild and vast country in the same way I have found myself doing?

I have named six people in this application (3 international, 3 national), but many more have confirmed either verbally or in writing, and more are considering it depending on their own availability and future funding.

Where do you intend to do it?

As described above, and as the name suggests, this is a road trip. The nature of a pilot is to test a model, so I do not yet intend on covering the whole country at this stage.

From my own road trips in Australia I’m confident I can drive a decent distance from Tasmania to Melbourne, Adelaide to Alice Springs and Cairns to Sydney just to try out the concept. The actual dates and route will depend on the availability of the guests at any given time, the bookings I receive through eventbrite and general interest.

Eventually, once the model is proven to work and I have some sample material to show international partners, I will be taking the idea around the world. I will basically strip the campervan’s equipment and take it to another large landmass, get hold of a new campervan and start all over again, having learned many lessons, I’m sure, from stage 1.

What are your strategies for consultation, collaboration and developing partnerships?

I have a very strong international network who I keep in touch with through (mainly) social media. These form both my guests for this pilot and future stages, but also regarding future collaborations and partnerships. I already have a connection in North America who has offered to work with me to develop a co-production funding proposal for the same model to work there.

I have a lot of experience establishing and maintaining online communities (see http://connectarts.australiacouncil.gov.au/author/feep) and will use previously proven models of audience engagement to make sure that I can interview not just the people I currently know and am ‘connected’ to, but a whole new range of people I have never met before. By travelling on the road, I will be in a great position to meet people on their own doorsteps, in their own regional communities.

From a practical perspective, my communications strategy is to maintain regular blog posts & conversations via:

The benefit of being a geek who has worked in this space for fifteen years is that I have been seen to be a passionate speaker/blogger about this area for years. Networking is something I both enjoy and have relied upon to develop trusted networks that have never let me down. I have a database of around 5,000 international media arts, digital culture, arts policy & associated practitioners built from my fifteen years in this field. I will be approaching many for advice, partnerships and marketing support, as required.

Thankfully since all this is driven across social media (and I am a complete nerd) I will be ‘watching’ all this develop through online monitoring tools. I will always know who is connecting where, what works or doesn’t (in terms of online engagement) and can target my communications accordingly.

As with artsdigitalera, I anticipate being able to share other peoples’ information across the networks to help people connect with each other outside of just this project. After all, the NBN will only be successful if people make good use of it as a national network to create and share Australian content.

The risk, of course, is that no one wants to share. And if that happens I’ll be doing all this extremely publicly; listening loudly to an empty room.

But somehow, I doubt that.