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Tuesday, September 9, 2014


(Written by Pieter Jacobs, the CEO of ACT, the following article is made available in arrangement with the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) and the Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation (DALRO). See ACT’s website

When we talk about the intersection between the arts and technology we tend to think about how the arts could be advanced using technology and not necessarily the other way around.

I would argue that the arts have influenced the advancement of technology for many decades. Designers and filmmakers have played an undeniable role in stimulating the development of technology with some of these advances first making their appearances in imaginative films. Star Trek brought us the communicator aka the mobile phone, 3-D printing and numerous others. A version of Steven Spielberg’s digital billboards in Minority Report, which can tell a person’s gender, is being tested in Japan and France.

Simply on this basis, the arts have immense potential and partnerships between the arts and technology should be promoted and resourced. One of the most well-known freethinkers, Steve Jobs, has been quoted in Walter Isaacson’s biography as believing that “the reason Apple resonates with people is that there is a deep current of humanity in our innovation. I think great artists and great engineers are similar, in that they both have the desire to express themselves. In fact, some of the best people working on the original Mac were poets and musicians on the side.”

While I believe that the potential impact of technology could play a significant role in the way the arts operate, communicate and market their artistic work, these areas are not where the true value of technology in the arts lies. The challenge is in the take-up of technology in artistic products and/or experiences. Only when this is effectively done will the arts truly be in a position to compete with the numerous leisure activities available to society.

Ultimately, what counts is the experience when people consume arts regardless of the medium through which the message is conveyed. For me, the meaning of the art does not lie in the medium through which it is told. Technology simply becomes a tool to push the envelope and redefine the paradigm of arts and culture production and preservation.

Just thinking about some of the successful work that has been done in this arena stirs my excitement. One of these is La Bastille, a large scale integrated art installation created by Technology House at Brown University. At the time of its installation, it was the world’s largest fully-functional Tetris game. The installation was a 14-story-building interactive exhibition that could be seen from far.

As a playwright in my free time, I am tremendously excited about what technology could mean for theatre works, which is but one of the reasons I look forward to the upcoming ACT | UJ Conference. The 2015 conference sets out to explore entrepreneurship and its relationship to micro, small and medium arts, culture and entertainment enterprises as well as artists and arts and culture practitioners, organisations and institutions. No doubt, the role of technology will be interrogated as part of this theme. The Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) will release more event details in due course. - Pieter Jacobs, ACT CEO