FWDThinking Episode 12: Art and data in Canada

All opinions expressed in these episodes are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the organizations for which our guests work.

[00:00:00] Nathalie Hazan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of FWDThinking. I’m your guest host, Nathalie Hazan, President and  founder at Raison d’Art. Today, I’m thrilled to host a conversation on data and the arts in Canada, a new kind of discussion for this series. I’m joined today by three incredible experts. Strategist founder and president of StrategicMoves, Inga Petri. Arts consultant and director of Arts BC, Elliott Hearte, and arts and governance consultant, president emerita at OCAD university, Sara Diamond. Welcome all. So excited to have this conversation today with an expert panel on arts and data in Canada. And we’re just [00:01:00] going to dive right into data to begin with, sometimes known as a black box for arts and culture industries. So my first question for my expert panel today is. What technology tools are best suited to mobilize data in the arts and culture industries? Sara, would you like to go?

Dr. Sara Diamond: Yeah. You know, so I will confess that. I think as all three of us, I work in this space. I work between machine learning and AI artificial intelligence sometimes. And I’m also very much working with visualization. That’s my research expertise. And, you know, I think that there’s also sort of basic data analytics tools that are. You know, really helpful, but for me, the question is what are the goals of using data analytics tools in order to support arts and culture both not-for-profit and cultural industries. [00:02:00] And then you don’t start with the tools you start with, what do we need to analyze? What is the data that we need to find, how do we find it? And then what are the appropriate tools to use? So I’ll just give a very like fast example. I worked a number of years ago. It was in 2016. 17 feels like a ian ago on a project which was called redefining public art in Toronto. I worked with my colleague, Dan Silver at UofT, and a hoard of our students and his students and researchers. And we basically used some very basic AI based, natural language processing tools to look at trends in the ways that public art was understood over about a 50 year cycle in a lot of cities. Right. So. Those tools are really helpful because we were actually able to, to confirm some of what we empirically thought, which was that the definition had expanded temporality. IE do you do monuments where short-term works, [00:03:00] had expanded the kinds of artists engaged had expanded and the way. Public art was understood within policy discourse had significantly changed. It saved us a lot of time to be able to use these tools in efficient way. So that’s an example. So maybe I’ll just pause there cause I, you know, I think we also, we’re obviously going to talk about bias in this space and the problem with datasets and data provenance and all of that good stuff. But I think it always has to be purpose-driven. That’s how we use data analysis and we use specific tools for specific purposes. 

Nathalie Hazan: Thank you so much, Sarah, for that, that great example. I see that Elliott wants to jump in here and certainly has something interesting to say.

Elliott Hearte: Yeah, for sure. I’ll jump in. First of all, absolutely, Sara, I agree. It’s what are we using this for? What are we, what information are we actually looking for and what are we going to do with it? And I think that’s absolutely the most important piece. I’ve been [00:04:00] really excited to see a shift to more qualitative data collection recently. So not just like audience analytics, which is of course super important and very, very useful. But I think the data that we’re collecting now around experience and emotional response and kind of that connection again to wellbeing and and quality of life is really, really interesting. And so the Federal Government in Canada is now kind of following some of the other countries that we’ve seen doing this work particularly in the UK. Right. So I think that really analyzing that connection between creative activity and consumption of arts and culture and that connection to wellness and health and healthy communities and society and quality of life. I think that’s very, very interesting, right. We’re looking at that social impact of the arts. So that shift has been very interesting to me.

Nathalie Hazan: Elliott, I find it [00:05:00] fascinating that you bring up qualitative data when you’re talking about arts-based research. Can you explain a little bit more, maybe give an example of what that can look like? 

Elliott Hearte: Well, something that they’re doing in the UK, I think is quite interesting where they’ve created these apps. So had folks can really respond to art when they, for example, if they’re in the gallery, you know, they can give their emotional response. They can say what that experience was. And so collecting that data is really very interesting and it helps us understand the sort of public reaction to the art that is being presented, which I think is very interesting and being able to track trends, um, which again, this goes back to what Sara was saying about what we think of as art and what our policies need to be around public art and so on. So. 

Nathalie Hazan: That I would love to be in front of that, [00:06:00] that data to be able to sort of glean like how people react and see, and, and sort of see it as a trigger in somebody’s moving through a museum or something, or a gallery in that way. Inga do you have something to add to the conversation?

Inga Petri: No, for sure. You know, there, there is an assumption. Whenever we talk about data, that what we measure actually counts. That what we measure actually matters. And I think Elliott is, and Sara, both doing work in that arena as well, where, you know, there has been a very fast style story for arts and culture around economic impact. That is actually not particularly helpful. We’re dealing with a sector where we might have 17 volunteers for every staff person. Those 17 volunteers actually generate economic impact that is never measured. Right. So I think we have to be very thoughtful. We’ve, we’ve had an example recently where the conference board of Canada with the cultural human resources council are trying to do a labor force [00:07:00] study. And that’s fantastic if you’re in the provinces. The numbers that they came up with for the north were absolutely useless. They did not reflect our reality. They are under counting the number of artists massively. If you look at the cultural satellite account, for instance, you believe that there might be about 400 artists in Nunavut. If you ask the Nunavut government and what they’re counting, it’s 4,000. Right. So you see in, in some areas of the country, I live in Whitehorse, Yukon, I’m keenly attuned to what happens in remote and rural communities across this country and how the kind of counting we’re doing is in fact, not showing us any kind of reality, it’s a very small, thin slice. And part of there’s impacts of that. It means that we’re underestimating the value and impact of the arts and cultural activities in this country. It has impacts on sort of how do we evaluate health and wellness outcomes, which are intrinsic to much of the [00:08:00] arts. And we’re not really able to understand those properly. So we do need to think about how we’re designing research, what kind of data we’re actually collecting. And what we want to do with that. What I find is that in places like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, those errors. I’m out in the wash, those same errors exist. Right. But they’re not, but they’re not as significant than they are in a place where the entire north is 120,000 people. Right. That’s basically what cabbage town or something in Toronto. 

Nathalie Hazan: That is really interesting perspective. Sara, I know that you want to jump in. And so go ahead. 

Dr. Sara Diamond: Yeah. I mean, I think we should keep this conversation going for a while because you know, qualitative research tends to get downplayed, but in fact, I think it also gets kind of misunderstood. And there’s such a close relationship between qualitative and quantitative data. So I [00:09:00] consider a lot of survey data to be qualitative data. And I’ll just, you know, give you an example. So LaPlaca Cohen is, you know, very well known, I guess, you know, for their surveys where they basically look at what audiences say they do, what they’re interested in, what their consumption habits are. LaPlaca Cohen business for the arts and Nanos did a survey in 2017, 18. And they define a panel. So a panel are the cohorts of people that are going out to ask questions for, and, you know, they ask them questions like, you know, what kind of culture do you consume? How do you feel in relationship to galleries, museums, festivals, libraries, et cetera. And this is really subjective data. You know, this is what people say they do. And I think that’s very important work it’s then analyzed and the data is rolled up and we use it in fact, to plan our organizations, et cetera, quite [00:10:00] important during COVID-19 and we’ll come to that, but it really is. Qualitative data, although gathered in large cohort very important, survey that Kelly Hill undertook. I have a lot of respect for Hill Strategies. They do fantastic work in the cultural sector. And, uh, he looked at the 2016, 17 census data that looked at what Canadians say. When these are people who are part of census. So there’s already a, you know, an exclusion of other demographics there, but what people say the correlation is between their engagement with arts and culture and their sense of health and wellbeing. And the findings are fantastic, higher frequency of self-reported. Good or excellent health, higher frequency of excellent or good mental health. And there’s a whole list here. It’s actually very, very exciting. It still is what people say they do and say what they feel. So I’m very interested in large survey data. That is really qualitative [00:11:00] in so many ways and then placing it against quantitative data where you measure in various ways, what people actually do. And you know, some of the works that that Synapse C is doing out of Montreal the data echo culture conference that we just had. But that work is about marrying the qualitative and the quantitative and can take the image off if you want. You know, I think that is very exciting. And I think that’s where also AI has a really valuable role to play because you can also scrape social media data. You can get all kinds of opinion data from it. You know, that helps to understand how a particular cultural product. Is received. And it builds on Elliott’s, you know, vision of people standing there with surveys, asking questions as they leave. So I think the future is that mix and indigenous research right now, there’s a huge focus on indigenous methods of using, you know, story circles and ways of engaging with communities, but also supplementing that with social [00:12:00] media data, because indigenous communities are some of the most active communities online. So for me, the future is this mix. I want to come back to the problem of datasets on the margins because Inga really raised a big issue there and that’s where you can’t just use AI and machine learning algorithms. They didn’t have the margins all the way.  

Inga Petri: Yeah and the margins are big in this country, right. It might only be eight. It might only account for 20% of the population, but it’s about 95% of our landmass. Right. I think there, there is an interesting sort of aspect to this where there was a few years ago, the WolfBrown , an American company did a study called the maitre university percenter study maps. And they did exactly what Sara you’re describing. They asked the aspirational question, do you want to attend? It’s as interesting to you, but they were also able to marry up that information was actual box office data. And what you see is exactly what you [00:13:00] see. If I’ve asked you, if you voted in the last federal election. Right. All of a sudden our voter participation is 80%. We know that that is not true. So the gap, right, and that gap that 15 or 20% aspirational gap means the success or failure of our arts organizations. What I say I do is what I mean to do, but it’s not what I actually do. Right. And, and that’s measuring that and understanding that better, you know, from a, from a sustainable and viability of arts organization standpoint is actually important. Now we are saying this in a context though. And part of our context is that most of the arts in Canada are not meant to be commercial. They’re not a business in the sense of there must be self-sustaining due to free market forces. We in fact have a sort of framework that acknowledges that there’s a lot more going on than just the economic story. And, and [00:14:00] so, you know, how do we, how do we place emphasis on the different kinds of research I’ve spent 15 years doing audience research designed. For the express purpose of increasing audiences. That is a very different thing than a project I had the privilege to do called the value of presenting a study of performing arts presentation in Canada, back in between 2011 and 2013, which had the express purpose of examining everything but economic impact. And, you know, really looking at the individual community and societal impacts, looking at the health wellness, you know, increased rates of volunteering, looking at the exact same studies that, you know, health strategy says rolled up from statistics, Canada surveys, the general social survey. There are a lot of tools. Part of the challenge that I encounter in my work though. Is the narrative around the intrinsic impact of the arts are very powerful, but hardly anybody designs the [00:15:00] programs to achieve those. 

Nathalie Hazan: That is so true. Inga, I’m really, really interested in that context. That you’re bringing up with regards to being inclusive or, and accessibility and I’m wondering now, because we are in the middle of a pandemic. Well, maybe not, hopefully not in the middle, but coming to the tail end, all fingers crossed. How do you see that changing with the pandemic? How do you see these factors and those gaps? We’re talking about how do you see them changing? And I like to hear Elliott’s thoughts on this as well.

Inga Petri: I see two things happening at the same time. One is we’ve been in a rush. To the internet and the rush to digital because of COVID, especially in the arts, all we’ve really seemed to have done in, one way of thinking is to amplify all the things that aren’t working well in the physical world. [00:16:00] So the systemic exclusion of people in the north of people in rural communities, artists. In those places with very inadequate internet, trying to realize streaming from the house is not going to work. We’ve, we’ve moved the sort of owners on production into individual artists living rooms very, very difficult. And I think there’s systemic exclusions that have certainly been amplified. On the other hand in some of these projects, you know, predate COVID, but they’ve, their relevancy has really been heightened on the other end of that are a number of projects that exist in Canada, often funded by Canada council now, which are really trying to grapple with digital justice. What does it mean to write an AI algorithm? Which really that is just big data. Right. It’s just the amount of data set that, depending on how I use it can either, you know, amplify the biases from the real world, or it can begin to address them. So it’s not a popularity contest I’m looking for it’s you know, which is how a lot [00:17:00] of recommender engines work. It’s really more about whose voices do I care to, to discover and amplify and if I write an algorithm for diversity. I’m going to write a different algorithm than if I’m simply writing a popularity contest. So there are, there are a number of projects in that realm as well, that are very hopeful. 

Nathalie Hazan: I think that that  really, it encapsulates the, the goals that that we’ve been focusing on with regards to data. And I, I’m going to go to Sara now Elliott, if you’re okay with going after that would be really wonderful. 

Dr. Sara Diamond: You know, I think it’s been complex during COVID-19. I mean, you know, I think that there has been some really, phenomenal work on the part of artists in this case, including artists who are not necessarily at the center by any means. And uh, I know [00:18:00] that Rebecca, you’ve got some of my slides you know, just a little bit later on in the story, but maybe it’s helpful to look at that for a moment and, you know, see what’s sort of coming out of this environment because in interesting ways, you know, people have been able to reach much larger audiences. Than they have in the past because we have gravitated online. And some of the work that organizations have undertaken has been to make that work, you know, really like far, far more accessible. So I don’t know if you can pull up Brendan Fernandez this piece. I just wanted to give us a little bit of delight through visual pleasure, and then we can, you know, we can, we can come back to You know, what the, what the challenges and issues are, but, you know, Brendan, who’s a phenomenal Canadian artists. He happens to be working out of Chicago these days, but and, um, he did this project for the AGO that was commissioned as a physical performance and what he ended up doing, which was, you know, very, very successful was to [00:19:00] create this. Piece using essentially zoom space and the sort of fragmented ways that dancers were all interacting with each other. He’salso begun to use mobile phones to uh, call on dance. Choreographic moves from dancers who are just dispersed in different kinds of locations and then the audience can be online and watch that in real time. I think that kind of creativity is, is amazing. And he’s, you know, he’s a racialized artist. He’s very aware of issues of inclusion and engagement and also alienation during COVID. I wanted to just show Lucy Darling, who’s a fantastic feminist performer. I think she’s the next slide. Coming up. And, and this was you know, work that I saw this piece, I participated in it. It was a part of an event I put together with the PAC, which is the Niagara performing arts center. And we did a multi-day Kind of educational, [00:20:00] digital learning opportunity that looked at the digital transformation in general in the arts, and then also looked at the impacts of COVID. So it helped artists look at tools and organizations and, you know, in fact, in many ways, her performance. Became different. And one could even argue in her mind better because it’s a hilarious, it’s an extremely funny, interactive, humorous you know, humor show where she pulls people out of the audience and she interacts with them and she finds them, you know, in a digital audience. And she can also again, use mobile technologies to do that. Fall for Dance North. They did this festival this year. I attended that as well. The flipped festival. Small numbers of choreographers and dancers working in safe space, and then they streamed it. They also had Mambo, which was a fantastic podcast. They’d never done this before and it all kind of worked. And then, you know, just quickly Tafelmusik, which I think is my next slide. [00:21:00] Who’ve managed to really build out their audiences with a digital pass. And if you look at the data and again, Nanos’s has been doing this work with businesses for the arts. Yes, people want to go back to live, but yes, people also want to stay on digital. And a lot of arts organizations have found that they have a whole other group of people who are now their audiences who cannot physically get to the theater, cannot physically get. To the concert cannot physically get to the exhibition. They’re they’re disabled or they’re older or they’re from another place. And, uh, Soulpepper maybe is the last one and it’s the next slide. And you know, I I’m going to this right now. It’s around the world and 80 plays and it’s wonderful and Soulpepper has transformed itself and it’s really dealing with issues of race and cultural diversity, and it’s keeping its actors. Engaged through, you know, doing traditional, what would be radio plays, but as plays so you can pull the slides down. So I just think there’s been a kind of creativity that’s been [00:22:00] unleashed in this context that is really important to retain and need support from, you know, heritage, Canada, council, et cetera. And, and that, I think it’s surprising to look at some of the demographic that’s been able to actually participate and create in this context from home studios and home recording. And honestly, I’m not sure everybody who’s an artist wants to go back back to, you know, that traditional way of working nor do organizations. So I think our challenge is how to retain the, the real innovation that’s happened. Cause you know, I come from the new media art world. So does Elliott, you know, a lot of this stuff has been happening in the new media world for like decades and decades. And now it’s kind of propagated. Through the up through performing arts and through visual arts. And, and I think it’s a really exciting positive lesson. So I wanted to give the kind of flip side of that recognizing that there are exclusions and there are challenges for sure. No question. 

[00:23:00] Nathalie Hazan: Yeah. So thank you so much for bringing the artists into the conversation, you know, really sometimes they were left aside. So it’s really, it’s wonderful to, to speak about artists and digital transformation and the positive flip side. If we can call it that of a horrible pandemic Elliott, please join in. 

Elliott Hearte: Yeah. So much to say to that. Thank you, Sarah. That’s that’s really great. I, I actually want to continue talking about the artists they’re doing this work in particular, I wanna just highlight a few of the indigenous led projects that are really exceptionally using technology and are exploring digital sovereignty. And again, we’re talking about ways of using technology. When we have these dispersed communities, Right. So how to connect people across this huge span of land. Right? So this is where we see [00:24:00] indigenous artists have, have actually led in, in new media art in, in this country that, that has been the case forever. And it continues to be, so I just want to talk a little bit about the Aboriginal territories in cyberspace. I think, I think Sarah, we talked about this before, so AbTeC is a research creation network that was founded by Jason Lewis and Skawennati. So one of their projects that I really think is very interesting is called AbTeC Island. So this is a indigenously, determined location in second life where we can go as the public, we can go and we can visit this space and we can visit the gallery. Where they actually have these second life artworks that we can view. And I think that’s a really, really interesting project and they’ve, they’ve been working for many years with, with these projects. And the second one, I just want to quickly bring up is [00:25:00] actually out here in the west. So it’s the, IM4 Media Lab. So this is a group of indigenous matriarchs. So we’ve got Loretta, Todd, Cease Wyss, Doreen Manuel, and Tracey Kim Bonneau. These are like really heavy hitters in the media arts world and they’ve gotten together. And what they’re doing is they’re creating immersive learning and opportunities for an indigenous tech ecosyste. Which is so fabulous and just bringing in these indigenous worldviews to how we are using tech and how we are using tech in arts and culture. And I think that, you know, I just, I just have to say like using virtual and augmented reality as this platform for storytelling and sharing of this cultural knowledge is a very, very important use of technology that, that is happening right now. And I think that you know, I guess I just want to quote Doreen just slightly, because she says such amazing things that we’re using this to recreate [00:26:00] our reality and our indigenous futures. And we are helping people to understand and experience this beautiful way of seeing the world. Of seeing our world. So this is where we see that actually having the opportunity to have a really big shift of arts and culture to the digital platforms. It’s a huge opportunity for us to actually access some of the work that’s being done. And. You know, as Inga said earlier, we, we have replicated, like we have replicated our current realities and brought all of those problems and all of those, all of that bias, everything that’s going on, we just replicated it. And so how do we use art and how do we use the data that we’re collecting and how do we use this technology? And where’s, you know, working at that intersection to actually, you know, use, use art as a tool for civic engagement. How do we change the society and how do we see what changes are already happening? So, how do we, how do we gather that data, I guess, just to [00:27:00] add one more point, how do we gather that data? When so much is happening in a way that is not necessarily tracked and gathered? So the art market data we used to be able to see and understand, well, we would assess the value of art through what, how things are sold in the art market. But now there are all these undocumented sales of art. So how do we, how do we look at this now? 

Inga Petri: If I can just add a couple of thoughts to this Sara, a lot of your examples of course came from Toronto, not exactly the margins of the world in arcane geography, but it reminded me of an extraordinary initiative that the Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit, Nunavut took last last fall. They usually do a summer festival a week long. They bring an incredible array of circumpolar, Nunavut, circumpolar, and some Southern artists together. They had to do this. They decided despite Nunavut data cap to create a two day [00:28:00] online festival. What was remarkable is they got 60,000 views on that in a population of 36,000, including all the little babies. So clearly the audience was there, but also we’re able to what they did, which was very different because there was no traveling is they work with every Hamlet across. The 25 communities in Nunavut and they recruited an artist and they worked with the Hamlet that the local government to create videos, high quality videos that they would feed into this two and a half or three hour evening presentation. And all of a sudden, every single community in Nunavut could see itself inside this festival. One of the outcomes of this is I’ve just worked with them on their upcoming strategic plan, and they are now deciding to become a festival that is Nunavut wide. Something that is unfathomable. Nunavut is a fifth of the territory of Canada. It’s 2 million square kilometers. And connecting people in that [00:29:00] place has been incredibly challenging, but there is that inadvertent because we had to figure it out. We did. Right. And that being able to overcome incredible challenges where you don’t upload and download video in Nunavut, you put it on a plane. Right. So I thought that was remarkable. There are absolutely those standout experiences that we are seeing in the most unlikely of places, which I find super exciting. 

Nathalie Hazan: I’m going to go to Sara now because that’s a perfect segway to talk about like how we can find that diverse data. And just in the side I felt, I sort of feel like when we’re talking about art and artists, there’s always a way, so that creative process, I have a. I have a sweatshirt where it’s, my art will go on. And I just find that there’s something about being in this community, being in the art and cultural community, [00:30:00] that really allows a different way of thinking and maybe a motivation to change and to transform. So Sara, I’m just going to go for you and, you know, and finding that data to be able to. Look at the whole picture, as opposed to just a segment of the picture. 

Dr. Sara Diamond: So Inga, you’re first of all, you’re right. You know, the examples I used were different scales of organizations and artists and they were urban. I think your example was incredibly important and there certainly are others though, of success, big success stories. But I wanted to talk about some of the efforts that are underway that really have been, in part, um, I don’t know, provoked by gaps in the kind of data that Telefilm. And I know that, you know, that is sort of quasi commercial film and Canadian media fund have. And I think Elliott, you’ve been also part of some of that process [00:31:00] where there’s been a very deep discussion in the commercial funding agencies, but also now with the Canada council. Jesse Wente is in the new chair. And he’s also the head of the Indigenous Screen Office and with Joan Jenkinson, who has the Black Screen Office. So there’s been a really great deep conversation about categories because you know, when you’re collecting data, You need to be able to build an ontology. So you need to understand what metadata connects to what metadata and to collect in the right categories. So they’ve been looking at how to define the right categories for black and blackness in a Canadian context, how to define those in terms of indigenous and people of color. And some of the initiatives that are really valuable are large, large scale surveys. Canada council has taken one that is primarily qualitative, but the Black Screen Office is going to be leading some very, [00:32:00] very important data gathering to black Canadians asking them, you know, what their cultural consumption habits are. And it’s a large panel. The numbers are large in terms of the survey. And they’re also looking at the producers, both, you know, above line, as they would say in the industries and below the line. In terms of like who is producing work. And the idea is to be able to link racialized producers, indigenous producers, black producers, with the communities for whom they are in part creating work. It’s not to say that you want a one-to-one relationship, by any means there. So I think these initiatives to find the data. Are really, really important and, you know, there’s opportunities to survey the art market as well. I think that’s interesting. And, and, and to figure out how to scrape that data. So lots to say, oh, I did want to say ArtworxTO in Toronto which is one of the outcomes of the work that we did on rethinking public art. That event is about [00:33:00] revitalize. Now it’s about revitalizing. It was supposed to be kicking off a tenure public art strategy, but it totally follows what Elliott was talking about, about sort of taking back the public space and the vast majority of artists in this in artworks tier, which will launch in the fall now are racialized indigenous black artists, different ages, disabled artists, and completely distributed over Toronto. And in the areas in Toronto, which constitute areas that tend to be marginalized. And so the idea is to link public engagement discourse about the city, this sort of reinvention of the city post COVID, you know, with an economic, economic, and social imperative. So I think you can put the two, two together sometimes.

Elliott Hearte: For sure. Can I jump in there? Okay. I just wanted to jump in because you’ve touched on something that I think is also exceptionally important which is audiences and who is going to consume this [00:34:00] work and what work are they consuming? Right. So the problem that we have, I think with audience analytics is audience. People want to see themselves reflected in the art. They want to see their experiences and their interests reflected. So there are many people who are not accessing what is out there right now because it isn’t of interest to them. Right. So this is where we also then need to look at the data of the presenters. Right? What is, what is in the museum, the gallery, what is onstage. And that’s where we need to take that data, which is of course also collected. And that’s where we can see those gaps. We can identify those gaps and we can identify places where we can make some change to actually see better inclusion and access. And what have you. So I will point out that one problem that sometimes we have though is transparency. So not everyone has access to that data that we need. 

[00:35:00] Nathalie Hazan: I think well, you’re bringing up such, such important points with regards to two artists with regards to the data that we’re collecting. It seems to go a little bit full circle back to this idea of why are we collecting this data and what is it for. We did sort of touch upon the economics of it, but I’m going to throw it over to Inga to take a deeper dive there because, and then unbeknownst to us time has flown by and we have just 10 minutes left. So after Inga, I’d like to go to just some closing thoughts. So we have time to wrap up.

Inga Petri: I’ll speed it up. One of the major things that COVID has revealed to policy makers, artists always knew this to be true. Those of us who work in the arts or [00:36:00] consult in the arts always knew this to be true. The precarity under which art is created in this country is absolutely mindblowing. I’m a great fan of professional artists and professional art. I want the deepest thinkers to bring their perspectives to bear on our current realities. I don’t get that when I read, you know, the financial post, right. I, I get that. When I go to theater, when I see performances some days, my mind is blown. Often it’s not, but that’s, that’s really where, where we have these incredibly trained people who, who I regard as, you know, sort of the most profound thinkers about the human condition and the condition of Canada. We need to support them. We need to pay them for this work. There are philosophers. There are many, many things. They’re creatives. They are innovators. We’ve invested  tremendously sometimes in the formal system and people, themselves, and their communities in which they live have tremendous investments. You know, [00:37:00] whether that’s indigenous methodologies or whether that is racialized communities, people of color, who, who work in in this context, in this country where they’ve had difficulty accessing the formal kind of supports, right? When we’re, when I’m looking at. So now that we understand just how absolutely dire those individuals whose work we are consuming are living and the circumstances in which they live, we need to start to build things that support them. Right. Why are we supporting arts organizations and administration of arts to a higher degree than artists? I think that’s an important question we need to ask now I’m not dissing the administrators. We need that. It’s the imbalance that intrigues me. I think we also need to think about. So we’re talking about the digital world, right? We’re talking about data in the digital world. So how is it that we’re going to begin to manage the rights of artists to their creative output in the digital realm? There is no good framework for this. It took everybody by surprise. [00:38:00] There was no union contract that despite the internet having been around since 1994, there is no union contract that adequately addresses rights management in the digital realm. We have seen an incredible amount of free provided by professional artists so that we can feel connected to each other through COVID, especially in the early phases free is not. Free doesn’t buy my groceries. It doesn’t pay my rent as an artist. So we really need to rethink. How we’re investing, how we’re creating policies that has been disadvantaging in fact, the creation process to a large extent. And we need to sort of really think about, you know, like we’re, we have no trouble spending billions of dollars in annual subsidy to extraction industries. We’re spending a few million federally in arts and culture. Right. So there, there is also, I think, a need for us to recognize, you know, when we’re investing in old ways of being at such high [00:39:00] rates, are we actually leaving, you know, a lot of blank space for Canadian creativity and innovation untapped, that would actually be far more sustainable moving forward. Post COVID looking at climate change, looking at, you know, the evolution of the internet. I’ll leave it at that for now. 

Nathalie Hazan: Thank you, Inga. I see that Sara just wants to touch on some more tools with regards to artists working with AI. So Sara, please, please. Love to hear more about that.

Dr. Sara Diamond: So, you know, this kind of builds on, I think what Inga is saying too though, and this is I’ll start with a, not an artist working with AI, but a company. And if you can throw up the Magnify slide, Rebecca, that would be great. So I think we need to, though, I think we have to actually support Canadian companies to build tools that are sensitive to issues of diversity and give arts [00:40:00] organizations and screen industries and even artists. You know, the, the means to kind of plan and manage their data. So they’re not reliant on broadcasters, they’re not reliant on you know, sort of funders also to tell them what their data is. So this idea of sort of self management and education and self-management, I think is really important. I think the other thing that we need to do is support artists who are working critically with AI. And I think that’s incredibly important if you want to show Jer Thorp. I’d love to, because I work in visualization. I do it more now as an analyst than as an artist, but there are artists like Jer, and I want to really promote visualization as another set of tools because we need to interpret data in ways that are really accessible. Really meaningful and available across different sectors of society to do the kind of work that Elliott was talking about, which is understanding, for example, the content [00:41:00] that people are showing. So this is just a great project by Jer he’s that Canadian visualization artists maybe one of the best in the world right now. And this work just looks at immigration patterns. It’s beautiful. 2017 at the height of the Trump, you know, sort of locked shut down of, of immigration to the US it looks at all the places people came to make New York, the city that it is. So I think we need to invest in tool building and, and artists doing critical work in this space. And I guess I think on the policy side, we have to really look at, you know, what is a living wage for artists you know, Is there a way of looking at the kind of systems in Europe where artists are funded, whether or not they’re producing at that moment or not? Everything we do is project-based whether it’s the screen industries, commercial industries, or whether it’s artists and we need to, I mean, arts organizations, aren’t project funded, but you know, it’s, it’s really a fundamental crisis that we have that artists are not [00:42:00] yet, given a living wage. I think the last commission and I sat on it when I was like a wee artist was like a 1980s looking at those questions. And we’re still at a point where that’s not happening. So we need some really strong advocacy here to value the artist and their critical role, their transformative role in Canada.

Nathalie Hazan: Hear hear. Elliott, go ahead.

Elliott Hearte: Yeah. I’ll jump in on that. Just to also connect those two, right? Valuing the arts and the role of the arts to the data and the data that we need to prove that point, because I believe we already know. Right? Like if you ask people, is, is arts and culture, is that critical? It is right. But why isn’t that reflected? I don’t see that reflected in Canada in the way that we see it in other countries, right. Arts and culture is part of infrastructure. It’s essential. There are supports. Right. And, and I’m excited that we are talking about universal [00:43:00] basic income. Seriously, perhaps I don’t know if that’s me being naive, but it feels like we’re seriously talking about that right now. And that, that will change. How that will change the art sector hugely and how artists are able to work and live and who gets to be an artist. And I think that that’s really, really important to where we’re going. I think I’d also just like to quickly touch on this idea of, you know, we need to break down these silos between the sectors and some of this is already going on. Right. Like we see a lot of research going on with arts and technology arts and medical science, I think that’s really important one. We’re seeing we’re using that data, right? Like particularly that medical data, right. We’re using that. We are using that to put artists into hospitals, into senior spaces, into vulnerable communities. We are seeing the effect of that now, but we need that research to back it, right. And the artists need to be involved. So I guess I will close that on the need for [00:44:00] artists to be involved in in things such as AI ethics, right. And creating those frameworks and changing and adapting those frameworks as we go. Valentine Goddard is, is someone doing a huge amount of work in this, right? She’s an artist  and lawyer looking at AI ethics and social impact. So, you know, she talks about that need for the art sector to be involved in, in those, those conversations. Right? And again, art as a tool for civic engagement, art helps us to understand and to think about and talk about and communicate about our world and society. Right? And so it is really essential that.We are looking at the bias that is inherent in AI. We are, we are looking at these things. We’re thinking about these things and we are doing that in arts and culture, right? The same as it is happening in every other sector. So we need to talk to each other, I think is [00:45:00] that is a piece that I’d like to see immediately. Let’s break those silos. Let’s come to the same table. 

Nathalie Hazan: Yeah. And it’s such a universal language, really. I think we’re running out of time. We just have a couple of more minutes extended from our period because this conversation is so good. And I’d like to close on just some thoughts and we’ve already touched upon this, but maybe we can do in one short sentence, if we were able to imagine. A kind of shift that would happen in Canadian society in order to see arts and culture, the value of arts and culture as it should be. What would that shift look like? So, so one sentence, two sentences. Maybe it’s very hard. I know, but really, because we have this wonderful opportunity today to bring forth. To [00:46:00] Canadians and to the governments like those shifts and those changes that, that you, as experts on this panel of arts and data in Canada would like to see. So I’d like to close on that. I’ll have Inga. Is that okay Inga, are you ready to do like two short sentences? 

Inga Petri: Well, I it’ll work to my favor that I’m German and German sentences are very long with many commas.

Nathalie Hazan: French also.

Inga Petri: I think, from a policy standpoint, there’s so many angles, both Elliott and Sara will have things to say. I think a lot of my work recently has focused on platform ownership. I think we need to begin to understand that if creators are using Facebook and YouTube, that’s great from an access to the arts standpoint, it is absolutely horrendous from a sustainability and viability of the arts in Canada standpoint. So there’s two projects I’m [00:47:00] involved in. One is building a business to business application generated within the arts sector to help performing artists showcase to buyers of performing arts. There is another project coming out of Alberta that I sometimes consult on called the public place network that is designed in such a way. To advantage, not the platform owner who was a filmmaker out of, out of Alberta. But to advantage the artists whose work will be on that platform and the content owners. So be getting the majority of revenue that they may choose to generate on that kind of platform. There’s other initiatives that have been going on. To help us own the data of the arts. One of them is Artsdata.ca, which is spearheaded by Culture Creates in a very large partnership. Another one is the work that Mariel Marshall is doing. She’s a, she’s a theater artist. She’s part of the Bluemouth group. Normally, except now she’s leading a W3C working group [00:48:00] around performing arts information and trying to sort of create infrastructure as part of that whole ownership pitch to create the infrastructure needed to actually have the fields that the pieces of information we want to collect. In the performing arts specifically that whole arena needs ongoing continuous support. It is true infrastructure in the same way that a theater stages. I will leave it at that. Thank you.

Nathalie Hazan: Thank you Inga so much for that, and really that ownership of digital platforms and ownership of data information, right? Because knowledge, well, I will repeat it, knowledge is power. Art, art can definitely do with a little bit more brawn within Canadian society. Sarah, would you, would you be open to doing your last thoughts on this?

Dr. Sara Diamond: Yeah, I want to build on some things that, that Elliott had said earlier and, and also to kind of [00:49:00] laud some of the Inga’s comments. So you know, I think this idea of multi-factor data set collection and correlations between the arts, itself, but also the arts in relationship to impact and in relationship to potential impact and dissemination. I think that work is incredibly important and I think it’s, you know, both an academic space, but also one for. People who work in, in, you know, in policy analysis, like Inga. I guess I’ve seen a lot of money invested by, you know, by heritage or reasonable money by Canada Council Heritage the, uh, screen industry organizations in supporting the collection of data. And what I really don’t see is a unified clear collaborative approach, Synapse C in Quebec has done a phenomenal job with the collection of data there. So part of why we created data echo culture was to really try and bring that conversation together. And I think [00:50:00] investment is needed there. And I think it’s great that there’s platforms, they all need to work together. It’s really critical that we create these data sets. We figure out what’s open, we look at how people access them. We look at how to support it through maybe service fees or whatever, if there’s a group of people running that access, but we need the data and then we can, we can build the correlations and we also need StatsCan, Statistics Canada to invest more money, more effort in, in, in this correlation and this data collection effort. So they can work with Heritage Canada to, you know, help to pull and pull the data together that we need to do this kind of analysis. So I’m kind of staying on the data side. I said other policy things earlier, I mean, I think it’s interesting to look at the, the, the large international platforms in Canada and maybe treat them the same ways that we do with other large strategic companies in Canada, which is to say, if you want to operate in this country, that you do pay a business tax of some kind. I don’t think that’s [00:51:00] folly, but you also have to figure out how to do that and make sure that. I do think artists still need to access those platforms. So so there you go. It’s a lot, policy’s a big one and we just are touching on it. 

Nathalie Hazan: Yes. And I so wish that we had another 45, two hours to discuss this. And I’m going to watch this afterwards to make sure that I, I get what I’ve missed while I was asking questions. Elliott, last thoughts, please. 

Elliott Hearte: Sure. Well, you know, we’re talking about shifting the perception of the arts and the value of the arts. And I think that I think that’s happening. And I think we have a real opportunity right now, arts arts and culture is the hardest hit sector with this  pandemic. But it’s also one of the sectors that we’ve drawn on the most. As a society. Right? So I do feel that people are understanding the need for arts and culture to exist and to be sustainable. And I think [00:52:00] that a piece that we need to be mindful of right, is that artists need to make art. And if we put too much back on the artist then we’re going to have a problem, right? We need new models. We need new platforms. We need new financial models. We need, we need new support and we need to think through all of that and get an in place really quickly because the artists are starving and it’s not a joke and it’s happening a lot more. Now that pandemic hit and we lost a lot of artists and a lot of cultural workers and we need, we need to, we need to deal with that.

Nathalie Hazan: I couldn’t agree with you more. And I see in the chat, there’s like, yes, hear, hear. Thank you Elliott for bringing up that very, very important point and bringing the artists back into the conversation. I think we all come. From a creative background. So happy to, to have that [00:53:00] conversation sort of infold everybody. I have to say that this was one amazing conversation. And so, so rich in so many ways, I didn’t think we would be able to get there through all of these questions, but you all did a fabulous job of opening up that black box and bringing forth, like what is today in the context of the pandemic, but really the vision of the future of what art and culture could be. So thank you very, very much, and hopefully we’ll have another conversation like this is because it’s so successful and we’ll be able to pull you in again. 

Elliott Hearte: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’d love to have a part two. There’s so much, I have questions I’d like to ask Inga. Right? I had just so much more to talk about.

Dr. Sara Diamond: Likewise, it was delightful. [00:54:00]

FWD50 tends to focus on technology and society—but we seldom dive into the cultural aspects of society. So when 2021 Advisory Board member (and tech supernode) Annette Hester suggested that we run a discussion on arts and data in Canada, we jumped at the opportunity! Annette found three incredible experts working at the intersection of data and art across Canada: Strategist, founder and president of Strategic Moves, Inga Petri; Arts consultant and director of Arts BC, Elliott Hearte; and Arts and Governance Consultant and President Emerita at OCAD University, Sara Diamond.

As moderator, we reached out to Nathalie Hazan, founder and president of Raison d’Art (and a longtime member of the extended FWD50 family,) to steer a conversation into how the arts world is using data and technology—and how the pandemic drove home just how vital art is not only to the fabric of society, but also to our physical and mental wellbeing.

The discussion touched on a broad range of topics, including:

  • A need to remove silos and bring sectors together to share best practices in tech policy and implementation.
  • How to use the qualitative and quantitative data sets being gathered in the arts, and how the collection of that data is failing marginalized communities.
  • The shifting landscape of the arts community as it moves to digital platforms.
  • How we use art, data and technology as tools for civic engagement.
  • The leadership of Indigenous Peoples in the digital arts landscape.
  • The case for UBI in the arts and the precarious position of artists, as highlighted by the pandemic.

To learn more about the work our guests are doing, and the projects they referenced in the conversation, please visit the links provided below, and see the attached slide deck:

Inga’s work and references:

Elliott’s references:

Sara’s references (see sources for works referenced in slides, on each slide):