May 6th 2021, 1:45pm-3:15pm ET
Transformations in arts and media policy: from 2019 to 2021 via COVID-19
Chair: Mary Elizabeth Luka (University of Toronto)
Eighteen months after more than 120 cultural leaders convened at the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity for the Digital Transformation Summit, this roundtable will come together to examine what has changed strategically since then in the debate over digitizing the creative industries and culture sector. Once the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, digital infrastructure priorities and processes—and related policy implications including media and arts funding programs—rapidly shifted at all the organizations represented at Banff.
The Summit’s aspirational language reflects nation-state building approach that has been used in policy-based documents by many federal regulatory or funding bodies over the years (including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission, the Department of Canadian Heritage and others): Together we will absorb big questions around big data, delve into discoverability, and explore relationships with rapidly evolving audiences...We will encounter Indigenous views and practices, and explore how Indigenous voices inform our digital landscapes. We will seek to understand how Canada’s digital arts opportunity connects to larger strategies for our nation as a whole.
Even now, this language permeates funding, legislative and production/distribution systems and strategies in an increasingly platformized world. And while the 2019 Banff Summit attempted to focus on how a vaguely defined ‘digital transformation’ was playing out in the cultural sector, the many conversations begun there were quickly superseded by global events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in social movements such as Black Lives Matter, and a complete rethink of Federal and other funding programs.
In format, the Summit reflected a hybrid approach that was neither academic (where most attendees present a formal paper) nor the TED-talk corporatized approach often taken in the creative industries (where thousands of attendees come to hear financially successful emerging or established thought leaders perform their ideas), nor an art exhibition or performance (even though several industry-leading artworks were also on display, and performances were built into the evenings of the Summit). It is worth noting that the Banff sessions quickly evolved into a series of onsite intensive discussions about social engineering (how to change the field and society), and community engagement (how to involve people in the arts, culture and media, whether as audiences, citizens, makers or more). While feedback during and after the Summit noted that there was no funding provided to subsidize artistic, non-profit or civic actors to attend the event itself, none of the hybrid ways of convening on a face-to-face basis experienced at Banff could be undertaken at all in the year that followed. Indeed, the debate over access was superseded by the massive shift to online convening that followed just a few months later.
As we look forward to coming together virtually in Hamilton in May 2021, the global shift that happened in the time since the Summit provides a new set of lenses to reflect not just on whether gatherings such as the Banff Summit are as accessible as they could be, but whether the sector as a whole will continue to move towards a more inclusive and culturally engaged world through the strategic shifts in digital platformization that we have experienced throughout 2020. Are we in a position to better understand how advocacy, artistic and social justice approaches are being mobilized to intervene in varied relationships among artists, culture makers, citizens, Indigenous knowledge, and media and communications systems? How has this shifted since the Summit? How might the innovations and experiments of the last year be used to engender sector transformations that might actually have more to do with community building and decolonization (outward facing relationship-building) than with simpler but still crucial professionalization and literacy questions about digital infrastructures, platforms and tools (inward facing structural engagement)?