Culture » Overview

Exploring the transformative power of the arts – building bridges across cultures – supporting young cultural innovators

The Salzburg Global Seminar’s Culture and the Arts Program focuses on the transformative power of the arts, facilitates cultural exchange at multiple levels, and provides capacity-building opportunities through the annual Young Cultural Innovators Forum. Through multi-year projects and strategic convenings, the Culture and Arts Program seeks to secure a more prominent role for the arts on policy agendas and to support the continuously evolving needs of the creative sector – as a major driver of sustainable economic development and social improvement – through the multi-year Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.

Sessions in 2018:

The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future - February 20 to 25, 2018

Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators V - October 16 to 21, 2018

For past sessions, click here

Festivals as Future Labs - How Cross-Cultural Collaboration Can Lead to Social Change
Festivals as Future Labs - How Cross-Cultural Collaboration Can Lead to Social Change
Carly Sikina 

Festivals can provoke meaningful and productive conversations about the future(s). They are spaces where cross-sectoral exchange and collaboration can flourish and help shift the way we see the world and the future(s) of the planet.

If you want to drive a movement, inspire creativity and expand mindsets, a festival is a useful tool in this regard. While there may be some disagreement as to whether “festival” is the right word to describe such an event, what we can be sure of is an opportunity exists to utilize and explore cross-disciplinary collaboration.

During the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, participants discussed the importance of cross-cultural collaboration when thinking about the future – or the possibility of multiple futures.

One participant who believes in the importance of festivals is Cynthia Selin, director of the Center for the Study of Futures at Arizona State University (ASU). During a panel discussion, Selin described ASU’s multi-year festival, Emerge.

Selin sees Emerge as a way to discuss and cultivate futures fit for everyone. “[Emerge is] designed to break down those walls between the university and the community.” She says the festival is unique because it creates a sense of “A collective experience that is unlike others that [people] have access to.”

Tom Higham, former executive director of FutureEverything and now creative director of York Mediale, builds on this point, citing the “unintended consequences” that can often occur. He adds, “They are experiments - they are experiments in time. They have different rules than normal life and amazing things can come from that – awful things come too – but it’s a powerful vehicle that can be used for amazing things.”

David Wright, founder of the f3 Futures Film Festival, shares a similar mindset to Higham. What sets him apart, however, is his apprehension of using the word “festival.”  He says, “Although [f3] started off as a futures film festival, we found in Australia, there’s something called festival fatigue, and people think ‘Oh god, another festival, no.’ So they kind of get put off by the idea.”

Moving forward, Wright is exploring alternative ways of defining f3. Options have included the future film transmedia event, super event, and mega event. Wright says, “We experimented with the word ‘fiesta,’ which is the Spanish word for ‘party’ because I see it as a bit like a party.”

Wright describes his vision for f3 as “a way to generate new kinds of means [and] synergies which brings in people from around the world who have futuristic ideas, not just high-techy, Silicon Valley kind of stuff, but new kinds of social experimentation ideas and so on.”

Despite his concerns regarding festivals, Wright understands the importance of bringing people together through shared interests and cross-sectoral collaboration. “From a general point of view, festivals are a way of bringing like-minded people together over a certain period of time and then bumping into each other and they generate new ideas…”

Selin emphasizes the value of cross-sectoral initiatives like Emerge. “[Transdisciplinary collaboration] matters because so many of our pressing social problems – whether you think about climate change, poverty, equality, even things like literacy [and] problems with our food system – there is no single discipline that is able to address it.

“We must re-gear our knowledge production, our educational systems… to foster this interdisciplinary collaboration. Emerge is really an opportunity to illustrate, to demonstrate what that looks like and [how to] foster an environment where that kind of work can thrive.”

Similarly, Higham and Wright recognize the importance of collaboration between the arts, sciences, and technology. Higham sees the arts and sciences as being able to collaborate in interesting ways that benefit both disciplines. Interdisciplinary exchange between an artist and a scientist can “create amazing things that neither could create on their own.”

Wright identifies the lack of common language surrounding futures as one of the key issues that can be remedied through cross-cultural collaboration. Wright believes there is “no shortage of compelling images” of the future, but they are largely scattered and therefore, must be brought together so that they have “shape, pattern, coherence, upon which people [feel] empowered to act in the real world.”

He continues by mentioning the power of cross-sectoral initiatives. He sees collaborative efforts, especially with the arts, as a way “to inspire futures-oriented behaviors.”

Selin discusses the amount of “common-ground” among the participants, despite their diverse backgrounds. “What’s beautiful about being here [at Salzburg Global Seminar] is that I think there’s similar points of inspiration to try to work in whichever way you are best equipped to - to create positive social change, more equity, more justice, more sustainability, [a] sort of better quality of life and well-being…”

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year series, Culture, Arts and Society. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter using #SGSculture.

Michael Edson - Collaboration and Partnerships Are Essential to UN Live
Michael Edson - Collaboration and Partnerships Are Essential to UN Live
Helena Santos 

Michael Edson introduces himself as a painter who fell into technology. While working at the Smithsonian Institution’s two museums of Asian art in the 1990s, he wanted to educate himself further on the role of technology and new media programs. Being an autodidact in this field led him to becoming the director of web and new media strategy for the Smithsonian. With this experience behind him, Edson joined the founding team of the Museum for the United Nations - UN Live - a museum that goes way beyond its’ physical presence. 

“I fell in love with the project when I saw how much our stakeholders were committed to being a truly global institution. A world-class building would be critical, but the digital presence and the network of partners would be where the real global action was going to happen,” he explains.

UN Live will try to engage as many people as possible in problem-solving across the world on three platforms: UN Live Online, UN Live Network, and the UN Live Building. The latter is scheduled to be open in 2023, but public engagement on the other two platforms is expected to begin later this year.

“The network, I think, is the most powerful part of UN Live. It’s a structure that allows a lot of people in the world to understand how they can collaborate and amplify each other’s work. It also brings us very close to local communities, which is one of the most important aspects of the museum. I’m beginning to think that there’s no such thing as ‘global’. Global, to some degree, is just weaving together a lot of different people’s local realities.”

This idea of building a bridge between awareness and action, involving as many people as possible, is something Edson expressed during the panel “Designs on Tomorrow” and was reaffirmed through his conversations with other participants at Salzburg Global Seminar.

“Collaboration and partnership are essential to UN Live. We’ve recognized that there are hundreds or thousands of very effective organizations already doing great work, many of whom have told us they wish to be connected to each other, they wish to have their work amplified, they wish to be networked. We think that we can create more impact in the world, faster, if we serve as a convener — a guide and an aid with many partners — than if we try to do everything ourselves.”

According to Edson, the UN Live project will try to connect everyone in the world to the values and mission of the UN through the idea that local communities already have an abundance of unique skills and expertise that could benefit from more direct links to the United Nations — and to each other.

“A starting point for us has always been to try and unlock people’s understanding of the UN’s work and values on a personal level and try and understand what it is they have to offer as individuals, communities, as societies to the larger challenges of the world,” he states.

The UN Live will bring dialogue about intricate topics such as the Sustainable Development Goals down to the language people use in their everyday lives. Leaving jargon out of the equation, this project hopes people will understand they are already working on the same issues as the United Nations with their communities, but they simply use other words for it. “For millions of people, working on global goals is just solving problems, helping their neighbors, and making better communities,” Edson clarifies.

Having worked for a long time in the way arts and technology will define the future, Michael Edson decided attending the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, was an opportunity he couldn’t resist. 

Edson, who proudly labels himself a Salzburg Global Fellow on his social media profiles, says, “When I saw the invitation I realized that this seminar was asking the same questions I’ve been wrestling with for the last 20 years. The chance to spend a few days here, with this global, diverse, talented bunch of people was an opportunity I could not pass up. It was unimaginable that I would not be here. Whatever I had to do to be here I would do…”

Michael Edson was a participant of the Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino - "Technology Has the Power to Connect But Also to Make Us Very Lazy About Our Connections"
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino - "Technology Has the Power to Connect But Also to Make Us Very Lazy About Our Connections"
Helena Santos 

Since 2011, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino has brought people together in London once a month to hear about the latest developments affecting the Internet of Things. Talks have centered on urban infrastructure, smart grids, open hardware, the quantified self, open data, smart homes, and more. The group has amassed more than 12,000 members and shows no sign of slowing down.

As an interaction designer, and founder of the Good Night Lamp, Deschamps-Sonsino has an interest in this field. In 2014, named her as one of the 100 most influential tech women on Twitter. Deschamps-Sonsino was a participant of the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future. During the session, she spoke to Salzburg Global about the Internet of Things, open data, and whether technology brings us together or makes us more isolated.

Salzburg Global: Since you are involved with the Internet of Things (IoT) community, what do you think should be the next steps toward  its’ protection?
ADS: Well, the Internet of Things is a very dynamic space that is unregulated, and that is open for entrepreneurship. What that has led to are a number of unfortunately bad design decisions that have led to security breaches and to a degree of uncertainty for both entrepreneurs and consumers. So I’m currently working to stir a global community to talk about what trust marks might mean for connected products. What I mean by trust mark is the equivalent to something like the fair-trade mark. So when you put fair-trade on a banana, you know that banana comes from working conditions that are better.

What does that look like for the Internet of Things? Can I put a sticker on a connected thermostat where I know that connected thermostat is not selling my data on to a third party, that has been designed in a secure way, that it is reparable, that if the company goes bankrupt can I still use my physical product but with a digital service offered by someone else? These are some of the things we are exploring.

SG: In your opinion should there be any limits to open data?
ADS: I think open data as a concept is important. I think that there are of course different types of sensitivities around what kind of data. Whether your lamp is on or off is interesting, but not that interesting a piece of data. Where you are in the world, what your health is like, where you are eating and what you’re eating… These start to become very personal pieces of data, and so we have to treat it in a very secure way, we have to treat it in a way that complies to something like GDPR, which is the incoming legislator and we have to enable consumers to use archive and keep their own data.
So, open in the sense of open and owned by people. We also have to make people care about that because right now they don’t.

SG: What’s your take on the dichotomy of isolation/connectivity regarding technology?
ADS: I think technology has the power to connect but also to make us very lazy about our connections. We assume that a like on Facebook or a comment is as powerful as a face-to-face conversation and it isn’t of course. We see that everywhere people suffer from more and more isolation, depression, mental illness regardless of the advanced technologies that we have.

What I try to do with the Good Night Lamp is provide a context for people to engage with each other more often. Right now, especially with families who have young children, it’s very hard for a grandparent to know when the right time is to catch up either with their children or with their grandchildren. So to create that opportunity, that opening of time and that window for these complex family structures to actually know when is the right time to sync and to call each other, and to have a meaningful connection.

So I think that it is a dichotomy in the general tech sector, something I try to address in my small way with the Good Night Lamp.

WATCH: An Introduction to the Good Night Lamp

SG: From all the discussions that took place during the session, what do feel are the most important remarks for the IoT community?
ADS: I think I will come back with a sense that there are communities in the world who are talking about the interaction between arts and sciences and technology in ways that will reach small companies eventually and it may be in the shape of innovation processes, in the shape of policy-making and I think that most entrepreneurs around me are very concerned with the next six months of their work, with the next engineering challenges and not so much the policy challenges, not so much the cultural shift not so much the innovation processes around them. I would like to highlight those for them. I would like to invite them to be more strategic and to be more high-leveled with the conversations that they would have themselves as small companies. 

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino was a participant of the Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

The Shock of the New – The Next Steps Forward
Participants of the Salzburg Global session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future
The Shock of the New – The Next Steps Forward
Oscar Tollast 

A search for quotes about the “future” will bring up at least 3,000 results on Goodreads. Each quote, whether from the world of fiction or non-fiction, offers a unique perspective or poses a different question. Mahatma Gandhi, a primary leader of India’s independence movement, said, “The future depends on what you do today.” The science fiction author William Gibson, meanwhile, said, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

It’s a topic not short of debate, and this difference of opinion was present in the exchanges at the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future. During a five-day program, artists, technology specialists and cultural practitioners convened at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria, to discuss the world’s future and the nexus between the arts and technology.

Panel discussions centered on artists at the cutting edge, design, the festival as a future lab, strategies for reimagining the future, and cultural institutions as catalysts for thinking about tomorrow. These conversations influenced the focus group meetings, which saw participants narrow down their interests and concentrate on different themes which had emerged. On the final day of the program, focus groups presented their ideas before providing recommendations on how to continue their work.

Arts and Creative Practice

How can art contribute to society? How can science be harnessed for art’s sake? These were a couple of questions several participants explored before they put forward the “Duck and Rabbit Manifesto.” The document's name pays tribute to the famous illusion in which both a rabbit and duck are visible in one image. One participant remarked that they wanted people, in the future, to see both the rabbit and duck, not just one or the other.  He asked how society could facilitate it so people could look at both images.

The manifesto states that the artist is not the PR machine of science and technology. Art can oppose governments and policies while galvanizing change. Participants in this focus group agreed art can exist for its own sake and not for an audience nor a market. Artists use text to protect the context of their work. Art is not the moral compass of a society.

Cultural Institutions Influencing the Future

During the session, participants considered the role of cultural institutions and what influence they might have on the future. One focus group presented the idea of potentiating an Institute of Foresight/Foresensing. While brainstorming, the group referred to the work of Harold Lasswell, Sohail Inayatullah, and Ziauddin Sardar. The Institute would be a “post-normal” organization, taking ideas from creative industries.

The speaker for the group suggested there is not one single encapsulating problem the world faces. Instead, there are a lot of smaller difficulties. Reaching out to the room, he suggested all participants had globally reaching networks, both formal and informal. If the group could remain intact, it could act as the cultural organization to bring about change. Alternative and compelling images of the future can be generated, in addition to new kinds of stories.  The presenter concluded the presentation by calling for a common language of and for alternatives future engagement.

Policymaking Spheres

The third focus group to present considered how to help inexperienced people influence policymaking. Participants created a framework which focused on policymakers and system structure. The presenter conceded the group had concentrated on policymakers as the latter approach had constraints concerning time and complexity.

The first step for someone who wants to influence policymaking involves mapping out the issue. This approach provides a deeper understanding of what the issue is and helps identify relevant stakeholders. By understanding who these stakeholders are, the person learns to tell different stories to different people. There is a range of ways to communicate a story, and it is essential for someone to know they can avail themselves of the full range of storytelling. Possible and preferred stories of the future are ways of engaging people.

A Global Lab for Creative Systems Change

What could a global effort for creative future thinking look like? What initiatives or labs already exist, and how can they be linked? Participants came together to put forward a global lab available for radical collaboration and transformative system change that unites communities, organizations, and policymakers to share insights to enact change locally and globally.

The lab would be community-focused and community-driven. It would profoundly and humanely understand global challenges, recognizing that people who sometimes affect change from the outside don’t understand the problems on the ground. During the presentation, one participant suggested this was a “real thing” which could happen. While details may seem vague at the moment, the idea could connect many bridges that already exist.

Tools and Tactics: Moving from Thought to Action

“The ‘thought to action’ group” is only as good as you make it,” proposed one participant, who tweeted ahead of the group’s presentation. Participants collaborated to create a checklist for ethical change-making. The list is a tool for colleagues to help them avoid pitfalls, generate action, and feel proud of their work. While presenting this checklist, one participant said people had to be open to listening to others. Not me, but we.

The list is about transparency, belief in others, resilience, courage, and information sharing. To quote the checklist’s description, “Ethical change-making is what happens when you, as a would-be agent of change, take on a role knowing you can deliver something that an impartial observer would consider a good result. This means measuring your strengths against the task at hand.”

Being Human in the Anthropocene

To listen, to talk, to maintain hope, to be conflicted, to love, and to be connected to nature and one another. These were just some of the suggestions put forward by participants when asked, “What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene?” These ideas were put up on a noticeboard for everyone to view and consider. The group behind this presentation looked at the foundational things in human experience which could be used as an anchor for dealing with challenges ahead. The group itself concluded the “Seven C’s” of being human in the Anthropocene were connection, consciousness, control/care, choice, consequence, creation, and collaboration.

Participants questioned whether humans were evolving or devolving as they merged closer with technology. They also asked what kind of agency does humanity want to have over purpose, technological discovery, evolution, and loss. There is a growing awareness of how humanity’s actions shape others and the environment, but how does society deal with the effects it cannot control? During the group’s presentation, one participant remarked they saw a trend today of people wanting to hear more from others, and progression will come as a result of compromise and not making assumptions.

Defining Future/Futures

The final group to present had the small task of answering, “What do we mean by ‘future’?” As part of this presentation, all participants were asked to stand in a circle. A pillow was passed between them which was initially supposed to represent a newborn child. Each time the pillow was given to another participant, the child’s age would increase by one year. Participants had to provide a vision or lesson for each year of that child’s life. Visions and lessons were given right up until the "child" entered his 30s. The exercise highlighted how the future is understood differently in different places, as is time.

The group warned that when we imagine futures, we should be aware of agendas that might be personal, political or profitable. To create futures beyond us, participants suggested we should remove the ego from our lives. We, as humans, can be more empathetic and have the freedom to envision a better future, whether that’s with us or in spite of us.

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts, and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture

Martin Bohle - The smile of 'The Imaginator'
Strawberry Fields, New York, United States
Martin Bohle - The smile of 'The Imaginator'
Martin Bohle 

This article was first published on Martin Bohle's blog, "What's Prometheus doing today?"

New complexities, irritating disruptions of trusted practices, and accelerating change seem to characterize our times. Uncertainty about the future is acknowledged by many. The rate of change is unmeasured; hence it is felt. Curiously, artists, intellectuals, and laypersons, each seem self-de-rooted.

Hence, what is 'The New' that is up to us, in a world of somehow self-driving cars, subsistence fishermen and first climate refugees? Our views focus' on the next corner, the next turn of a road. Where are the signposts? Who has a sketch of the roads ahead? Does vision lack? What marks the debates? The technology-fascinated disagree. Yet, their vision is just 'scale-up,' massively to reach a singularity. Does this change in quantity leads to new quality? Hence, is Mr. Hegel calling?

Questions to the participants at #SGSCULTURE #593:

  • What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100?
  • Who or what will control our lives?
  • What will it mean to be human? [*]

Let's drop the big stone, the rock, the landslide into the deep water, and observe the waves. What to envision for the years 2050 to 2100, times when my children and grandchildren will be getting old, respectively?

Ten statements are offered here. Each implies a considerable alteration of the present state of people's dealings; some deem clear-cut some are underlying. How would artists, designers, and culture-activists anchor them in emerging trends? What seeds they could plant to give them lives.   

  1. People overcame the multiple societal-environmental emergencies of the 2030-ties; then life-expectancy had stalled globally. During this crisis, luckily the use of arms of mass destruction got hindered; although some 'conventional warfare' occurred.
  2. By 2050, collaborative Earth System Governance has emerged and the life-expectancy (number of healthy years) of people started to increase again.
  3. In most regions, the species extinction rates got capped. The deterioration of the vital global ecosystems has halted.
  4. In 2100, the global human population has stabilized at little less than 11 Billion people; slow decline seems possible now. Open societies have led to about equal levels of development in all urbanized regions.
  5. Networks and circular supply-chains enforce participatory handling of societal-environmental problems including large-scale migration of people.
  6. Joint efforts are ongoing to relocate people from the ocean shorelines (and some other now uninhabitable zones); 'managed human retreat' because of sea-level rise and 'rebuilding of (coastal) urban areas' is a global policy.
  7. The rate of change of societal-environmental systems has been capped, and the diversity of the 'human niche' is made a 'species goal.'
  8. Most production systems use processes that are derived from synthetic biology with embedded quantum-technologies.
  9. Since 2050, emotions emerged spontaneously in complex information systems, and since then they consolidated into stable societal features. Since then, such 'feeling systems' and the various (collective and individual) 'people-tool systems' got a dedicated legal status in most countries.
  10. Our outpost on Moon and Mars may be reopened soon after the burial of the bodies of the early colonists on Earth.

Such a new may stretch our imagination to the breaking point. Hence, Irritation! That's the purpose. The eyes stay shut, facing 'The New,' listening to the orange clockwork.

For many of our fellow citizens, 'The Future,' with capital "F," is the march towards "About-the-Same." It may be a bit more of the same. For most people, The Future is nothing that is 'made.' It is something to be endured. And, disasters or war deem ready to disrupt its regular gait. It is this eon-old view, "Nihil sub sole novum" (nothing new under the sun) that for many provides a sense of security. Astonishingly, 'The Future' is a reference frame. It embeds our myopic starring at the next turn of events. Yet, what to do when this reference frame seems to change, to wobble and, hence gets uncertain. Then, menacingly, 'The Unknown' frames the stages of our plays. Irritatingly, 'The Counter-Intuitive' seems to consolidate out of our plays. Threateningly, they block the way back. The horsemen of the modern apocalypse,'The New,' 'The Unknown,' and 'The Counter-Intuitive' threat with insecurity, loss of competences, altered divisions of societies, and lost sense!

Some people relish the 'The New,' 'The Unknown,' and 'The Counter-Intuitive.' Artists, Explorers, Scientists feel a deep sensual pleasure when confronting them, as a person and as citizens. The artist's psyche, the explorer's spirits, the innovator's minds, the researcher's souls are resources vibrating with imagination and passion. Hence, nurtured by them the citizenries may confront Quantum-Technology, Earth System Sciences, Artificial Intelligences, and Synthetic Biology. Then the citizenries will draft the new 'guides to these galaxies.' They will tell, whether '42' is still the right answer, why your towel might be sufficient, and who moved the restaurant(s) at the end of the universe(s)? [**]

Only as citizens, the artists, cultural practitioners, inventors, and scientists can push the boundaries of the human imagination. As citizens, jointly they may move beyond the familiar and transcend the borders towards the future. But, are they ready to assume this task? Do they invest collaboratively in path-changing discoveries, different fates of our planet, and charting pathways to liveable futures? Only then, 'The New', 'The Unknown', and 'The Counter-Intuitive' will face the broad, vigorous smile of 'The Imaginator' - Surrender!

[*] This post is the second 'modulation' of the scene setter for the Salzburg Global Seminar #593 "The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future" (Salzburg, 20-25 February 2018). This text was drafted after the seminar during my travel home. The first 'modulation' of the scene setter had been published as the post “The New, The Unknown, and The Counter-Intuitive” before the seminar. Hence, borrowing a notion from music, these posts may be seen as a prose-variations of the theme of the seminar.

[**] See plots in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

The Shock of the New – Preparing for the Future
The Shock of the New – Preparing for the Future
Oscar Tollast 

What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100? Who or what will control our lives? What will it mean to be human? These are some of the questions participants at the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future, will consider over the next few days at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria.

The session will build on previous work focusing on the transformative power of the arts while taking the program portfolio in “new, radically forward-looking directions.” This point was reaffirmed by Susanna Seidl-Fox, program director for culture and the arts at Salzburg Global, as she welcomed artistic and intellectual game-changers from around the world on the first day of the session.

Change can be both frightening and exhilarating. Amy Karle, a transmedia artist, and designer based in California, believes we are at an exciting time in history. Presenting her work on the first evening of the program, she suggested the many technological advancements taking place indicated we were on the “cusp of a new renaissance.”

As a bioartist, Karle uses art and technology to understand who we are and make sense of the future. Technology is neutral, according to Karle, and it has the promise to unlock human potential, particularly in her work, which falls into three categories. This includes bioart, biofeedback, and garments/wearables. 

When creating Regenerative Reliquary, Karle collaborated with bio-nano scientist Chris Venter, and material scientists John Vericella and Brian Adzima. The end product was a bioprinted scaffold in the shape of a human hand 3D-printed in a biodegradable PEGDA-hydrogel that disintegrates over time. This has been installed in a bioreactor, with the intention that human Mesenchymal stem cells “seeded” on will grow into tissue and mineralize into bone on the scaffold. The sculpture featured in Ars Electronica Festival’s 2017 program.

By collaborating with others, we can make bigger advancements than we could by ourselves. This can also apply to working with machines and technology, according to Karle, as they open up a new way of thinking. She said, “Working together with art and technology, we can make sense of the future.”

Mark Stevenson, an author and futurist in residence at the National Theatre of Scotland, is helping others become future literate differently. While he never asked to be called a “futurist,” his bestselling books An Optimist’s Tour of the Future and We Do Things Differently led to that title being afforded.

Speaking after Karle, Stevenson discussed how he helped clients, including artists, investors, academics, and NGOs wake up to the challenges they are facing. He proceeds to adapt each of these organization’s cultures and strategies to face the questions the future is asking them. Among others, he has advised Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge, the GSMA, and the Atlas of the Future.

“Everything is fixable,” said Stevenson, in an optimistic tone. He explained it was important to paint a picture of the possible, which is good, but in a tangible way. He highlighted Martin Luther King Jr. as a positive example of a futurist, going as far to say he was his favorite if he had to select one. Stevenson said King used the power of language to show everything that was wrong in a way which couldn’t be unseen. At the same time, he painted a picture of a better future which was tangible.

Stevenson believes the next 25 years will be “messy” and how messy it gets depends on how willing our society is to build something different without leaving people behind.

Both Karle and Stevenson took part in a conversation moderated by Clare Shine, vice president and chief program officer at Salzburg Global. Together they offered their perspectives on “future illiteracy.” Discussing her experience, Karle said she had met people who don’t want to think about the future and turn a blind eye to it. Nevertheless, people are still able to access her work and engage with it. One example of feedback she has received is: “I don’t understand your work, but I love it.”

Stevenson suggested more future literate people will lead to better solutions. This involves speaking to everyone and painting pictures which people and organizations can transition to. Stevenson conceded cultural change takes a long time, but when having a conversation about scaling, we should begin to focus on where the money is and how that’s currently being used. He said, “If we don’t get the money to feel and think differently, we’re on a hiding to nothing.”

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

A Scientist-Artist’s Address to Today’s Future
A Scientist-Artist’s Address to Today’s Future
Mónica López-González 

This op-ed was written by Dr. Mónica López-González, co-founder and executive scientific and artistic director at La Petite Noiseuse Productions. López-González is attending the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future.

Any fear towards the future should be abandoned. To be shocked by novelty and uncertainty is to dissociate from the fundamentals of being human: creativity and curiosity. Both are part of our DNA.

We survive because we find new ways to adapt to our changing environment. We explore and experiment because we are aware of self and desire to give meaning to our lives. We share our tools and individual knowledge because we anticipate our collective future.

A glance at the progressive improvement of tools across our evolutionary history –from the earliest fist-sized stones and hand axes to our current automated machinery and handheld phones– reveals our growing cognitive sophistication across time. Why not hypothesize that we are evolving to become even smarter and better equipped for our transforming earth?

We are in a moment within our journey as a species where our technological innovations offer us the opportunity to connect globally, rapidly, efficiently, and, perhaps most importantly, emotionally. We are social beings – music is evidence enough. Yet there is a dread of the massiveness of data and the rise of artificial intelligence.

First, artificial intelligence is not ‘artificial.’ It is a human product made for humans to engage with and use. Since the recorded birth of robotics, around nine hundred years ago, robots have been designed to aid humans in their daily lives. Second, machine intelligence is only as good as the humans who construct it. Data points alone are meaningless; it is how we interpret and use them. If anything is to be feared, it is none other than ourselves.

Throughout history, we have loved, nurtured, tortured, and killed one another. And for what purpose? For resources, power, affection, and acceptance, to name a few – elements that give meaning to our fleeting, conscious existence. The good, bad, pretty, and ugly of our behaviors are what we need to deconstruct, understand, and shape so we can make well-informed and equitable decisions.

Education is paramount. Education in the richness of diversity of mind and body is what transforms fixed, siloed mindsets to empathetic, open-minded ones. The solution lies in a polymathic education available to all where science, art, technology, design, and medicine reside borderless, as unified disciplines of thought, experimentation, and expression. If a truth of the what and why of this world is to be uncovered, it will be through the seamless integration of knowledge past with knowledge present and knowledge to be.

Insight emerges when we are given the chance to learn something new, to experience the ups and downs of discovery, to ignite the unimaginable, to challenge the expected. The cognitive mechanisms to innovate are in place – we are an entrepreneurial species. Innovation is bred through the support of visionary minds, no matter how young, how restless. Urgency lies in the united agreement to shed old, orthodox ways and cultivate what is tirelessly theorized and debated into real action; enough chorus verses have been repeated. Dreams must soar, not remain cloistered among the fantasies of our minds.

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

Displaying results 8 to 14 out of 144


How should cultural institutions approach the creation and articulation of value?
Albino Jopela, archaelogist and lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique suggests that considering the values of all of the stakeholders in a community will help ensure relevance and sustainability.

Why is it important for arts leaders to engage in cross-cultural conversations?
Jimena Lara Estrada, program coordinator for the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, talks about connecting with other leaders and the hope that it instills.

How do you articulate value of arts in a society where it is largely seen as a commodity?
Eyad Houssami, founding director of Masrah Ensemble in Lebanon, talks about the challenges of making a case for the arts in a society where the concept of public value is very limited.

What role should orchestras play in their communities?
Mark Gillespie, general and artistic manager of Orchestra of the Americas and Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders Fellow, suggests that orchestras should connect with youth at a very early age so that musicians grow out of the community.