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Workshop 26


BostonAPP/Lab Notes from May 5, 2016

Some of the most extraordinary technology-related work underway in the Boston region continues to emerge from Code for Boston, part of the Code for America “Brigade” network. CfB describes itself as a “group of developers, designers, data geeks, and citizen activists” using creative technology to solve civic and social challenges through new apps that reflect and respond to community needs. One need only participate with – or simply observe – the geeks and hackers at work every Tuesday evening at the Cambridge Innovation Center to witness an in-depth, disciplined approach to civic engagement and to the kinds of positive outcomes resulting from that engagement.


The question: is there a way – or even a reason – to expand from this strong, community-driven approach to “app-making” to a comparable approach to “art- making” in/for public places?


The issue is not only that of integrating technology generally into art in public places, but of adapting CfB’s discipline as a development model – a discipline that, as stated by one of CfB’s regulars, encompasses a workflow of “collaboration, iteration, and experimentation.” What are the lessons to be learned from CfB about new ways of working productively with government and community partners? What do they suggest not only for new aspects of the creative process but for new kinds of work emerging from that process?


The May 5 exploratory workshop/brainstorming session focused on the principles underlining CfB’s take on civic engagement, how these play out within CfB’s universe, how the fundamental logic can – and does – work in the environment of art in public places -- and how you might respond to that logic with your own ideas, projects, and initiatives.


Leading the workshop was: Harlan Weber, founder and leader of Code for Boston and Director of Design and Service Innovation at MassIT, the state IT agency; Isaac Chansky, co-organizer at Code for Boston and Front End developer at BEAM Interactive; Emily Royall, analyst and technologist at Massachusetts Data Office as MassIT, and Curator for Cultural Computation at MIT; Matt Rouser, Chief Technology Officer, Department of Neighborhood Development, Boston.


NOTE: The comments and questions recorded below are more suggestive than they are detailed, particularly given the rich and active discussions they prompted throughout the workshop. Our hope is that they in turn propel further inquiry and, as a result, further collaboration.


From Harlan Weber: leveraging technology and design for use in the public sphere

  • The imperative to frame one’s work with a government agency as a partnership, with the agency serving as both friend and educator

  • How to get the problem/challenge “right-sized”

  • Continuous use of GitHub to keep documentation up to date

  • Constantly employ the discipline and elements of collaboration


From Emily Royall: working at the intersection of computation and culture, imagining and reshaping relationships between people, cities, and technology

  • What is public space?

  • How are artists who are working with technology transforming our

    notion of public space?

  • From Marina Abramovic: art = context + intent

  • What is public space? Where is it going? Is there an intersection

    between physical and virtual spaces?


From Matt Rouser: integrating creative technology and urban strategy to make cities better for the people living in them

  • Notion/practice of “radical transparency”

  • What kind of role can this transparency play in the creation of art?


From Isaac Chansky: applying technology to public art, within a framework of collaboration, iteration, experimentation – and anything else that makes sense contextually

  • How to create a more interactive experience for people?

  • Why should technology be involved in arts in public places?

  • Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

  • Adding technology: still doesn’t solve how you work with people

  • Add: “technology” to art, public, place!

  • Constant iteration by everyone working on the project


From workshop participants – questions, ideas, both large- and small-scale:

  • Equity and ethics: how are they made – and kept – part of this world?

  • Screens on MBTA could provide digital info.

  • Open source map of arts in Boston: identify places where are is/should be.

  • Neighborhoods as cultural districts: e.g., Roxbury?

  • Calling out arts districts.

  • Implications of infusing places with art, and what happens.

  • ArtsCommons: to help grow/bind the community.

  • How to visualize the stories of the people who’ll be part of the ArtsCommons.

  • Possibly a new app via Code for Boston?

  • How technology has a power to provide a unique perspective.

  • Journey/narrative, created by input from population.

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