By Dr. Vanessa Chang, Principal Investigator of The Grid - Art + Tech Report 2020
The art and technology field, like the technology sector, is at a crossroads. There has been a surge of interest in art and technology practice from actors who have heretofore invested their time and resources elsewhere – from the art world to global government offices. Artists and cultural collectives working in this space are in urgent need of more resilient infrastructures that can support their creative ambitions. At the same time, they are also, as history attests, uniquely suited to contribute to the most pressing issues raised by platforms and technologies which have become widespread. In many ways, now is the right time to engage these commitments; for all the connections and conveniences they bring, technological tools and platforms have hastened the spread of disinformation, aggravated systemic bias, and threatened the fabric of democracy. These are social and political issues, which must be addressed at the layers of research, development, propagation, culture, and policy.
As a transnational, transinstitutional, transcorporate, and cross-sector network, The Grid emerges at an opportune moment to make an intervention. Due to these developments, recent years have seen a newfound interest from government offices in tech regulation. The Grid seizes on this fresh attention, bringing actors to the table who have not, until recently, been interested in the intersection of art and technology. As The Grid’s founding governmental actors affirm, this intersection promises to manifest new approaches to cultural diplomacy and accelerate transatlantic engagements between sectors. At the same time, this newfound appetite for tech regulation will lead to seismic shifts within Silicon Valley itself; as a network initiated by government agencies, The Grid is well-situated to advocate for the shape of these changes. With their cultural partners and cultural investments in the region as well as abroad, they bring a new policy-oriented dimension to art and technology frameworks.
In this respect, The Grid’s slogan, “Art Powers Technology,” signals an urgent and necessary reorientation of the field to center artists within this ecosystem – as creatives in their own right, for their empathetic, critical and innovative approaches to technology, and for the role they might play in shaping policy discourse. While there are numerous initiatives working at the intersection of art and technology in the Bay Area and beyond, The Grid’s diplomatic access to local, state, national and international governing bodies heralds a new line of thinking about artists’ contribution to tech policy and regulation. As a European-led initiative with strong ties to the regulatory sphere in Brussels, California, and Washington DC, The Grid has the potential to bring corporate interests to the table. Through these channels, The Grid can help to advocate for more sustainable arts funding in the United States, and potentially appropriate industry funding for art and technology practice. Through this new constellation of interests, The Grid can work to leverage and instigate new perspectives and conversations about tech regulation. In this way, The Grid aims to flip the script and empower artists to shape tech policy by integrating them into these conversations.
The Grid’s intentions to forge and fortify connections between artists, technologists, policymakers, corporations, academia, and government – at both intranational and international levels – thus requires constructing meaningful and equitable partnerships that can enjoin and preserve the identity of different actors with sometimes competing interests. This report proposes some strategies for thoughtfully designing these collaborations – between individuals as well as institutions – with the ultimate aim of building a regenerative ecosystem that will sustain the future of art, technology and policy in the years to come.