Remix Summit is a global network of conferences that bring together culture, technology and entrepreneurship for an intensive set of discussions and presentations on some of the cutting edge work happening in these areas. I attended day one of the two day event, hosted at Google Town Hall in the heart of London's West End, which featured presentations by the likes of Tate, Secret Cinema, the Mayor of London's cultural office, and Manchester International Festival. Some were excellent, and there were interesting conversations around them. But overall the day proved frustrating for a number of reasons. Here are a few quick thoughts and some challenges for Day 2 tomorrow.
1. On whose terms? I probably should have realised that a conference backed by technology and media partners Google and Bloomburg would be technology centred. Nothing wrong with that: I'm writing this on my Galaxy Note 3 while listening to music on the same device, and have been tweeting throughout the day. I like technology. But the traditional arts world felt sidelined. Almost everything that was discussed was through a commercial or tech prism, focusing on how technology built communities and reached wide audiences. It sometimes seemed that technology was being seen as the savior of art. That without it, art stayed behind locked doors in austere buildings. As though standing in a gallery or on a street corner admiring a painting, sitting forward in the midst of a play, reading a book, singing along to an album, or feeling that yearn to move in the midst of dance were not enough if they weren't somehow augmented by a screen.
Clearly this is problematic. Despite a day filled with words, it is the experience of reading Liz Berry's Black Country on the underground this morning that will stay with me. There has to be a place for quiet, calm reflection, or loud furious reflection in this world and the arts provide this. We don't always have to be doing things on digital and social media platforms to be producing great work.
As Fabien Riggall said: 'We want to use technology, not be used by it'.
How we in the arts articulate different values and challenge the profit-chasing bubble thinking of the technology world may be one of the challenges for day 2.
2. There is a world outside those ivory towers. Be they the towers of national arts organisations or multinational conglomerates, there was an absence of social responsibility today. The Barbican aside, no one gave any prominence to social deprevation or how technology, culture or entrepreneurship could work to improve the lives we live and reach those whose horizons are narrowest. We talked briefly about art for arts sake, and the whole day seemed to be technology for technologies sake, and while I admire and value this there also needs to be time for art, technology and culture that works with real people and changes communities. A deliberately provocative comment towards the end of the night suggested that art in the regions was basically just community theatre and all a bit naff and amateurish. This pissed me off! It is absolutely possible to produce excellent work that is made in and with communities and makes those places better to live in. It's time to end the dichotomy between excellence and instrumentalism. We can (and many do!) do both!
3. Stop telling me how great your work is. I thought this was a conference not a sales pitch. I'm not trying to silence good work, but some ideas, some perspectives, some challenges. All these would have made for a broader and more impactful conversation.
4. Don't over programme! It is something everyone who produces events should remember. That a good event is often the result of time to breathe, to ask questions and challenge thinking, to share and drill down. With 3 or 4 people often speaking in only a 40 minute event, time was squashed. At one point a speaker was interrupted, quite rudely, mid flow. There needed more space. Less is more.
Where an individual was given time to talk, they were worth listening to. Alex Poots from Manchester International Festival was fascinating on the importance of giving power to artists. Sir Nicolas Kenyon from The Barbican was equally inspiring on working with local communities and the subtle shifts technology can give to a wide range of different productions. And Fabien Riggall from Secret Cinema told stories and gave more than just a sales pitch, he presented a vision and a story and a call to action.
Sadly, and despite some interesting speakers, the panels were largely sales pitches mashed together. Which was a shame.
5. Hosting is a responsibility, not doing it well is rude. If you advertise an 8am breakfast start, deliver that, or at least apologise for keeping guests hungry and waiting an hour to be let in. And then make sure there is sufficient cups and sandwiches and teabags for everyone. It's basic stuff, sadly.
And to finish it off, my quote of the day:
'Those who aim to give the public what they want begin by underestimating the public taste. They end by debauching it.'