Last Friday I was present at the gathering of Dutch media labs and new media festivals at the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF). It was exciting to meet not just one of our fellow media labs but instead to see the whole wide spectrum of labs gathering. Besides the book presentation Nederland labland by Virtueel Platform in which an overview of all currently active labs is presented, it was above all an opportunity to share ideas. Four mayor themes, innovation, business models, events and internationalization, were discussed in round table sessions; and two speakers gave an insight in how public funds will operate in the nearby future.
The discussion on events started by a best practice presentation provided by Setup Utrecht, a lab that from the start made public and professional events, workshops, gatherings and sessions to be it’s core activity. Opposed to the more traditional approach of artist in residence programs and in-house development they chosen to be much more a networked and flexible organization that is developing event concepts rather then installations or works of art. This approach puts them somewhere ‘in between’ the new media festivals and the physical lab spaces. Whereas Setup aims at a broader audience of technology interested audiences, Hackerspace noted that in the area of hackers and engineering events have a long tradition as gatherings of in-crowds. They noted to be struggling with attracting a wider audience while keeping their community function. All participants in the discussion however did agree on the importance of going public as noted by Gogbot festival. Gogbot’s successful event shows that it is possible to attract a wider audience without compromising by programming very general mainstream artists. There seems to be a lot to win in engaging with new audiences, weather they are closer to new media, media art and technology like students or professionals in the industry or not.
The Netherlands might not win the next champions league in soccer, in new media and innovation we do participate at the highest level and have an excellent international track record. And though there may be a feeling of discomfort in the current political climate, our Dutch media labs have built an impressive, exciting and very diverse collection of ideas, knowledge, projects, products and people that deserve a broader audience.
As labs seek their way to get involved in events and to go (more) public there is one final remark to make. We need to explore how we define results, how we measure the impact of festival events. We need to acknowledge that new relations, inspiration, engaging with opposites and empowering people are as much, or even more, valuable results as an economic result is. We also need to acknowledge that these terms are too broad, too general and too inclusive. We need to find ways to report these kinds of results. We should be able to do better, go beyond the notion that ‘some moments are priceless, for the rest we use some credit card’.