The next guest editor of the Journal of Cultural Management and Cultural Policy is Marjo Mäenpää, director of the Center for Cultural Policy Research CUPORE and president of the Compendium’s board. Under the theme ‘Digital Arts and Culture: Transformation or Transgression?’ this special issue examines the many dimensions of technological developments and their influence on different practices as well as on discourses in cultural management and cultural policy. We briefly talked to Mäenpää about her thoughts on digital developments in culture, also in light of COVID-19.
To your mind, what are important themes we should be talking about in relation to culture and digitalisation?
What comes to mind is my experience at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki twenty years ago, where my colleague teachers, researchers and I developed a study project called Multimodal Museum Interfaces. The idea behind this project was to teach students the standards and use of digital design in promoting accessibility in public spaces. But it was also about helping museums understand that innovative digital applications and multimodal interfaces for visual exhibitions and cultural heritage objects could be more versatile and inclusive in terms of design. Unfortunately, our prototypes then were too complicated and expensive – at least for Finnish museums – to actualize. Now, digital thinking has become much more engrained in project development, rather than an afterthought. This is particularly the case for museums for instance, where new digital job opportunities are being developed. There is an enormous need for digital designers who understand usability, accessibility, interaction, narrativity and dramaturgy for exhibitions. Think about integrated audio and tactile design for the visually impaired, texts and sign language for those who are hard-of-hearing or sensory based design for the physically disabled.
What do you think the impact of COVID-19 has been on these developments?
Cultural life and all artistic expressions were all of a sudden forced to retreat in the middle of March. Shortly after however, we were presented with new ways for consuming art and culture. Artists and producers started to use online streaming and other digital tools in innovative ways. Some of these ways to produce and engage with art will likely remain, others have to be reevaluated in order to generate a sustainable income and especially secure the copyright income for artists.
COVID-19 has accelerated these developments but we should continue to be critical and ask what these developments mean. Digitisation is the same kind of innovation as a car. At first, the car was a revolutionary invention and saved horses from carrying and pulling humans on carriages. It helped people stay in touch and travel fast. Years later however, cars have become a big problem: polluting the climate and ruining landscapes with large motorways. Using a car is still the killer application when we need to move fast and free but it makes us feel guilty. Digitisation gave us a library of all knowledge at our fingertips. Social media lets us say anything we want to anyone. It is as Gunnar Schmidt writes in his 2017 essay ‘On the aesthetics of populism in the digital age’, that reality is complemented and enhanced according to our discretion and liking. Social media is really like the augmented reality Schmidt writes about, anyone can add their own reality to the media stream. It’s difficult to follow and hard to separate the news from fake news. But it’s human beings that have created this mess, not the tool. People must start to behave and begin to use the tool more responsibly. This is an important task, especially for cultural workers.
For more information on the next issue of the Journal of Cultural Management and Cultural Policy, please read the call for submissions here.