Digital Artists, live and on WiFi

‘Watching’ by Judith Ricketts

Experimental Digital Artists at Coastal Currents Festival 2019

MSL Discover, in a new partnership with the RSA, explored connectivity, localism and culture in a one-day conference with three digital art commissions in Hastings on 23 September.

Is This For Everyone? was an open invitation to interested parties to begin to identify areas of interest and to open out the connectivity discussion from the point of view of local, rural and regional Britain. Taking place at the historic St Mary in the Castle it mixed sessions with invited speakers together with an ‘un-conference’, non-hierarchical approach in the round. Similar to a ‘town hall’ meeting in format it was a chance to engage with experts and national agencies in talking about how digital connectivity can help placemaking and potentially assist deprived communities in accessing digital space.

Speakers included Professor Gillian Youngs, author of ‘The Internet of Place’; Ira Bolychevsky, founder and Director of Redecentralize.org; Caroline Bassett, Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Sussex, co-ordinator of the Communities and Culture Network project (2015); and Iain Bennett, Creative Industries and connectivity consultant.

Strands of discussion included:

– Do we need 5G when we already have free town WiFi?
– Can our town broadband network help build our local economy?
– It’s a climate emergency. Can a network help us monitor energy use?
– Can we signpost history and heritage better for visitors?

The morning sessions featured speakers from national public sector agencies as well as regional bodies keen to bottom out the reality of how local communities can build ‘smart towns’ and ‘smart villages’ well before 5G arrives. The RSA hosted a free afternoon session with an invitation to RSA Fellows and local arts and creative industries practitioners to ask, “Could commandeering the town wifi connect the community?” Themes inspired by recent national debates around coastal economies and digital skills were also discussed.

Additional funding for the event was provided by the National Lottery (via Arts Council England), Hastings Borough Council, and East Sussex Arts Partnership.

“We know 5G is going to turbo-charge the quantity of data and digital connectivity around us in the future. Global ISPs keep telling us our connected lives are going to change massively as a result,” said Jon Pratty, Associate Director of MSL Digital. “That’s likely to be the picture for the top cities in Britain, but what about the rest of us? What if we want connectivity that meets the needs of local people, businesses, and the social sector? Do we even know what communities really need, in terms of connections?”

National Lottery via Arts Council England funding of £15,000 supported the three digital artist commissions, titled This Is For Everyone, which was deployed on the streets of the town in September. The artists then reported back about their experiences at the event on 23 September. Artists Kevin Grist, Judith Ricketts and Rosanna Lowe created the pieces for a public launch on 7 September, as part of the Coastal Currents arts festival. For more information on the artists please go to the This Is For Everyone page.

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