In the last two decades, the necessary finances to activate production processes in the field of Media Art have come first and foremost from institutions, but also from banks, patrons or sponsorships from markets that seemed apparently untouched, though ready to commercially contaminate and thus guarantee survival. The common feeling is that this great welfare mechanism that – let’s admit it – was thought to be everlasting is not sustainable any longer and should allow space to more virtuous art production and dissemination processes.

In fact, in a period of growing economic recession and widespread cuts to cultural funding, the number of examples of cultural and creative subjects and industries involved in the standardization of sustainable development models aimed at activating functional productive processes to realize a “cultural object” is increasing: artists, designers, programmers, authors, hackers, makers, musicians, film-makers, graphic designers; but also companies in the ICT sector of course such as hardware and software producers, or active in such fields as scientific research, mechatronics, artificial intelligence, biomedicine or materials investigation.

The new “creative classes” come from a varied background; they have not been necessarily institutionalized even though they contribute to creating “value” on a socio-economic model scale that is more connected to the networks and the production of bottom-up culture. They are able to act as a link between the industries and an ecosystem of research centres, laboratories, and academies, exhibit spaces and institutions of excellence, so as to create interesting sharing, exchanging and production mechanisms. The ultimate goal is to activate dissemination and circulation processes for the “cultural object” – a product a company would not have access to – for the growing interest of a whole productive sector ever more ready to invest in arts and culture, more attentively and massively than in the past.

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A bunch of international event, Sonar +D, Future Everything, and Resonate among the others, have been monitoring these processes from some years: changing paradigma and formula of Media Art festivals, gradually transformed into a meeting place for artists, creatives, professionals and students, much more than a simply exhibition and performative venue. About this, within my research around Art Industries published in the MCD #74 / summer 2014 issue, I have also interviewed Josè Luis de Vicente, director at Sónar +D.

Sónar +D is the international conference (running even this year in Barcelona from 16 to 18 of June, with the Inaugural Conference by Brian Eno and a rich program of talks, workshops, meetings and demos)  that brings together a combination of activities with a common theme: the relationship between creativity and technology, and the digital transformation of the cultural industries involved. Parallel to Sónar by Day, and brings together experts from around the world (technicians, entrepreneurs, artists, companies and researchers) to present initiatives and tools that will shape future creative experiences in the fields of music, visuals, interactive content and transmedia platforms.

With this in mind, I would then talk about Open Innovation, i.e. when the processes described during this chat, really affect not only the economical dynamics, but also the production of art and culture in contemporary society. Here innovation is “open” not only because it implies shared knowledge and techniques, but mainly because it activates cross-cultural processes, thus developing artistic objects whose real “value” is not only what determines their impact as “goods”.

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Marco Mancuso: If you should define Sonar+D, what is it and which are its main purposes? How the project of Sonar+D was born from Sonar main event? I remember Sonar itself mapped media art & design inside its general program, with special exhibitions, workshops and/or events during the three days of the festival itself. Is it Sonar +D a benchmark of that experience?

Josè Luis de Vicente: Sonar festival has never been just a music festival. Since the very beginning, Sonar’s DNA has always contained a series of experimental communities bound to the world of digital arts and electronic music, whose certain tradition had developed thanks to the connection with university research centers or the first media labs. Because of this mixed background Sonar could never define itself as a classic/typical electronic music festival, and not even as a media art event. One of the most important researches that Sonar carried on was the one which considered the wide spectrum of the popular electronic music, experimental music, or sound art, in order to create a space of coexistence where all the communities could meet, be represented, and somehow communicated.

Three years ago, with the change of location of the Sonar by Day, the moment arrived to renew and rethink the relation between Sonar and the above mentioned communities; it was clear that the world in 2013 was not the one it was in 1994, and from this concept was born Sónar+D. This idea was developed keeping clear in mind the notion of the creation of a culture of festival as a laboratory that can look at the future – in a timeframe of 3/5 years – starting from the experimental culture and the prototypes which are spreading in this moment.

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Marco Mancuso: Sónar+D is a complex reality that includes: meetings, exhibitions, workshops and performances. The meeting area seems the most challenging one, new in a way. You give the audience the chance to meet experts, investors, and there is also a job market place. In this period of economical crisis: how much is important for students, geeks and professionals having the chance to meet and talk with artists and experts?

Josè Luis de Vicente: Well yes.We though that one of the core features should be the transversality which characterizes the communities mentioned above. Differently from many events focusing on a specific discipline or field of action. In Sónar+D we can find communities linked to music, industry and technology or emerging communities such as hackers and makers. Together with many other profiles which are born in a space of contamination among art, design and business, involving also the realms of start-ups, entrepreneurs, and including as well further fields like audiovisual.

We wanted Sónar+D to be an transversal event, not focusing just on a single community or a single discipline, hence the importance of the space dedicated to meetings, as a way to generate contact and forms of direct communication and dialogue. Our intention was to consider projects in a 360° range, analyzing different phases, from its start to its presentation and commercialization. If horizontally there is the will of including all these communities, vertically we stop at each step and moment in which we can find, build and develop a project. We follow a technology from the moment is born, and considered experimental, until the time is created the first community of users that starts generating formulas of diffusion, which connect this technology to the public, arriving then to the moment where mechanisms of funding and presentation of the final result are activated.

In Sonar+D, as a comprehensive event, spaces dedicated to networking are obviously fundamental, not only for professionals, but also for people connected to education and training, and those who need to develop an idea or just a single phase of a project.

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Marco Mancuso: Why, in your opinion, such meetings and festival formats are having success, finding more and more investments and media attention. Some European festivals like Offf, Future Everyting, Resonate and Sonar +D are designed as events in which media art productions run side by side with meetings and panels for creative professionals working with technologies. What is the general need these festivals are able to meet nowadays?

Josè Luis de Vicente: I think that an interesting aspect of this question is the reason why these events share the same vocation for presenting artistic results, and generating synergies and professional outcomes. It is an aspect which has a lot to do with the idea that the symbolic capital generated by the community of the arts has a value beyond its boundaries and that one of the ecosystems in which it develops nowadays is exactly the one of innovation in the artistic field. Hence the attention towards an important aspect: artists which play a specific role in the field of innovation.

In reality, these events, despite having many common features, have different aims – Resonate focuses more on “creative technologies” and specific professional profiles, Offf on communication and the world of agencies, Future Everything on the dialogue with the scientific community. In my opinion, all these hybrid experiments share the idea that isolated hermetic compartments which separate the community of art from the others of innovation, entrepeneurship, science, creative industry, are understood not as separated professional spaces but as spaces of convergence.

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Marco Mancuso: Considering your yearly experience, how the media art world is changing? I mean, on the side of a general economic crisis which cut fundings to art and culture quite everywhere in Europe, there is a growing attention to media art & design from general media, agencies, governments and big institutional events (expos and so on..). We are witnessing a general tendency where cultural and artistic events, media centers, labs and single artists/designers, are working in collaboration with big IT companies, taking from their private investments and researches the money to support and produce new artworks. What do you think about this growing model? Do you think it will be a growing topic for the future or classic institutional models will come back?

Josè Luis de Vicente: Classic institutional models won’t come back. Because the vision of what used to be the social function of cultural industries has totally changed in the last ten years. In some sense it has surely changed for the worse, threatening values such as culture as a right or, for the socio-democratic vision of culture, as something which has to be accessed by the citizens; all these aspects are highlighted, for example, by the cuts to the funding for culture.

However, there are other visions, those that have to do with the search for new values in culture or its economic profit – also as roots of values such as innovation – which are rather interesting since they are highlighting how the communities of recognition are nowadays generating models of mutual communication that are fertile, valid and important and need to be supported.

In this sense we find artists involved in technological companies that are examples of a form of exploitation of art for practical aims, an issue which is not right in itself. However, it is true that these artists consider themselves enriched by the modalities of research they can develop in such contexts: materials, human or cognitive capitals they would have never accessed had they worked out of these platforms. It’s clear that this model is not perfect because it can take advantage of the artists in different ways, but it cannot either be said that it’s worse, or more perverse, than the model of the economy in the market of art, which this community doesn’t access and on which it cannot build. For all these reasons, I believe these experiments which the value of culture is sought – with economic aims – from platforms that create a sort of possibility of social influence seem more interesting and relevant.

Marco Mancuso: Could you tell me something about the possible further developments of Sonar+D? Which are the main trends and topics emerged from the last editions that could be the subject for future analysis within Sonar+D

Josè Luis de Vicente: We are at the closing of the program, that is: it’s a movie we are editing now, so it is early to talk about a final narrative. For sure, a big relevance will be given to the presence of artists in the ecosystem of innovation. Secondly, we will consider the dialogue between artists and scientific community: an old tradition which is assuming more than ever new dimensions in the facilitation of modes of action or social incidence for the resolution of some of the conflicts of the contemporary crisis.

It is not a case that this year many projects of Sonar+D will present the artists as creators of a new imagery with topics linked to problems such as the climate change or the risks of anthropogenic interventions. It’s incredible that many of the projects that we analyze converge towards these topics, about the artists become mediators – between science and society – transforming many of the phenomena concerning the social space, and the way certain decisions are taken. Not just passive observers, but critics that subvert models and build new ones in an active manner.

We would finally like Sonar+D to go more and more towards this direction: artists as builders, whose function would translate into many aspects of society and convert them in essential protagonists of contemporary society.


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