On Tuesday I attended #Gallerycamp14 at Derby Quad. Although I spend my entire life bigging up Nottingham I was delighted at being given an excuse to visit our noisy neighbour. Quad was the perfect setting as part of their remit as an Arts Council funded-NPO is to create space for people-led events such as this exploring digital participation and innovation. While there I bumped into one of my favourite poets Joe Coghlan and Alex Davis, who was editing work for his newly formed publishing house BooBooks. Neither were attending the unconference but using this beautiful space for work.
Derby appears to be a city slowly starting to form a much-needed cultural and digital infrastructure and this is largely due to an investment in gigabit internet connectivity. This has resulted in transmedia innovators such as Phil Campbell returning to the city which promises to herald a very bright future.
I remember the first Creative Quarter meeting in Nottingham when free high speed wireless internet was discussed and the debate seemed to focus on how this could be monetised through advertising rather than its primary function – ease of access – which would lead to collaboration and productivity. The return of Phil Campbell to Derby is validation for such investment and a reminder that businesses need to think beyond simplistic business models built around advertising, which, if anything, thwarts online engagement and just annoys users. I’m still recovering from the time Nottingham Train Station advertised on steps, meaning not even shoe gazers could escape corporate crap. Anyway…
The aim of Gallery Camp 14 was, very simply, to showcase work and meet and connect with people working in the digital and technology arenas across the broad arts and cultural sectors including curators, managers, directors, digital artists, designers, producers and technologists. In this it was brilliant and I discovered a lot. I was particularly impressed with the Tate’s digital learning programme to engage the public, the use of WeBeacon as a more nuanced development of the QR Code, and was absolutely blown away by The Malthusian Paradox which has taken gaming (and paranoia) to a different level.
Less impressive was the actual format of the Unconference, which are all the rage at the moment. Basically, you turn up at a location, pitch an idea, and then you’re given a time slot. It’s all very democratic, non-hierarchical and liberal, but the sceptic in me thinks it’s just a trendy way of saving money. I like structure, particularly if I’m driving a long way to attend an event (which it wasn’t this time, but last week the ‘unconference’ was in Newcastle).
My main gripe is that once you’ve pitched a session your event is written on a postic note and stuck on a board. Forgetting for one moment that postic notes fall off of boards, they don’t mean anything because there’s no context. What on earth is ‘Musomix’ or ‘adult entertainment’? This is especially a problem if you turn up late and have missed the pitches. There isn’t much room on a postic note for context.
What would work better, particularly given this was a digital unconference, would be for participants to upload a short 30 second pitch on the home website. These could then be voted on, moved around and then allocated a time slot. A simple touchscreen in Quad would enable late visitors to click on content and discover more. The use of tags on uploaded pitches would also more easily enable visitors to find relevant talks.
My talk with Paul Fillingham on Dawn of the Unread was held on the first floor in a room that was locked which meant some people turned up and then walked off. The devil is in the detail and such slips could have potentially ruined what was otherwise a really informative and inspiring day. But once we managed to break in we had a good natter with a group from the Black Country, and discovered a wonderful artist called Giuseppa Barresi (Ryuuza) But best of all, nobody tried to kidnap me as I left…