The Happenstance showcase was proof of the interesting things that can happen when you put makers together with arts and culture. I’ve been following the progress of the project off and on since it began, since I know Katy and Rachel from Caper who were the brains behind it, but equally importantly because my friend Leila was one of the tech residents. It was lovely to hear what they’ve been up to. To be honest, amazing things happen when you put things and people who wouldn’t normally be put together in the same place, whatever the discipline, but the fact that Happenstance actually went and did it is really cool.
You can read all about what Kevin Walker and Linda Sandvik did at Spike Island in Bristol, what James Bridle and Natalia Buckley did at Lighthouse in Brighton and what Leila Johnston and James Jefferies did at Site Gallery in Sheffield from the Happenstance blog. This afternoon, though, I noted down a few things that the panellists and the residents said that stood out for me.
People not products as the starting point: It’s very easy to go into this sort of a project with the aim of ‘making something’. Sometimes it’s better not to, and to start with the people that are working together, what their skills and needs are.
Innovate first and plan later: At first glance this sounds like the antithesis of what I just mentioned above, but in reality it’s sort of about the primacy of agile over waterfall.
The importance of cultural fit: As with any project and organisation, cultural fit is often more important than skill. As Katy and Rachel said in an article in the Happenstance newspaper:
Each of the hosts (Site Gallery, Spike Island and Lighthouse) are small in size but big in reputation, and we needed technologists who would be interested in, and sympathetic to, their work – not only ambassadors for them in the wider world, but good people to have in the office. We were looking for the sort you’d have professional confidence in, but also want to chat to in the kitchen or go out for a drink with after work.
Don’t commission, collaborate: Art galleries, as Linda Sillars from Site Gallery said, are prone to commissioning projects via 45-page thick briefs. Today it’s better to work with artists on what you’re thinking of from the outset, rather than get mired in paperwork. (This is probably true of many industries).
Make the technology work for you: Helen Legg from Spike Island mentioned this; that you shouldn’t think any technology is the answer – you need to make it work for your specific case.
The importance of technologists as people who understand how things work: Honor Harger from Lighthouse mentioned their value on the teams of art and culture organisations, who typically don’t have that expertise.
Neat stuff I learnt about today: James and Natalia’s Offbott, a project diary of sorts, and Kevin and Linda’s Donation Box which I can’t find a link to but was on show at the event, a box that can be programmed via Arduino to say whatever you want when people drop coins in it. I already knew about the Cathy and Heathcliff printers but hey – how fun are they!
James Bridle couldn’t make it for the event, but here’s a short neat video we saw that makes you examine the work process.