Tag Archives: Canada Council for the Arts

The Canada Council for the Arts, a digital strategy research report on blockchains and culture, and Vancouver (Canada)

Is the May 17, 2021 “Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks (BACP) Digital Strategy Research Report” discussing a hoped for future transformative experience? Given the report’s subtitle: “Towards a Digitally Cooperative Culture: Recommoning Land, Data and Objects,” and the various essays included in the 200 pp document, I say the answer is ‘yes’.

The report was launched by 221 A, a Vancouver (Canada)-based arts and culture organization and funded by the Canada Council for the Arts through their Digital Strategy Fund. Here’s more from the BACP report in the voice of its research leader, Jesse McKee,

… The blockchain is the openly readable and unalterable ledger technology, which is most broadly known for supporting such applications as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This report documents the first research phase in a three-phased approach to establishing our digital strategy [emphasis mine], as we [emphasis mine] learn from the blockchain development communities. This initiative’s approach is an institutional one, not one that is interpreting the technology for individuals, artists and designers alone. The central concept of the blockchain is that exchanges of value need not rely on centralized authentication from institutions such as banks, credit cards or the state, and that this exchange of value is better programmed and tracked with metadata to support the virtues, goals and values of a particular network. This concept relies on a shared, decentralized and trustless ledger. “Trustless” in the blockchain community is an evolution of the term trust, shifting its signification as a contract usually held between individuals, managed and upheld by a centralized social institution, and redistributing it amongst the actors in a blockchain network who uphold the platform’s technical operational codes and can access ledgers of exchange. All parties involved in the system are then able to reach a consensus on what the canonical truth is regarding the holding and exchange of value within the system.

… [from page 6 of the report]

McKee manages to keep the report from floating away in a sea of utopian bliss with some cautionary notes. Still, as a writer I’m surprised he didn’t notice that ‘blockchain‘ which (in English) is supposed to ‘unlock padlocks’ poses a linguistic conundrum if nothing else.

This looks like an interesting report but it’s helpful to have some ‘critical theory’ jargon. That said, the bulk of the report is relatively accessible reading although some of the essays (at the end) from the artist-researchers are tough going.

One more thought, the report does present many exciting and transformative possibilities and I would dearly love to see much of this come to pass. I am more hesitant than McKee and his colleagues and that hesitation is beautifully described in an essay (The Vampire Problem: Illustrating the Paradox of Transformative Experience) first published September 3, 2017 by Maria Popova (originally published on Brain Pickings),

To be human is to suffer from a peculiar congenital blindness: On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them. …

Arts and blockchain events in Vancouver

The 221 A launch event for the report kicked off a series of related events, here’s more from a 221 A May 17, 2021 news release (Note: the first and second events have already taken place),

Events Series

Please join us for a live stream events series bringing together key contributors of the Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Research Report alongside a host of leading figures across academic, urbanism, media and blockchain development communities.

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Digital Strategy Launch

May 25, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7 CEST

With Jesse McKee, BACP Lead Investigator and 221A Head of Strategy; Rosemary Heather, BACP Editorial Director and Principal Researcher; moderated by Svitlana Matviyenko, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Simon Fraser University’s Digital Democracies Institute.

The Valuation of Necessity: A Cosmological View of our Technologies and Culture

June 4, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With BACP researcher, artist and theorist Patricia Reed; critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia, and Wassim Alsindi of 0x Salon, Berlin, who conducts research on the legal and ecological externalities of blockchain networks.

Recommoning Territory: Diversifying Housing Tenure Through Platform Cooperatives

June 18, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With 221A Fellows Maksym Rokmaniko and Francis Tseng (DOMA [a nonprofit organization developing a distributed housing platform]); Andy Yan (Simon Fraser University); and BACP researcher and critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia.

Roundtable: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) & Social Tokens

Released June 25, Pre-recorded

Roundtable co-organized with Daniel Keller of newmodels.io, with participation from development teams and researchers from @albiverse, trust.support, Circles UBI, folia.app, SayDAO, and Blockchain@UBC

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks is supported by the Digital Strategy Fund of the Canada Council for the Arts.

For more, contact us hello@221a.ca

Coming up: Vancouver’s Voxel Bridge

The Vancouver Biennale folks first sent me information about Voxel Bridge in 2018 but this new material is the most substantive description yet, even without an opening date. From a June 6, 2021 article by Kevin Griffin for the Vancouver Sun (Note: Links have been removed),

The underside of the Cambie Bridge is about to be transformed into the unique digital world of Voxel Bridge. Part of the Vancouver Biennale, Voxel Bridge will exist both as a physical analogue art work and an online digital one.

The public art installation is by Jessica Angel. When it’s fully operational, Voxel Bridge will have several non-fungible tokens called NFTs that exist in an interactive 3-D world that uses blockchain technology. The intention is to create a fully immersive installation. Voxel Bridge is being described as the largest digital public art installation of its kind.

“To my knowledge, nothing has been done at this scale outdoors that’s fully interactive,” said Sammi Wei, the Vancouver Biennale‘s operations director. “Once the digital world is built in your phone, you’ll be able to walk around objects. When you touch one, it kind of vibrates.”

Just as a pixel refers to a point in a two-dimensional world, voxel refers to a similar unit in a 3-D world.

Voxel Bridge will be about itself: it will tell the story of what it means to use new decentralized technology called blockchain to create Voxel Bridge.

There are a few more Voxel Bridge details in a June 7, 2021 article by Vincent Plana for the Daily Hive,

Voxel Bridge draws parallels between blockchain technology and the structural integrity of the underpass itself. The installation will be created by using adhesive vinyl and augmented reality technology.

Gfiffin’s description in his June 6, 2021 article gives you a sense of what it will be like to become immersed in Voxel Bridge,

Starting Monday [June 14, 2021], a crew will begin installing a vinyl overlay directly on the architecture on the underside of the bridge deck, around the columns, and underfoot on the sidewalk from West 2nd to the parking-lot road. Enclosing a space of about 18,000 square feet, the vinyl layer will be visible without any digital enhancement. It will look like an off-kilter circuit board.

“It’ll be like you’re standing in the middle of a circuit board,” [emphasis mine] she said. “At the same time, the visual perception will be slightly off. It’s like an optical illusion. You feel the ground is not quite where it’s supposed to be.”

Griffin’s June 6, 2021 article offers good detail and a glossary.

So, Vancouver is offering more than one opportunity to learn about and/or experience blockchain.

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

After receiving an ‘invitation’ from the Canadian Science Policy Centre, I wrote an opinion piece, drawing on my submission for the public consultation on Canada’s fundamental science research. It seems the invitation was more of a ‘call’ for submissions and my piece did not end up being selected for inclusion on the website. So rather than waste the piece, here it is,

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

At a time when we are dealing with the consequences of our sins and virtues, fundamental science, at heart, an exercise in imagination, can seem a waste of precious time. Pollution and climate change (sins: ill-considered uses of technology) and food security and water requirements (virtues: efforts to improve health and save more lives) would seem to demand solutions not the flights of fancy associated with basic science. After all, what does the ‘big bang’ have to do with potable water?

It’s not an unfair question despite the impatience some might feel when answering it by citing a number of practical applications which are the result of all that ‘fanciful’ or ‘blue sky’ science. The beauty and importance of the question is that it will always be asked and can never be definitively answered, rendering it a near constant goad or insurance against complacency.

In many ways Canada’s review of fundamental science (deadline for comments was Sept. 30, 2016) is not just an examination of the current funding schemes but an opportunity to introduce more ‘goads’ or ‘anti-complacency’ measures into Canada’s fundamental science efforts for a kind of ‘creative destruction’.

Introduced by economist Joseph Schumpeter, the concept is derived from Karl Marx’s work but these days is associated with disruptive, painful, and regenerative innovation of all kinds and Canadian fundamental science needs more ‘creative destruction’. There’s at least one movement in this direction (found both in Canada and internationally) which takes us beyond uncomfortable, confrontative questions and occasional funding reviews—the integration of arts and humanities as an attempt at ‘creative destruction’ of the science endeavour.

At one point in the early 2000s, Canada developed a programme where the National Research Council could get joint funding with the Canada Council for the Arts for artists to work with their scientists. It was abandoned a few years later, as a failure. But, since then, several informal attempts at combining arts, sciences, and humanities have sprung up.

For example, Curiosity Collider (founded in 2015) hosts artists and scientists presenting their art/science pieces at various events in Vancouver. Beakerhead has mashed up science, engineering, arts, and entertainment in a festival founded and held in Calgary since 2013. Toronto’s ArtSci Salon hosts events and installations for local, national, and international collaborations of artists and scientists. And, getting back to Vancouver, Anecdotal Evidence is a science storytelling series which has been appearing sporadically since 2015.

There is a tendency to dismiss these types of collaboration as a form of science outreach designed to amuse or entertain but they can be much more than that. Illustrators have taught botanists a thing or two about plants. Markus Buehler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has used his understanding of music to explore material science (spider’s webs). Domenico Vicinanza has sonified data from space vehicle, Voyager 1, to produce a symphony, which is also a highly compressed means of communicating data.

C. P. Snow’s ‘The Two Cultures’ (lecture and book) covered much of the same territory in 1959 noting the idea that the arts and sciences (and humanities) can and should be linked in some fashion was not new. For centuries the sciences were referred to as Natural Philosophy (humanities), albeit only chemistry and physics were considered sciences, and many universities have or had faculties of arts and sciences or colleges of arts and science (e.g., the University of Saskatchewan still has such a college).

The current art/sci or sci-art movement can be seen as more than an attempt to resuscitate a ‘golden’ period from the past. It could be a means of embedding a continuous state of regeneration or ‘creative destruction’ for fundamental science in Canada.

Setting a tone for Canadian science, now what about science and a culture of innovation?

On the heels of reinstating the mandatory long form census, removing the muzzle from Canadian government scientists, and assigning multiple new ministers to old and new ‘science’ ministries, Justin Trudeau has delivered his new ministerial mandate letters where he thanks the ministers for agreeing to serve and lays out his priorities. David Bruggeman provides priority lists from two of the letters in a Nov. 13, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The new Science Minister, Kirsty Duncan, was given the following priorities in her letter:

Create a Chief Science Officer mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.
Support your colleagues in the review and reform of Canada’s environmental assessment processes to ensure that environmental assessment decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence.
Support the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour [emphasis mine] in efforts to help employers create more co-op placements for students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs [emphasis mine].
Support your Ministerial colleagues as they re-insert scientific considerations into the heart of our decision-making and investment choices.

It’s worth noting – because it often gets lost – that this philosophy sees scientific knowledge and scientific considerations are but one input into policy and decision making.  [emphasis mine] Inform, not dictate.

It’s also worth noting that the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (MP Navdeep Bains) is mentioned just once in the Minister of Science letter.  Looking at the letter sent to Minister Bains, it would seem that PM Trudeau sees science in this portfolio in service to economic development and innovation.  The role as outlined in the letter:

“As Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, your overarching goal will be to help Canadian businesses grow, innovate and export so that they can create good quality jobs and wealth for Canadians.  You will achieve this goal by working with provinces, territories, municipalities, the post-secondary education system, [emphasis mine] employers and labour to improve the quality and impact of our programs that support innovation, scientific research and entrepreneurship.  You will collaborate with provinces, territories and municipalities to align, where possible, your efforts.  I expect you to partner closely with businesses and sectors to support their efforts to increase productivity and innovation. …

I have a few comments about the ‘science’ letters. I’m happy to see the first priority for the Science minister is the appointment of a Chief Science Officer. David’s point about the letter’s emphasis that science is one input into the policy making process is interesting. Personally, I applaud the apparent even-handedness since scientific evidence is not always unequivocal but this does give the government some room to ignore scientific evidence in favour of other political considerations.

Finally, I see a gray area between the two ministries has been delineated with the Science minister being exhorted to:

“Support the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour in efforts to help employers create more co-op placements for students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs”

and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development being exhorted to

” … achieve this goal [economic prosperity] by working with provinces, territories, municipalities, the post-secondary education system, employers and labour to improve the quality and impact of our programs that support innovation, scientific research and entrepreneurship.”

Note the crossover where the Science minister is being asked to help develop more coop placements while the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister is being asked to work with the post-secondary education system and employers to improve programs for entrepreneurship. Interestingly the exhortation for the Innovation minister is included in the general text of the letter and not in the list of priorities.

There is one other ministry I’d like to include here and it’s Canadian Heritage. While it might seem an odd choice to some, there is what seems to be an increasing interest in the relationship between art, science, and the humanities. While I’m thrilled with much of the content in the Heritage letter,  mentions of science and technology are notably absent. Given what’s happened in our cultural sector (serious funding cutbacks over several years from both the Conservative government and previous Liberal governments), it’s understandable and it’s good to see more funding (from the Canadian Heritage Ministerial Mandate letter),

As Minister of Canadian Heritage, your overarching goal will be to implement our government’s plan to strengthen our cultural and creative industries. Our cultural sector is an enormous source of strength to the Canadian economy. Canada’s stories, shaped by our immense diversity, deserve to be celebrated and shared with the world. Our plan will protect our important national institutions, safeguard our official languages, promote the industries that reflect our unique identity as Canadians, and provide jobs and economic opportunities in our cultural and creative sectors.

You will be the leader of a strong team of ministers, supported by the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and the Minister of Status of Women.

In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

  • Review current plans for Canada 150 [Canada will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017] and champion government-wide efforts to promote this important celebration.
  • Restore and increase funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, following consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.
  • Review the process by which members are appointed to the CBC/Radio-Canada Board of Directors, to ensure merit-based and independent appointments.
  • Double investment in the Canada Council for the Arts.
  • Increase funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board.
  • Restore the Promart and Trade Routes International cultural promotion programs, update their design, and increase related funding.
  • Increase funding for the Young Canada Works program to help prepare the next generation of Canadians working in the heritage sector.
  • Work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to make significant new investments in cultural infrastructure as part of our investment in social infrastructure.
  • Work in collaboration with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to provide new funding to promote, preserve and enhance Indigenous languages and cultures.

I hope at some point this government integrates a little science and technology into Canadian Heritage because we have often achieved breakthroughs, scientifically and technically, and we have, at times, achieved the impossible as anyone who’s taken a train ride through the Rocky Mountains knows. Plus, if the government wants to encourage entrepreneurship and risk-taking, Canadian artists of all types provide an excellent model.

For the interested, the Ministerial Mandate letters have been made publicly available.

Two final items, there’s a Nov. 16, 2015 posting by Josh Silberg on Science Borealis which provides a more comprehensive roundup of science commentary in the wake of the new Liberal government’s ascendance.  Yes, I’m on it and you may recognize some others as well but there should be one or two new writers to discover.

Second, Phil Plait who has written about Canadian science and the Conservative government’s policies many times provides a brief history of the situation along with a few ebullient comments about the changes that have been taking place. You can find it all in Plait’s Nov. 17, 2015 posting on Slate.com.