Two hands, one holding the Lens, pointing at the Constellation - photograph by Phoebe Powell
Image credit: Phoebe Powell
Stories & Ideas

Tue 14 Feb 2023

Process Change: Adapting and Adopting New Models

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Your museum of screen culture

This talk explores how arts organisations are seizing new technological opportunities and how they are changing their operational models to co-create and collaborate with others.

Paula Bray (Head of Digital Engagement & Insight, Australian National Maritime Museum) draws on her work running creative R&D labs within museums and libraries; Back to Back Theatre's Executive Producer & Co-CEO Tim Stitz has helped create and lead multi-award winning cross-disciplinary theatre and screen productions, and Junior Major's Director Claire Evans brings decades of experience in creative production with media and technologies to the discussion.

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I would now like to welcome up Paula Bray, Tim Stitz and Claire Evans to the stage. This session explores how arts organisations are seizing new technological opportunities and how they are changing their operational models to co-create and collaborate with others. We will hear presentations from each speaker and then we'll have a discussion.

Paula is up first. Paula has worked in cultural heritage institutions for over 20 years, leading the creative development of award-winning digital experiences across exhibitions and the web. She has worked at the State Library of New South Wales where she created and led the DX Lab and is currently at the Australian National Maritime Museum as head of digital engagement and insight. Welcome Paula. Thank you, thank you. Hi everyone. I'd like to acknowledge that we meet on the traditional lands of the people of the Kulin Nation and pay my respects to elders past, present. Thank you for being here today. I've, I mean a new role at the National Maritime Museum, fairly new role and I just, I'm going to be reflecting on past work within an R&D lab but also just to give some context around most of my career has been within a city-based larger organisation and I just want to talk about the mindset around innovation labs and the role in which they play and the capabilities that are actually scalable so I think that it's not just necessarily that a city-based institution is quite well resourced, at times they're not. But just keep that in mind. So I've sort of been in a fairly privileged position and a unique position to run Australia's first cultural heritage innovation lab that's been embedded within the structure of an organisation. It's pretty special to be able to give six years of your life to purely experimenting with a national-based collecting institutions, you know, state and national collection. I think that, you know, labs are kind of at the heart of what R&D is all about and I guess I'm trying to focus my attention now on whether this experimental practice can really be embedded into an organisational structure that does what we call the business as usual, which I do not like that term. Here's my nod to Valentine's Day. So really, you know, what is a lab there for? You know, a lab is a place that is looking at what is possible. You know, you have this luxury of being able to work with technology, work with people, work with the amazing digitised assets from the collections, but really it's about a co-design practice and a collaboration framework because none of that would be possible if you didn't actually embed those things from the start. So the two different modes I've been in, the operational and the lab, they have very different pulses and I love this quote from OCLC which is, you know, they're the and in the R&D, so the bridging the gap between the experimental and the lab. And I guess the question is, you know, can they be combined? You know, labs are there to test, to iterate, to develop, to question, to use technology in a way that really puts the visitor at the heart of the experience. It's not about the tech. And my lab, the lab of the library, which was very much a culture within everyone was part of that lab, it wasn't like the shiny kids over at the side doing kooky things with technology that didn't have an outcome that was aligned to the library's missions and values. So that was really important that we set up a structure where it was, you know, really purposefully set around what the library was doing within that year and then we focus on the what is possible to enhance some of that operational. So you know, when you're given one remit, which is very clear, to find new and exciting ways to make the mass digitised assets from the collection available, accessible, findable, usable in completely new ways is pretty special. That's also quite a challenge as well. And I guess the question for why the lab was set up in the first place was, you know, it's great to digitise our collections. We all know we have to digitise them. They're at risk material. We have to archive and we do all those things because they're super important. But then what happens? You know, these items are sitting in the cloud on servers wherever they are and a lot of the time people don't know how to get to them. And you know, it's about the R&D is about, well, what comes after digitisation? How can you use technology, skills, thinking around making those items accessible in new ways so that people can then go back and find other collections or other research? The other thing is about, you know, using technology for the things we don't know. You know, what are those things that we can use people and technology for that we may not be able to find from our sort of very structured databases with a little white box that tells us if our search functionality is working really well, we might get the thing that we're searching for. So looking at the different scales of, you know, maybe we look at our collections from the birds eye view, maybe we look at our collections from the micro and the macro, but this is what innovation does and this is how you can test and try that within your organisation. I'm just going to show a couple of projects. The DX Lab doesn't exist anymore but all of the work and the experiments are still available online. And I think, you know, that culture of using technology for what it's really good for, you know, like the browser is just incredible at the rapid development that's happening within technology. And then traditional, like organisational websites are quite, you know, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat, really, like they're very, we know how to structure our websites. But what if we flip that on the head and started to use technology for what it's really good for, which is being experimental, testing, changing, iterating. This was a foundational work that we convinced the founding partner to use the homepage as an artwork. Very traditional content, beautiful content from Ferdinand Bauer's collection of species drawings but, you know, the communication and the soft skills behind the convincing of why technology is important with people to experiment and then allowing and having that trust and support to actually do it is actually the value proposition within all of that. Again, bringing people along for the journey, not one sort of R&D project that we did didn't involve a broad range of staff. So embedding that kind of functionality within the organisation, whether it's, you know, small skill sets, drop-ins or larger scale projects that take a whole year to manifest but are experiments and need to go on the floor and work and function when you're using, you know, innovative web tech. So when we were kind of meeting and talking and sort of looking at the value proposition that we wanted to bring to this conversation, we kind of got it down to, you know, five or six things and really the importance of experimenting within a cultural heritage organisation or in any practice indeed, you know. You have to be able to be open to using technology to find what those things are that you don't know. So that R&D methodology is critical to the work. You know, tech is a rapidly changing environment and we need to be experimenting with these things because our audiences are used to really sophisticated digital experiences outside of cultural institutions. So this is actually a really important part of our practice. I would like to see that embedded more across the way we think around developing products, services and programming that potentially if we come at an exhibition design from a, okay, what is the experimental practice we can do first, testing with our audience to see whether we should be doing the thing at the end of that cycle. So partnerships. R&D and, you know, organisational change requires really strong partnerships, particularly because we have, you know, lack of resources, lack of funding. We also should be looking at the different voices that we can bring to the promoting and use of our collection. So that was a really big part of my R&D practice was to bring in partners from small scale right up to kind of more established larger scale. And I would say that, you know, some of the smaller scale projects that were very quick, two week things that really tested an idea across the organisation very quickly ended up becoming more embedded into a long term practice. You know, this particular work here called Unstacked is actually probably the one of the only living things that has come out of the DX Lab in that it is a business model now that has been sold to many other libraries across New South Wales. It's a real time data visualisation of what the people are doing with the collections in real time. So, you know, a kind of three month fellowship practice turned into a business model for a couple of creative technologists who went on to build that out as a product, which is, you know, the perfect example of the impact and the results of partnerships. You know, the co curation and the participatory model was really big in our practice, bringing people in to actually be the creators of the contents. So, telling those people's stories, you know, using technology to drive that co creation methodology. The skills. So, it's really important that in a larger organisation such as a state library or a library that there are skill development opportunities to work in a R&D methodology. And so we did things like drop in programs for staff. I'm continuing to do that now where we have this R&D co design methodology happening. People are coming in and just sitting within my team, sitting next to a developer one day a week because we've got to build up that skills capability and the mindset around working with technology and diffusing that layer of, well, it's all about the tech and you've got to be knowledgeable about the tech, which is not true. It's about the story, it's about the connection with the audience and how you can best utilise those skills within your team. And then I guess it comes to the impact and hopefully not a sinking ship, but there's a lot of maritime puns that I'm learning at the moment. They're fantastic. So, how do we measure? How do we measure the impact of an R&D innovation lab within cultural heritage? You know, often, and it was a few labs have had this, you know, end to their practice where, you know, they're small teams in terms of physical full time equivalent numbers, but they're quite easy to get rid of in terms of funding cuts because innovation and R&D is not actually seen as core yet. It's still on the periphery. So we need to start talking about the impact of experimentation and the, you know, the value proposition of what it brings and really kind of recording that impact. I mean, the lab that we ran had a very strong remit of open policy, open access, sharing, writing, publishing. I don't think there was one project that we did that wasn't shared with our audiences online. From the preconception of the idea through the making of the UX workshops and methodology to the documenting of what visitors were doing with the actual experience to the final kind of research and analysis components of that. So what's the future? So I'm really interested in whether we can embed this model of a lab within operational so it's not separate, that it is a chance where potentially it's not dedicated team members who are in a lab, but rather the culture is within the whole organisation and the culture and the strategy comes from the whole organisation. The methodology of the co-design practice is known, talked about, communicated, why are we doing this, what is it for, who is it for, how can we make this thing even better and iterate and continue to develop these experiences after we launch. So I guess that's a big challenge that we're here to discuss and talk about. So thank you.

Thank you Paula, some really great things in that. I would now like to introduce Tim. Tim is an experienced arts manager and creative producer. His work in the arts sector includes positions within the Australian Performing Arts Market Office, Arts Centre Melbourne and Creative Partnerships Australia. Tim is currently executive director and co-CEO at Back to Back Theatre. Thanks Lucy. Hi everyone, I've got a short video to play and that's going to start me off so please play the video. Hi, I'm Scott Price, we're basically on Waterloo Country. Welcome to Back to Back Video 1 and today I've got ideas here also. I'm about to show you through our studio space of Back to Back Video here. This is actually where we work, live, play and here's some of the theatre speakers, how that works today. Back to Back, what a show. People watch my show. I love that show. It's like family. My name is Scott and I'm a singer. Got big questions? How big? What does it mean of life? Am polycutlass? They have the answers. You're going to have to pay a fee. From love. Lots of glitter. To landscaping. To artificial grass. Grass is the best thing. To parallel universes. You know, an infinite amount of parallel universes. I might be at a different school. I could be a woman. It could be anything. It's just endless. Let's go. This year. Meet the experts. Thanks for responding. Thank you so much. Simon did. We need to save the world. So I help people by directing them to you. You're more of a receptionist. Fuck off. You're a fucking This is SOV main office. Where we do all our managing. Where all our staff does whatever it is to keep back to back for you happy. Thanks guys. And you're not. Thanks, everyone. You've met the ensemble, and usually we present by co-presenting with one of the ensemble members usually. They are, they send their apologies. They're currently in a creative development with an international guest artist, Kate McIntosh, who's here, who's a Kiwi, but is here from Berlin slash Brussels. And I have the great fortune of, was a member of the program in 2021 as a mentee, and I also just want to acknowledge, so I want to acknowledge my, all the mentors and mentees, but also my mentor, George, thank you. And also there's a number of, a couple of my own personal mentors, and I just think that's, we talk about skills and skills development as sort of professional people, and I don't think we perhaps acknowledge that enough. So it's a personal side note. Thank you. Look, I showed you a couple of things. Obviously you have a sense of, Back to Back Theatre has been running for, since 1987. It is centered around an ensemble of artists who are perceived to have intellectual disabilities or, and or are neurodiverse. They co-curate and co-author the works that we make together and perform the works. We're a theatre company, and we, I suppose I wanted to talk in three sections. Before the pandemic, we have had a history of making new work, and those works are large, small, epic, intimate in outdoor areas such as Flinders Street Station to places like the Malt House and Presidium Arch Theatres around the world. We tour extensively nationally and internationally. Our traditional model has been to make a piece of theatre over three years and then tour it, and our desire and ambition is for it to be in repertoire for at least 10 years. Before the pandemic, a few years before the pandemic, we were speaking to the ensemble about what else are you wanting to do? And there was an interest from them, of course, to keep touring and interacting with audiences and sharing our work. But there was perhaps a frustration that theatre and performance, as amazing as it is, as live, as the liveness that it provides being unlike anything else, that there was some interest in doing screen-based projects to reach more audience members. And so we had the great fortune of being involved in the Hybe Lab, which was through the Australia Council but particularly the Adelaide Festival, film festival. And that lab was all about bringing performing arts and arts practitioners together with screen makers and creators. And it just picks up on a number of the points you made, Paula, around we couldn't have done – that's a really great example of partnership, as we have always been a company that has experimented around making original works. You have to sort of experiment and throw so much out there. A lot of – all our work is co-devised, as I said, it's through a process of improvisation. So much work, so much doesn't work and we have to sift through it. It's a process of distilling a work. And even once we start touring it all, it's harder once it's edited, if we're talking about screen works, we're constantly refining and iterating. But before the pandemic we had the great fortune of doing the Hybe program. That led to a collaboration with Matchbox Pictures and we made a short film slash the first of a six-part series pilot. Whilst that project that was called Oddlands, and that project has had some success, it sort of unfortunately stopped because we lost one of the lead actors, unfortunately, and also the financing of it was just too complicated at that time. After the pandemic and we had just made a live theatre piece called The Shadow Who's Pray the Hunter Becomes and we'd just premiered it in New York and done a five-city tour in the United States and the pandemic started and we had got some funding to make a – or to actually work on Oddlands, the syndication of Oddlands and start an internship program. And instead of – we adapted like all of us did and we made – we adapted that most recent theatre work into a one-hour short feature film and that was Shadow, which you saw at the very end of that clip. The other thing that was in that clip was a radio, which is a work that we make. It's an example of our community filmmaking practice and we've been doing – Back to Back has always made short films, but it's always been started from the point of view of – we often work with a videographer and Rhian Hinckley made that clip that you saw or that's been clipped even shortened from what it is. We make it from the point of view of being theatre makers. That's our core practice and we collaborate with artists from other modalities and platforms, but what we did, I suppose, by doing – moving into screen is we have to get – have had to get more experience from the more traditional sort of film and television sector. We have had to get and will continue to get that experience and skills as we experiment into other forms. We made First Responders, which was the sort of pastiche collage animation piece that you saw with a – in a school. We had at the start of the pandemic planned to do a school's residency for six to 12 years and like everything, it stopped and we decided the artists, core artists involved, decided with their collaborators to make some short animations. We made four animations. They went really well. We decided we'd make another eight – another four, so we had eight. And then long story short, we – then the ABC were interested in acquiring a group of 20, so they're now on iView. But they were things that we made really through a community or education project that was funded entirely through philanthropy and education funding. And I guess my point in all of this is that back to back our – we've got a desire in terms of just trying to adapt and adopt new models. We have had to change the structure of our company slightly. We've now got a screen area. Like everything in a small producing company, we have to pause and stop and everyone – you can't be siloed in a company that's even – I mean back to back's now 25 people. It's a medium-sized arts organisation. But it cannot be siloed. You have to diffuse and collaborate right across the organisation. And I suppose our ambition into the future is that we want to be content creators across all platforms or as many – the platform – or platforms that are going to best suit the work that we're creating. So we're interested in sort of – we've had this experience of adapting from theatre. We've had the experience like with Hive and Matchbox of making something completely for television or that sort of new setting or environment for us. And now we're thinking about what is next. We are doing an adaptation of Ganesh vs. the Third Reich to make it into a screenplay to see whether that has legs or not or whether we should pursue it. And we're also thinking about a whole lot of new sort of screen digital ideas that could be – well, we don't – we're trying to – it's that process of experimentation to go what is the best platform and also trajectory for those works. So yeah, I'll leave it there.

Thanks, Tim. And last we have Claire. So I'd like to introduce Claire. Claire is director of Junior Major, a Sydney-based studio producing immersive and interactive media for the cultural sector. Junior Major currently has exhibits live at the Museum of Sydney, Maud, in Adelaide, and at Powerhouse Ultimo. Claire also consults around innovation, moving image, and digital, most recently for the ACME CEO Digital Mentoring Program and as a digital strategist in residence at the Australia Council for the Arts. Thank you, Lucy. Yes, so I'm coming to this conversation, I guess, through a few different lenses. One of them really is a technical or digital production partner working with organisations like ACME on their story of moving image and embedding technology and digital into physical spaces, the Australian Music Vault, working with them on their digital labels, a sculptural piece, some content inside that exhibition, and work with Melbourne Museum, the Google's Creative Lab, really as kind of the blunt object that come in and deliver a technical project. The other lens that I'm entering this conversation through is that of somebody who's participated in both the ACME Digital Mentoring Program and the Australia Council for the Arts digital strategist in residence. So I've worked with six orgs over the past two years as part of those programs and have spoken ad nauseam about striking a balance with digital strategy and adapting for new models and new ways of collaborating, particularly through these pillars of capacity, so people, capabilities, skills, both internal and external that you can leverage through partnerships, thinking about infrastructure and what kind of efficiencies you might be able to gain and how infrastructure may also push forward your artistic opportunities, the channels that you might consider, so really more of a marketing lens as well, but thinking about those channels as your direct ways to audience, and I think Jane raised a really good point, but having very reflective conversations around what are the right tools and channels for your mission. And then the artistic opportunities and I guess how all of those things work in tension with each other. And then more recently, the lens I'm looking at it through is a studio, junior major, so we're pretty new, we've only been around for about six months, so I apologise, we don't have a website, which is embarrassing as part of a digital bingo conference, but the work that we're doing is largely commission based, so the experience of working with organisations more as an artist, and that's either as a studio as the artist or collaborating with visual artists, and I'll just show a couple of the things that we've been working on recently. So this is an artwork that's at Mod in Adelaide, and what you can see above those visitors are blinds, so the technology there are motorised blinds for domestic use that we have hacked, and what they are doing here is representing data. So this exhibition is around ethical boundaries and ethical questions, and as part of a greater research project, visitors answer a series of questions, and then these motorised blinds reflect the data in this beautiful sculptural form. This is a project that's live at the Powerhouse Museum at the moment, and what's interesting about this is it's in a space that was designed and built six or seven years ago, it's using tech that was installed seven years ago, seven year old computers, old Kinects, and it's really a temporary exhibition, it's there until the site closes at the end of the year, but I think it's a nice example of saying well what infrastructure do we have in place, what tools have we got, and how can we commission a new work that might engage audiences using that existing material, and being really clear up front about that being the brief. This is a work that's live at the Museum of Sydney at the moment, it's a collaboration with the street artist Beastman, and so we worked together to create digital copies of a lot of his artwork, we created this bespoke grid system that we used throughout the museum, and the brief here, again, it was approached as a really open brief, it was kind of an artist commission to say make the museum playable in an unexpected way, and so working with Beastman, there's a projected moving image in this room, and then objects, soft foam objects that are printed with the same artwork, and it's really just a play space for kids, and with all the rain on and off in Sydney, it is getting absolutely slammed, which is great, we've had to swap out blocks a lot, and this is another part of that exhibition, it's using camera vision technology, so underneath those glowing panels, there are cameras that are detecting some imagery on the bottom of the tiles, and visitors can make their own images that they're seeing and playing with in a tactile way, and then what they're doing on these boards is also projected, so there's this direct relationship between what they're doing on this table and what's happening above you, and excuse the free talent that is me and my daughter in that image, but we are emerging, so we're not paying talent just yet, and this is the first piece of work that we did last year as a studio, it was part of an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney called Unrealised, which looked at all of the plans for certain precincts and parts of Sydney that never were, and this was a complement to that exhibition, which was, I think, what's interesting is this is the same space as the Beastman projection piece with the foam objects, and it's another example of an organisation who have invested in some capability, in this case there's some really great projectors, they've got a space that is designed to house moving image projected artwork commissions, in this case we've also connected four stations that allow users to control this city building game that we made, it takes the rocks which will never be developed probably, and because it was the least contentious place to play with, and users using a set of brawn-esque dials can play with that space and manipulate it, and so this setup, this room has now been used for four exhibitions over the past, I think, 20 months, and I think that's a great example of a museum investing in some hardware and then putting it into the hands of creators to say, well how can you use this to do something unique each time, and they've also invested in liquid crystal displays that they use for a Daniel Crooks artwork that can then also be used for something else, so I like what they're doing in terms of new models and new ways to engage with creators and artists and commission digital works.