Meeting Review: IETM Amsterdam 2016

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For three and a half days Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam turned into a buzzing hive of ideas and voices from across performing arts disciplines and from all over the globe. Around 700 arts and culture professionals engaged in meaningful debates, made friendships, conceived professional partnerships and delved into the Dutch arts world. 

The meeting revolved around Live Arts in Digital Times: how the digital has transformed our reality and the notion of art. Stating that live performance helps us counter the normative pressures of digitisation, Sally Jane Norman opened the meeting looking at how "theatre is a uniquely powerful means for mobilising the poetic energies that characterise what is human, and what it is to be human".

We debated about the ways Generation Y (born between 1981 and 2000) differs from previous generations due to its immersion in everything digital, and whether this distinction is more of a marketing trick. In the end, we discovered that what the Ys like most in theatre and performing arts was the live performance, live contact per se. 

We explored fascinating examples of transmedia storytelling - building a narrative world through multiple channels: social media, gaming, film, writing, mobile apps and some aspects of real life. The main topic of the discussion was how this type of online-robotized-digitally dominated storytelling relates to live performance and perception.

Joris Weijdom, researcher and designer of mixed reality experiences at the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, revealed what such developments as Mixed Reality, Transmedia and The Internet of Things mean for telling stories and creating theatrical experiences. 

The Digital wasn't the sole focus of the meeting. The most crucial issues the performing arts world faces today – advocacy for the arts, fair practice label, inclusion, ethics and more – were on the table during many discussions. 

The session on fair practice label in the arts brought up the important question of how to ensure our arts practices are ethically responsible and sustainable. The conversation started off with the pleas and propositions of the State of the Arts platform. The issue of underpaid labour in the arts sector became the core of the debate, but fair trade practices, sustainability and lowering the carbon footprint were also acknowledged as significant aspects of the field. Solidarity is what can bring success in establishing fair trade practices in the arts: “We just need to say no to injustice and say it together.”

Participants from around the world shared their experiences in dealing with controversial regimes or funding. What is it like to be on the other side of a boycott? Should we sacrifice political participation in order to continue work in the midst of a civil war? Taking in as many perspectives as possible, the group explored and questioned the idea of creating a toolbox that might facilitate making well-informed decisions.

We were introduced to three inspiring examples of the collaborative economy: Ouishare, HowlRound, and Tourbook. As we explored the foundations of this newly rediscovered communal type of economy, defined by horizontal networks and active participation, topics like trust, responsibility, mutual respect evolved as the core precondition for productive collaboration.  

During the session on inclusive culture we were asked two questions which, sadly enough, we had to answer with "no": Do the arts reflect the world we live in? Does the IETM crowd reflect the arts world? Inclusive culture appeals to a thorough examination on sociocultural diversity in terms of ethnicity, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. The session advocated strongly for continued efforts to deepen intercultural dialogue, and promoted the exemplary instrument of the Cultural Diversity Code present in the Dutch cultural sectors.

How can we promote inclusion of culture and the arts in the long-term strategic goals of the European project? After presenting a recently released manifesto of the Alliance for Culture and the Arts, we asked Julie Ward (MEP) as representative of the European policy-making world, what the most powerful tools are for making our voices heard. "Culture and the arts must get better at lobbying", was the answer. Watch the video recording to learn what this implies.

 Resources of the meeting are available here and the reports of the working sessions will be published on this page soon.

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