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The first Open Lab of the Cultural Innovations Program (PIC) was held this summer from June 8th-July 2nd. The four-week event — a mix of online and in-person interaction — represented the first phase of PIC’s efforts to develop new approaches, both technical and conceptual, and for cultural actors in an increasingly digital world.

Hosted by the dhCenter, PIC brings together EPFL’s Cultural Heritage & Innovation Center, ArtLab, Vice-Presidency for Innovation, and College of Humanities, as well as UNIL’s  ColLaboratoire, Culture and Scientific Mediation Service, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation HUB.

The program brings together EPFL and UNIL actors in digital studies and innovation in the service of research in the fields of culture and heritage — a sector that has been plunged into deep and sometimes threatening uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. This crisis calls for further exploration of the potentialities and issues raised by digital transitions to facilitate (1) the development of effective solutions to deal with the current situation, and (2) the strengthening of innovation in the longer term and think about a sustainable future for cultural activities.

PIC Open Labs

The goal of PIC is to create a pole of expertise for the development of new approaches, both structural and organizational, as well as conceptual and technological. A series of Open Labs is a tool by which PIC aims to accomplish these goals via the following activities:

  • Enable the formulation of current problems and their mutualization
  • Translate practical problems into collaborative research problems
  • Facilitate research and innovation and research-creation projects
  • Foster innovation in the cultural field
  • Develop open-source tools that can be used in cultural activities.

PIC Open Lab I

The inaugural PIC Open Lab (Open Lab I), held online from June 8th-July 2nd, 2020, brought together more than 70 actors in research and culture. Over the four-week period, 6 working groups (WGs) conducted three, two-hour sessions of discussion to identify the priority issues for each of their fields, and to imagine exploratory projects.

A collective session was held on June 25th to take stock of the debates and to present to the findings of WGs 1-5. WG6 met on July 2nd to formulate a first global synthesis and to identify next steps.

WG1 – Crowd management for post-COVID cultural events

Integrating technologies for tracking/monitoring the crowd of events has taken on a new importance in the current health crisis. However, such instruments raise serious questions relating to health/safety promises, operational limitations/illusions, and ethical/political issues. In the era of physical distancing, innovative uses still need to be developed to help these technologies enrich the collective experience of the public, while resisting generalized control and surveillance. Moderator: Lucien Delley

WG2 – Alternative performative pathways

Starting with the performing arts, this group addressed the conception of new performative modalities that integrate digital elements — in ways that go beyond their acceptance as mere tools. How can we integrate such technologies as a component of a performative experience? How can performance itself be modified with the presence of digital technology? What are the new performative paths, the new formats to explore? Co-facilitators: Véronique Mauron, Dominique Vinck

WG3 – Livestream music performance and audience engagement

The potential of remote broadcasting for ever-broader audiences is currently being intensively exploited in the musical universe. When copyright permits, many festivals make their archives or live concerts available. On the other hand, the streaming of live performances distributed geographically remains a technological challenge. Questions surrounding audience engagement and the production of live collective experiences, as well as suitable economic models and devices, remain largely unanswered. Facilitator: Alain Dufaux

WG4 – Museums and digital mediations

Recently, many museum experiences available to visitors have been only those that are digital; for example, online educational tours, and engagement of the public on social networks through discussions, contests, etc. What lessons can museums learn from this unprecedented mobilization of digital technologies? How can this change of global perspective in the museum experience fit into the paradigm of inclusive mediation? Facilitator: Héloïse Schibler

WG5 – Open and sustainable cultural innovation

PIC is also a laboratory for exploring open innovation with a focus on open-source and sustainability. The question of how to share open-source computing tools and the operational ways to foster and guarantee open innovation are the subject of debate. The aim of this group is to identify the main challenges to be taken up in the context of PIC and to propose a model that favors the diffusion of innovations.
Moderator: Jessica Pidoux

WG6 – How to sustainably foster collaborative cultural innovation?

A program such as PIC calls for the design of a collaborative architecture, including public partners, to support public policies favoring culture and innovation. This group’s goal is also to consider how to sustainably support cultural innovation in a multi-partner approach. Co-organizers: Alexandre Camus; Florence Graezer Bideau.

Summary of the main issues

This synthesis was collectively initiated during the June 25th progress review and substantially continued during the WG6 session on July 2nd.

Mediation and co-design of the cultural experience

The uses of online content, the telepresence of audiences, and the multimodality of digital experiences, formats, and media raise questions about digital uses and practices. Digital audiences are not captive, and this new need for knowledge about them is necessary for the establishment of adjusted digital strategies. Digital mediations are also not confined to the online space. They are today an integral part of the cultural experience.

Several survey projects involving audiences are emerging from the discussions conducted during first Open Lab. The co-design of cultural events such as festivals (WG1) and the prospective on the future of digital mediations in museums (WG4) are two strong examples. The collaborative approaches of each WG have a common objective: to initiate discussion and build a shared horizon with the public concerning the modalities of cultural experience that (1) integrate digital mediations adjusted to the uses of the public and (2) include the necessary adjustments induced by the health crisis.

Towards artists: creative research

Digital potential could both enhance the value of the materials of artistic research and strengthen the work of investigation and creation. Streaming concerts, for example, allows for the design of additional content that enriches the overall experience. These online formats also offer the possibility of adding materials that do not find their place in the writing of the live musical performance, and open up perspectives for new content to be produced and linked to the performance.

These possibilities all refer to new formats to be explored, involving not only performance but also flow and hybridity. They raise once again the question of distribution channels and their articulation with large platforms, and underline the importance of thinking about legal frameworks and value chains likely to remunerate cultural intermediaries and artists. These essential questions mixing creation and diffusion require the involvement of artists, with a view toward co-designing new models in the worlds of music (WG3) and theater (WG2).

Diffusion channels

Generally speaking, online broadcasting is shaking up market relations and cultural consumption. Although increasingly intense, it does not generate the same transactions or value sharing. The Internet offers a fair amount of free content and online audiences may not be inclined to pay for cultural works. Nevertheless, economic value is being produced. This raises the question of value chains: how can we ensure that remuneration is shared equitably throughout the cultural chain and not only captured by proprietary distribution solutions?

Diffusion also raises questions of data architecture, archiving, and sharing. Colossal challenges are to be grasped concerning the interoperability of cultural data, the sharing of databases of cultural and heritage structures. In the field of heritage, major European initiatives exist and propose great solutions, but all control is lost over the use made by the public. There is general agreement on the need to add audiovisual lawyers — alongside the experts present in WG5 — to the PIC community of experts. Encouraging discussions are underway with UNIL’s Faculty of Law, Criminal Sciences and Public Administration.

On the impasses of the all-digital world: for sustainability

Streaming and digital formats need to rethink their ecological footprint. Exchanges are converging toward evidence that there are elements that must remain (or even become) non-streamed, and that privilege the local level. We do not have an infinite world with unlimited data storage; therefore, it is clear that the question of sustainability is largely a question of distribution channels. Thus, in thinking about a prototype of a cultural platform, we must also address the energy issue and place on the continuum between live and streaming  performances (ever-larger shows must also be questioned). The naive idea of reproducing the world in a digital version has no sustainable future.

The issue of digital archiving and duration again underlines the importance of a reflection on the politics of memory (to be built) in which professional archivists should play a central role.

Prospects for development

  • Create an association to found a sustainable inter-institutional laboratory
  • Develop tools for documentation and sharing of experiences
  • Create tools to assist in the design of innovative digital projects
  • Create an online platform/public interface to promote cultural innovation

Conclusion

PIC is delighted to develop its mediation role by participating in the public debate necessary for a collective management of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its consequences on the cultural environment. From its conception, PIC envisaged a partnership open to all cultural actors, in dialogue with public policy as well as the private sector. The open and multi-partner perspective that prevailed in this first experiment sets the tone for a program that aspires to continue by opening its doors ever more widely to academic and cultural actors in French-speaking Switzerland. Over the summer, discussions with the Direction Générale de la Santé have begun, which point to good prospects for collaboration.

Autumn 2020 will be a pivotal period for PIC with, in particular, the constitution of the eponymous association. The accompaniment of the projects resulting from the WGs will constitute a first test of the incubation model. The month of October will also see the response to the first request for research funding from PIC for the project “Festivals under COVID-19: New scenarios and technical tools to support and sustain live music events”. This request was submitted to the CROSS Program (Collaborative Research On Science and Society) by researchers from the Laboratory of Urban Sociology of the EPFL, the THEMA laboratory of the Institute of Social Sciences of the UNIL and the EPFL + ECAL-Lab in collaboration with the festivals grouped in the WG1.

An evaluation will be carried out at the beginning of 2021 to make a first reflexive assessment of the first steps of the program and to present the results of the first projects. The presentation of the evaluation will give rise to an event bringing together all the participants in the Open Lab (according to the modalities permitted by the health situation). The possibility of launching an Open Lab II in the spring of 2021 will then be discussed and decided.

People

Alexandre Camus (PIC coordinator): lecturer and project manager, UNIL ISS and EPFL CDH
Alain Dufaux: director, EPFL Cultural Heritage and Innovation Center, VPI-EPFL
Florence Graezer Bideau: senior scientist and lecturer, EPFL CDH
Anne Headon: director, HUB Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Alain Kaufmann: director, UNIL ColLaboratoire
Charlotte Mazel-Cabasse: director, dhCenter
Marie Neumann: head of unit, Service Culture et Médiation scientifique UNIL
Pascal Vuilliomenet: strategic project manager EPFL VPI

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