PuSh Blog

Field Notes from Jackie Hoffart

April 12, 2019


Photo credit: Jackie Hoffart

Field Notes from Jackie Hoffart — PuSh Communications Director


It’s been about three weeks since I returned from the Digital Arts Services Symposium 2019 in Toronto and I’ve already lost the notebook in which I scribbled quotes and questions that came up over the three-day discussion on how to digitally transform our sector.

So my analog notes from the digital conference are gone — and thus I feel a bit awkward and unprepared.

But that’s actually the perfect place to start from because so many of us feel awkward and unprepared for the scope and scale of the digital transformation needed in our sector.

There were a number of guests whose words and knowledge-sharing really moved me to think in different ways. Probably the most impactful keynote was shared by Tammy Lee, Co-Founder + CEO of Culture Creates, Gregory Saumier-Finch, Co-Founder + CTO of Culture Creates and Frédéric Julien, Director of Research and Development at CAPACOA.

The digitization of the performing arts isn’t (at least, not exclusively) about building new platforms and uploading new contents on the web. It is first and foremost about adopting new strategies, and ultimately new mindsets that are adapted to contemporary consumer behaviours, to the new dynamics of the digital economy, and to the dictates of search and recommendation technologies. The output of the performing arts is non-digital and non-physical. It is an intangible collective experience, whose primary attributes and constraints – time and space – are non-constraints in the digital world. This uniqueness calls for distinctive digital strategies.” — Frédéric Julien, from A Linked Digital Future, 2018. (emphasis is mine)

So while there were folks there pitching products that encourage better use of data to compete with the likes of sporting events for public and private funding — to me these ideas represent the status quo. I was much more interested in the ideas brought forward by Tammy and Gregory at Culture Creates around metadata and improving the discoverability of performing arts events.

Their example, which really spoke to me, was: if you Google the name of a movie, the results the search engine gives you will immediately privilege showtimes around you tonight, but you can’t do the same thing for the performing arts because performing arts presenters don’t have what’s called “Linked Open Data” (there’s a pretty decent explainer video behind that link).

Given the dominance of search and AI devices (like Siri, Google Home, Alexa, etc.) in our everyday lives, and the likelihood of their reach to increase over time, one way to approach the “digital emergency” for the performing arts is to ensure we can even be found at all by folks who want to know what’s happening tonight, tomorrow or even next January.

Figuring out exactly how we collectively shift our practices and adopt new technologies is partially what the Canada Council’s Digital Strategy Fund is for, and I must admit I’m quite inspired by the work happening around developments like Culture Creates and CAPACOA.

I left Toronto feeling inspired but also overwhelmed with the scale of what’s needed from the arts sector as a whole. As Tammy said in her presentation; “If we think of AI as being a toddler, we still have a chance to influence it and instil values found in the arts into AI. If we spin our wheels for a decade, these technologies will become like teenagers who are much harder to influence.”


While in Toronto, I was pleased to be able to snack on some delicious patties from a Jamaican bakery. That made me feel much better after I caught a terrible cold on the plane over. It sure was nice to be able to leave that head cold and wintery cold weather behind in Toronto and return to spring in full bloom in Vancouver!