Artengine began work on the CanCon AV Index (CAVI) in 2020. It’s co-directors, Ryan Stec and Remco Volmer, secured funds from the Canada Council for the Arts, Digital Strategy Fund, to research and produce a digital prototype that would aggregate artist talks, discussion panels, and other forms of educational videos (also referred to as Canadian video-based art resources) produced by art organizations. Artengine wanted to explore a way to pull these dispersed pieces together, allowing them to be found and potentially become a resource for cultural workers. To what end this aggregation would benefit the cultural sector was not known.
Artengine’s has a long history with artistic research and community-based practices at the intersection of art and technology. We play an important role as future-thinking entity within the arts in Canada. The CAVI is focused on the space publicly funded art organizations occupy within the ever-growing technology landscape. Increasingly dominated by a few key providers of digital video infrastructure it is a volatile landscape defined by obtuse algorithms and extractive data brokerage. Instead of going with the flow, projects like this one encourage the arts sector to critically reflect on the present and the future they are looking for.
The CAVI began during the pandemic along with an explosion of video-based art resources being posted online. In the absence of being together in everyday life, arts organizations posted a flurry of recorded talks, studio visits, workshops, exhibition walks throughs and other experiments in video content. Pulling this content from major video streaming platforms, Artengine created an embedded search on their website that accessed a flatform file (.csv) from scraped data. The process for doing this is open and detailed “how to” information can be found. However, making the technology work in a new way for our community was just part of the work that Artengine wanted to complete, we also wanted to talk about it with them. Below is an outline of our engagement with a range of peers to discuss the Index’s use, value, viability and technical, social and ethical context.
The community consultations were a series of three-online discussions that took place in June of 2023. Sixteen participants, artists and arts professionals were invited with backgrounds in art administration, digital arts, digital archiving, music, curation, community programming and digital products. Most have unique and diverse experiences. Ryan Stec, Remco Volmer (Artengine) and Julie Gendron (independent moderator) were also present.
We’d like to thank the following people for joining us and sharing their thoughts and expertise.
Carly Busta, New Models (Berlin)
Madeline Bogoch, Video Pool Media Arts (Winnipeg)
Tao Fei, 221A (Vancouver)
Kwende Kefentse, CKCU-FM (Ottawa)
Sarah Eve Tousignant, MUTEK (Montreal)
Chukwudubem Ukaigwe, Collective Patterns (Winnipeg)
Greg J. Smith, HOLO (Toronto/Hamilton)
Scott Miller Berry, Rendezvous with Madness (Toronto)
Stephanie Nadeau, Consultant (Montreal)
Allison Yearwood, PlugIn ICA (Winnipeg)
Anna Bulbrook, Metalabel (Los Angeles)
Belinda Kwan, Interaccess (Toronto)
Leslie Supnet, Winnipeg Film Group (Winnipeg)
Zainab Muse, Creatorland (Ottawa)
Cade Diehm, New Design Congress (Berlin)
Jennifer Smith, National Indigenous Media Arts Coalition (Winnipeg)
Ashlee Conery, Cube Commons (Vancouver)
It is important to note that Artengine wanted to research the technology and did not consult the art organizations whose resources were made available through the aggregator. The point was not to encourage organizations to post more content because the aggregator was created. It was intentional to develop the Index without making any assumptions about its future use and instead leave opinion open to the aforementioned community consultation. In the event that more development was done on the Index, more stakeholders would be consulted.
The initial and perhaps main question at the beginning of the project was how can we create an aggregation of video content produced about Canadian artists and collectives that will benefit the arts sector. Is there a way to collectively build audiences? As time went on and Artengine progressed with the prototype, as well as undertook other projects of interest, they questioned their ability to maintain an aggregator. Debating whether Artengine wanted to make it a part of what they do regularly or if it should become a separate entity. In this latter case, the question was then: who could take it on?
Below are the key questions that emerged from our internal discussions. They guided our discussions with the invited guests:
The answers and topics of conversation are correlated below within specific themes.
There are many ways that consultation for a new digital product can be approached. Some are more quantitative than others. Artengine was not interested in doing usability testing of the interface. They also did not want to approach it in a formal focus group setting.
Primarily, they wanted to meet with peers across the country as well as some outside of Canada to have deeper conversations about questions that came up for them while the CanCon AV Index was being developed. They used the sessions to do community outreach and to ask who could shepherd the project if Artengine wants to pass it on.
Based on the questions for inquiry, while also taking into account the peers selected for the consultation, four main themes stood out while consolidating the feedback and discussion notes.
Essentially, it was confirmed that the Index would be a very useful tool to get programming and curatorial work done. It would fast-track research to reveal Canadian art content and break through the corporate algorithm inherent to big streaming platforms. Although, it was agreed that there should be interface and structural improvements made to add value to how it searches and displays the data. Apart from this, there was mixed debate about its social impacts, how it may cause harm and the safeguards needed to protect artists.
Lastly, it is necessary to look at the combined feedback to understand that developing the CanCon AV Index, as a fully workable and successful tool, would require dedicated staff, operational processes and substantial funding. In order to do this, Artengine would have to significantly change its mandate to proceed with the development of this tool.
Ultimately, the CanCon AV Index prototype was a success. Artengine set out to create an aggregator of Canadian video-based art resources and a handful of cultural workers felt it was a useful tool. Currently, as it is now, the data being accessed is a slice in time. With no new scraping of current data, the CanCon AV Index will transform into an archive ending in the summer of 2023.
The consultation participants produced multiple suggestions of who could take on this project in the future. Examples include the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA), Archive/Counter Archive (A/CA) or e-Artexte but as with many areas of arts administration, good ideas often dissipate with the necessities of daily tasks. Time for ideation and the financial resources required to make differentiating advances in arts administration and programming are scarce.
In the case of the Index, Artengine as an organization can only take it so far in order to continue other programs that they lead. For this reason, they have chosen to publicly share their research and invite other interested organizations or individuals to create new interpretations and directions for the project. In doing so, the intention is to model a form of sharing that may develop sector-wide intelligence while promoting national arts sector growth through sharing and collectiveness.