I went to the engage conference recently and there were some inspiring discussions, but I couldn’t help consider how odd it is that we use the term ‘digital’ in our professional lives, when in my personal one I never think of my phone as digital, or my twitter account, or any other platform, object or device…
The fact they have some connection to electricity and code is irrelevant to my usage of them. They are simply tools, as natural to me as a knife and fork. The word ‘digital’ as an umbrella term feels like it turns my tools into somehow abstract and alien devices governed by cryptic laws.
With this in mind, I put together a digital-themed workshop for partners. The aim was to offer inspiration for using tech and online tools to engage young people with art, and support partners to build digital strategically into their programmes. I tried to imagine a workshop that fulfills these aims whilst dispelling barriers identified at the engage conference.
Lack of knowledge/skills
Distrust of tech
Perceived capacity/costs of using digital
Anything physical, you can do digital
Digital can be both quick and easy
Tech is cheap
Running with the theory that individual experimentation with support on offer is an effective way to learn new skills, the workshop invited gallery educators to make something simple with tech. Playing with our programmes name and strapline, the task set was to make a circuit to spark change.
At Make Things Do Stuff: Inspiring Young Digital Creators, I’d met Bare Conductive, a design and tech studio, which produces kits for experimentation with circuits using electrical paint. I explained my workshop plans and they were so friendly and helpful, they sent me a pack of electrical paints, including light bulbs and batteries, with simple instructions and a specially made test circuit. Playing with arranging light bulbs (in series vs in parallel) triggered physics knowledge I haven’t used since school.
Our partners mapped out key features of their programmes over the next three years on sheets of card, linking their digital activities to aspects of programming with electrical paint, carefully inserting batteries and bulbs. The light bulbs began to flash when the paint dried – and are still flashing a week later, lighting up my locker like it’s having a party. The idea was to highlight: digital can be physical and you can use it to make things.
I thought about all the amazing cultural production devised by young people that lives online. Choosing a few examples, I broke a couple down into a step by step guide of how to reproduce such a project cheaply and easily, and created a presentation showcasing projects and ideas, and highlighting tips and learning. I include this below, and hope it can be of use to your practice too.
We’d love to hear from you if you are using digital creatively to engage young people in the arts. Please share stories from your projects in the comments below.