[-empyre-] Models and Perspectives for Media Centers and Net Art organizations

Sarah Cook sarah.e.cook at sunderland.ac.uk
Wed Aug 6 07:44:07 EST 2008

Hello Empyre,

Thank you for having me this month -- CRUMB and Empyre have been  
meaning to join forces on a topic for some time now and it is nice  
that CRUMB's current research partner, Eyebeam, where I am currently  
based as their curatorial fellow, has been the catalyst. Sorry I am  
late in posting an introduction, but this is just to keep in the game  
as I read the posts so far...

For those who don't know me so well, or indeed know CRUMB, I am a  
curator and post-doctoral research fellow, at the University of  
Sunderland, and from there curate exhibitions and projects in  
partnership with other venues, much in a way that a freelance or  
independent curator would, but with the gracious backing of my  
research position (itself an interesting model of funding). CRUMB (a  
research unit at the University of Sunderland) was founded in 2000 by  
myself and Beryl Graham, for curators grappling with new media to  
talk to each other and learn from the experiences of others. We host  
an emailing list (800+ international members), also with topics of  
the month, and a website, with interviews, documentation and  
transcriptions of seminars, conferences and workshops we have  
organised, and the like. Beryl recently returned from ISEA 08 in  
Singapore where CRUMB hosted 'Blissful Dialogues' which brought  
together new media practitioners with those from the field of visual  
art to discuss common strategies for presenting work.
My curatorial practice is very collaborative, mostly because I am  
often 'on-loan' or 'embedded' in an organisation which is not my own,  
in order to realise a project. For instance, I have co-curated  
exhibitions on behalf of the Banff New Media Institute at the Walter  
Phillips Gallery in Canada, with curators who were both staff and  
guest curatorial fellows there, on thematic concerns or archive-based  
initiatives; I have co-curated exhibitions in smaller 'media- 
specific' venues, such as the Edith Russ Haus in Germany, which in  
addition to having an exhibition programme also supports artists  
through stipends and residencies; I have co-curated exhibitions for  
festival situations, such as AV 08 in Newcastle, which have then gone  
on to tour, beyond the life of the festival, to other partner venues;  
I have commissioned work for mainstream visual arts venues, with and  
without collections, where my project has often been the point of  
first contact for that institution to the world of new media art.

At Eyebeam I am learning what it means to curate within the context  
of a new media lab... or three labs to be more specific: the research  
and development Open Lab, the Production lab, and the Education lab.  
While I am tasked with concrete curatorial outcomes on the Eyebeam  
side of the research partnership, on the CRUMB side I am tasked with  
transfering knowledge as to what it means to be curating new media  
art in or from a lab rather than in the more traditional gallery  

Given this varied experience, of the topic that Empyre hopes to cover  
this month, I think I can speak most intelligently on "how local  
scenarios alters the dynamics of institutionalization, according to  
the predominance of more public oriented models (public grants,  
government support) or, on the other hand, more private oriented ones  

The example I always like to bring up though, which is a sideways one  
from my day-to-day new media art related work, is that of the Star  
and Shadow cinema in Newcastle, of which I am a volunteer/sometime  
programmer. The Star and Shadow was hand-built, by volunteers, with  
donated and recycled materials, in a warehouse building with five  
years left on its 100 year lease. All the programming takes place on  
a wiki at at monthly consensus-based meetings (where sometimes  
proxies attend in place of a remote programmer to explain and discuss  
the proposed programme). The programme is varied - new media artists  
such as Cory Arcangel have performed there alongside the best Hindu  
films you've ever seen screened with live soundtrack. Sometimes the  
audience is 3, sometimes 73, sometimes 203. The venue has an  
exhibition space, a bar and gig-space, a meeting space and 'lab' in  
addition to its 80 seat beautiful cinema (with all forms of  
projection except HD digital). Money made from gigs/event rentals and  
the bar goes to cover necessities like heating and electricity, but  
no one is paid to be there or work there. The Star and Shadow  
functions much like a co-op, but slightly more anarchic -- we are  
always asked if we have a 'volunteer coordinator' but we don't, which  
frustrates a lot of the agencies which seek to place volunteers in  
organisations but want someone to be 'managing' them. We also  
occasionally risk losing relationships with film distributors who get  
annoyed that every time they phone the office someone different  
answers, and every time the courier drops off or picks up a film,  
someone different is at the door. Not having a paid office manager or  
organiser (or print-traffic coordinator) seems to be the most radical  
aspect of our daily workings. At one point the expression "Star and  
Shadow" was shorthand, in funding circles in the north of England,  
for a 'blue sky' idea that might never come to pass, but it has now  
become shorthand for an idea whose economics are outside the box, off  
the chart, somehow other to the norm of public funding, and that  
could be a good thing.

I look forward to discussing more, in relation to what I am learning  
here at Eyebeam also, as I continue to read the introduction and  
notes from others on the list.


> I will stop for now because there are other things that I wish to  
> discuss in more detail, such as sustainability, ecology,  
> collaboration, claiming the cultural interface and more...I will  
> also get back to some of the other questions that Marcus has asked  
> me later. And I also want to respond to other contributions so far :-)

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