The Future of Community Collaboration
CoLab is excited to announce the VTArtWorks Initiative in Art, Technology, and Community-Building, which has been formed to design, construct, and evaluate an online crowdsourced communications hub for grass roots arts-making partnerships collaborating to build democratically healthy, fully inclusive communities. This collaborative consortium was founded by Virginia Tech in order to build a technology platform for cooperative dialog and sharing of work among citizen makers and scholars. Sometimes referenced to as community cultural development (CCD), these practitioners face distinct geographic, social, and technical barriers. This Initiative’s online portal is dedicated to such practitioners’ needs for ready access to knowledge, effective practices, and each other.
The platform will facilitate multi-user collaboration by linking dedicated communication channels and publishing tools with a shared resource library along with a robust digital asset management system in a federated network of related domains of expertise and discussion. The goal is the establishment of a distributed online/offline community of practitioners from all backgrounds and orientations, made collectively more powerful together in their work to grow healthy communities through shared discussion, resources, and ideation.
But more than a mere tool, the Initiative has embarked on creating a groundbreaking platform from the ground-up: by practitioners and for practitioners using an adaptive learning model built upon collaboration across communities, institutions, and individuals. The platform is thus created for and will be made accessible to multiple partners and stakeholders. Currently, this multi-user, multi-institutional consortium comprises Virginia Tech School of the Performing Arts; the University Libraries; the Moss Arts Center; the Institute for Creativity, Art, and Technology; the Talking Band an experimental theatre company in New York City, NY, and Appalshop, a landmark community-based media center and theatre company based in Whitesburg, Kentucky.
The Initiative began out of an extended dialogue starting in late 2013 about documentation, archiving, and communication with many practitioners and networks. This conversation led Virginia Tech to approach CoLab to build a collaborative online creative space where artists and non-artists can engage with their communities and learn through digital media creative projects. Part of the Initiative’s mission is to support the development of emerging cultural hubs, innovation districts, and community projects through the open use of the platform. Ultimately, the goal is to link community arts, creative placemaking, visionary placekeeping, and media publishing with the formation of cultural and economic development hubs around the country as modeled by Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY.
Some of the challenges facing these development goals include: the opportunity for strengthened community vision for economies in transition (e.g. rural Appalachia, rust-belt, and post-coal towns); establishing and improving access to technologies for sustainable economic and cultural development; providing access to forums for civic dialog; finding common cause across boundaries of difference based on issues of race, gender, class, and, finally, geographic isolation of individual communities.
To address these challenges, the Initiative is building online/offline community cultural hubs rooted in civic virtue, open dialog, and shared access to local media resources supported by a multi-stakeholder coalition of aligned partners. Currently, the Initiative is recruiting community activists and citizen journalists to contribute resources to the platform. Dialog is supported by a backend digital asset management system leveraged for publishing and discussion across domains.
On a technical level, this has entailed the leveraging of a unique Hydra-Fedora digital asset system; to meet the needs of this field of practice, CoLab is co-developing a new fork of the Hydra system that plugs directly into a collaborative pattern rooted in collaboration and federated publishing extending the Drupal Islandora build. The system combines for practitioners and citizen arts activists the security of a private collaboration space with co-authoring and public sharing of group-authored works.
From its earliest days, the consortium has been preoccupied with the need for a robust collaborative approach, not only in use but also in its development. To this end, the stakeholder group, originally comprised of more than a dozen committed organizations and institutions across the country, has been open to new collaborations and has been happy to welcome new aligned stakeholders as the project developed. For example, additional support has been received from University Colorado Boulder Media Studies as they explore deeper participation, and a dozen more networks have been added to the list of potential contributors and user groups. So how, exactly, does one approach multi-stakeholder co-operative technology development?
This is the question now at the forefront of CoLab’s work with the consortium. How can we build through our work together a collaborative platform designed for multi-institutional projects ultimately guided by a multi-stakeholder fund of resources? The current participants include Virginia Tech, the Talking Band, University of Colorado Boulder, and the Performing Our Future project, with an open call for other arts and civic institutions with aligned needs to join the fund. The process of deciding features, deliverables, investment priorities, and general expectations has entailed coordinated meetings with dialog around shared needs. As Boulder Media Studies Scholar in Residence Nathan Schneider notes, we’ve all shared an enthusiasm “to use this project as a means of co-creating a commons that would be of benefit to others.” How can we use this project to change the future of collaboration and cooperative technology development?
Summarizing the project, Dudley Cook, artistic director at the Roadside theatre, notes:
At this intersection of aesthetics and social intention, we see an opportunity to support our community’s recovery, and to disseminate a process that can be adapted by disenfranchised communities, both urban and rural, facing circumstances similar to those we are experiencing in Appalachia.
With this platform, CoLab hopes to help fuel a bottom-up movement of collaborative creation by leveraging the assets of technology in order to empower artistic communities.
CoLab is actively expanding this collaboration to include additional community organizations, civic institutions and universities. Please get in touch if you’re an organization, network, administrative unit, institution, or just an individual citizen interested in joining the consortium of collaborators. Likewise, if you’d like to help us address issues in a multi-institutional collaboration within this field of practice, contact us here.