Bridging The Innovation Gap in the Arts

“We look at rapid technological change as a threat, but not a victor. Yet, we know that we still need humans to surprise us, to delight us, and to provide serendipity.” — Prof. Catherine Moore, University of Toronto, Faculty of Music (DASS Keynote Speaker)

When I started thinking about BeMused Network as an arts service organization during a conversation with Jessa Agilo of ArtsPond about a year ago, I proposed casually that we should have an event geared towards such organizations.

After all, if there is any type of arts organization that can benefit the most from our unique experience of building an online platform that specializes in serving Canada’s arts sector, I think it would be them.

An off-handed comment. A new perspective. That’s all it took to plant the seed for the inaugural Digital Arts Service Symposium coming up on Nov 30 and Dec 1 at Heliconian Hall.

Video Produced by Nicholas Li Imagery (

The Human Factor

Many of the “aha” moments in working on BeMused Network stemmed from a human contribution.

When I finally realized I wasn’t trying to build “a website”, but a full-blown web application. When I reached out to other sectors and found supporters outside of the performing arts world. When I met Prof. Catherine Moore, whose practical advice regarding the digital innovation gap in the arts would actually hold water in the business and technology sectors.

What was common among all those experiences was that they were serendipitous. They came about as a surprise. Most importantly, they were realized not (entire) because of technological intervention, but rather of human.

A practical conversation.

I have always known that we needed to have a meaningful conversation in the arts to address our challenges. It wasn’t always clear what it would be about, how it would happen, or to what end.

Sure, we could talk about the challenges and opportunities that technology presents artists and arts organizations of all shapes and sizes. Definitely about the incredible and seemingly insurmountable challenges that we bump against when we try to stretch our already exhausted resources.

It has always been clear to me that the most important conversations need to be about practical approaches to those problems. What was not clear was whether the sector was ready for it.

Making the digital leap.

BeMused Network launched as a practical response to address the complaints of both artists and patrons about online ticketing services. I co-founded the inaugural edition of the Digital Arts Services Symposium (DASS) as a response to provide practical support to empower arts organizations to take the digital leap.

This inaugural edition is the start of a practical conversation. A place where we can be candid about the realities of embarking on digital initiatives, at every scale and for every stage. A place to share what we have learned, and find collaborators and partners.

We are featuring panelists with both feet firmly planted in both the arts and culture as well as the tech world. The talks and workshops are designed to engage those who are embarking on a digital journey and looking for resources and support.

Let’s not be alone together.

The participants will drive the content in many ways. Bring questions, and be courageous enough to ask them. Some questions are tough to ask in a crowd. Bring them to us on the side. No questions are too stupid.

I am familiar with the feeling of being at the periphery of something you want to engage with, and a nagging feeling that you have a unique perspective to contribute, but can’t quite articulate.

I am also pleased to share that when you find others like you in such a state, wonderful and exhilarating things can happen.

Collaborating with ArtsPond and Prof. Catherine Moore in developing this event, as well as meeting the participants at our Ottawa event (in collaboration with CAPACOA), has been one such experience after another.

It has strengthened my resolve in connecting with such wonderful (and modest!) people, if only to get inspired by the work that others are doing, and in time, find ways of working together.

Let’s start with building trust.

Our biggest challenge is actually not technology or innovation. These are red herrings. Our challenge is cultivating trust. Between people and organizations. Across disciplines and sectors.

We need this trust to pursue the big and scary yet important work of embracing technology. Not towards some future where technology replaces us, but a future where we can do the best work that we can not yet imagine.

This is the most common theme that has emerged so far. I hope you will come and meet others like you, and realize that you (we) are not alone in our journeys. Maybe together, we could map out what we need practically to move forward.

Believe me when I say how easily the conversations flow, how freely we share, and how much we learn from each other, when we are driven by a common vision to bridge the innovation gap in the arts.

The Digital Arts Service Symposium is a two day event in Toronto on Nov 30 and Dec 1. If you’re debating whether this is for you, chances are, it actually is. I hope you will join us.

Details and registration at

The inaugural edition of the Digital Arts Services Symposium is made possible with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, CAPACOA, The Heliconian Club, and contributions from ArtsPond and BeMused Network.