Opening the Field

Uploaded by walkerartcenter on 09.06.2010

Sarah Peters: I'm Sarah Peters and I direct Public Programs here at the Walker.
Sarah Schultz: And I'm Sarah Schultz and I'm the Director of Education and Community Programs
here at the Walker. And we want to welcome you all to tonight's program, Opening the
Field. An event which marks and celebrates the beginning of a summer-long invitation
to all of you to invent something with us together.
If you read the Walker blogs at all you may already know that Open Field is a project
that has spent well over a year in incubation and even despite that year, due to the rainy
weather, is still not quite done. But will be complete by early next week. [laughter]
Sarah Peters: [cross-talk] Close, close.
Sarah Schultz: I'd also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge Angus and Margaret Wortle for
their early support and optimism for the project. Without which we would not be here today.
And of course the continued generosity of Target, both for their commitment to supporting
Target free Thursday nights as well as the Open Field project. So what exactly is Open
Open Field is an experiment in imagining a new kind of public space. An attempt to create
a place that is vibrant, interactive, fun, and intentionally fosters a spirit of open,
intellectual, social, and creative exchange among its users. In light of all the cultural
changes we've been experiencing, we felt a really renewed imperative to think about what
it means to create public spaces. And to participate in public life.
The commons, the notion that certain resources are publicly owned and managed for the good
of the whole seemed like an apt metaphor to begin this investigation. We see the commons
as a robust and open ended framework that can inspire all of us to consider the creative
resources we collectively share and produce, what we offer the collective sphere as individuals,
and to reflect on the kinds of public and personal exchanges and interactions we value.
And how they shape us. The field of research and writing about the commons is varied and
What a cultural commons is, how it functions, what it means for a museum, for makers, for
you the public, remain lively arenas of debate. And we certainly have [laughs] many more questions
than we do answers. So for tonight we've pulled together a program that we consider the start
of an ongoing conversation.
Sarah Peters: And in the midst of this project early on we came quickly to the realization
that as museum programmers we couldn't and shouldn't try to make a cultural commons by
ourselves. So we intentionally crafted a project that functions as an open platform that would
allow us to work with artists, colleagues, and you, our audience. So over the summer,
over the course of Open Field, you will find workshops, lectures, and other programs organized
by Walker staff, events curated by partners, residency projects with artists, and activities
brought to the filed by you the public.
So far we have 30 publicly generated programs on the Open Field calendar that range from
a ballet rehearsal to a series of conversations and discussions about the role of a public
intellectual. And we just started. So we look forward, at what is to come. From the beginning
of this project it's been an effort, it's been a real exchange between many people outside
and...outside and inside the Walker. Internally it's been a collective effort. And to name
any one person in that effort would be to shortchange the contributions of all.
So I extend a huge thank you to, for all of our colleagues in the process. And from outside
these walls numerous people have brainstormed with us and provided guidance over the past
year. And I'm happy to introduce tonight two individuals who have been key partners in
the development of not only tonight's program but of Open Field as a whole. Colin Kloecker
and Shanai Matteson work in the collective under the name Works Progress.
Coming from the backgrounds of architecture and design and science, cultural studies,
and museum work respectively, they work with other creative people to conduct research,
design exhibitions, make events, and stir up ideas to get people thinking and talking.
And we're going to welcome them to the stage to explain the format of the evening and to
introduce the rest of tonight's guests. So please welcome Colin and Shanai.
Shanai Matteson : Thank you Sarah and Sarah for inviting us to be part of this event and
to help imagine it. Colin will interrupt me if I start talking and don't stop [laughter]
talking which sometimes happens. We were asked by Sarah and Sarah to help select speakers
for tonight's event. And so we came up with a long list and we narrowed it down in order
to have a series of speakers that are interdisciplinary and that are approaching this idea of Open
Field and the cultural comments from various perspectives.
And so we're really excited to have them presenting. They'll give short 10 minute presentations,
we'll break it up in the middle with a little activity that we hope will get you guys talking
to one another and then at the end we have a Q and A that is a little bit different,
maybe than the Q and A that you would expect at something like this.
Is there anything else you want to say about the program?
Colin Kloecker: Yeah, we've also got a couple activities. You might have noticed the big
map of the commons made out of felt. That's something that we really hope you guys will
get involved with and add to edit. We're really looking for your ideas for what kinds of things
might happen out in the Open Field. Also maybe I see some of them out there, you guys are
wearing these name tags. And we hope that you'll use these as an excuse to get out and
just kind of talk to each other. And meet each other.
Shanai: And those name tags as well as the idea that inspired the game that we'll play
in the middle come from an event that a number of Works Progress folks produce called Give
and Take. And a see a number of you. How many of you have been to Give and Take, I'm just
curious? Yeah, so you guys will know how [laughter] this works, and then our host is here also.
So thanks. So let's just get on with introducing tonight's speakers.
As I said there'll be five of them. And they each come from, they all have a really interesting
background. And you can read a really full description of them in the program. We're
going to do just the really quick description. Because it's going to be a full evening. We'll
start out tonight with Michael Edson who is the Director of Web and New Media Strategy
at the Smithsonian Institution. And he's going to be talking about museums and digital commons.
Laura Musacchio is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department
of Landscape Architecture.
And she's going to be talking about the role that space plays in commons. So making space
for commons. Sumanth Gopinath is going to be talking about mobile music and the ringtone
industry. He's an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Minnesota School
of Music.
Colin: Caroline Willard is an artist and cofounder of Our Goods. She'll be talking about exchange
in the commons. John Ipalito is an artist curator and co-founder of the Stillwater Program
for Network, Art, and Culture at the University of Maine. He'll be talking about tools for
a healthy commons.
Shanai: And then like I said afterwards we'll have a Q and A and then we're going to all
have a chance to go out into the museum and meet one another on a more [laughs] face to
face basis and share a drink and dance. So stick around for that. I think we'll get started.
Michael, are you ready?
Michael: I am ready.
Shanai: Thank you all for coming.
Colin: Let's welcome Michael.
Michael: I'm Michael Edson. I'm the Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian
Institution. And I'm leading a project, a new project, called the Smithsonian Commons.
Which is probably why I'm here today. My job this evening as the first speaker is to establish
some givens. Or make some assertions about what a digital commons might be. Think of
me as DJ Mikey Mike. [laughter] I'm going to lay down a rhythm track for the def jam
to follow. That sounded as terrible [laughter] coming out of my mouth as I thought it would!
And I'm going to open up a torrent of ideas on you right now. And don't worry if you can't
keep up, there's a hyperlink in the program for today. I'm also online, all these slides,
talks, footnotes, the whole bit. And more information about commons starting at
So I grew up in this place. Washington, D.C. I was into art and science, and the Smithsonian
was pretty much the coolest thing in town. I could take a bus downtown and just walk
in and out of free museums all day long. Letting my curiosity take me anyplace it wanted to
In some ways you could say that I came of age at the Smithsonian. That is, I became
an independent young adult. The world's largest museum and research complex, the Smithsonian
Institution, modeled my understanding of what it was to be an adult. And explore the world.
It's good to learn, to research and inquire, to ask questions, to draw people into conversation.
To provoke and sometimes disrupt when necessary. To create. In short, to engage as an active
participant in the world of ideas.
I grew up in a city in a country that valued these things and that chose to express those
values by building and maintaining with the best tools it had available to it in the 18th
and 19th and 20th centuries. A complex of buildings and staff and collections and experts
and bureaucrats for manufacturing knowledge and spreading learning to a grateful and attentive
public, and it was good.
It made me the citizen I am today in many ways. But, all of this happened 30 years ago
before the worldwide web.
The Smithsonian has a new five year strategic plan that articulates four grand challenges.
Unlocking the mysteries of the universe....
Shanai: [laughs]
Michael: Thank you for laughing at that.
Michael: ...understanding and sustaining a bio-diverse planet, valuing world cultures
and understanding the American experience. That's not a very bad check list for five
years of work. I love this strategy. I love this strategy because it talks about doing
difficult audacious, important work in society, work that may be no other institution can
do, work that matters.
But from where we stand now, 2010 deep in the heart of this wonderful, rich, disruptive
digital age, the crazy new logic of technology raises certain first order questions about
how we're going to work on these grand challenges. Where is work going to take place? What kinds
of organization, platforms, infrastructure will be needed to do this work? What is the
organizational change model?
How do we get from being a 19th and 20th century organization to being a 21st century organization?
Who will be the innovators? Who will be the connectors? Who will be the drivers of change?
And ultimately, who will be the beneficiaries?
The tools of the last century are going to be important to us moving forward, but with
every plot twist in the story, every romance, love scene and mystery, I find myself returning
to the idea of a commons. So what is a commons? What is a digital commons? Abstractly, you
could say that the commons is a set of resources maintained in the public sphere for the use
and benefit of everyone.
Typically, a commons get created when a property owner decides to given set of resources, graphs
for grazing sheep, forest for parkland, software, and patents. A given set of resources would
be more valuable if freely shared than if restricted in the law and in the way we understand
the world works.
We recognize that no idea stands alone, and that all ideas are built on the8 knowledge
and innovation and ideas of others. When creators, educators, scientist, entrepreneurs, business
people, when everyone has access to the raw materials of knowledge, innovation flourishes.
Conversely, unnecessarily restricted content is a barrier to innovation. This is the anti-commons,
a thicket of difficulties. If you can't find an idea, if you can't ascertain its context,
if you can't use your social network, however you define that, four to expand on the idea
or find out more about it, if you can't get legal permission to take that idea and build
it into a new idea, then knowledge and innovation suffer.
Unnecessarily restricted content is like a virus that spreads through the Internet making
the intellectual property provenance of each generation of new ideas, the scaffolding of
our culture, less and less clear, less and less strong with every generation.
I like to think of a commons as a kind of workshop where the raw materials of knowledge
can be found and assembled into new things. Or if you need to build a commons, which I
do, you might think a commons as a kind of gumbo made up of 12 spicy ingredients. So
think of the next few minutes as a cooking show with me as your perky, reliable host
explaining what you could get from a mix of these 12 different ingredients.
Federated, a commons, brings things together that would ordinarily be separate. The Smithsonian
Collection Search Center brings together over 4.2 million records from 23 separate Smithsonian
databases. A commons is designed for you, not me, you. Software developer and social
media thought leader Cathy Sierra says that every users is a hero in their own epic journey.
The job of the Smithsonian Commons isn't for us to brag about the great work we do, it's
to help you succeed in your life long learning journeys.
Findable, doesn't do much good to have a bunch of stuff in a commons if you can't find it.
The crowd-sourced stock photo site, iStockphoto makes it a joy to find things. It's better
findability than any museum, library or archive site I know. The Tool Vender make master card
a close second and they are links to all of these in this paper up online.
Shareable, the whole purpose of putting resources into a commons is so that they can be spread,
so they could share. If it doesn't share it isn't there. A commons is shareable by default.
On the Brooklyn Museums website, sharing is built right in to the platform.
Intellectual Property Policies in a common are uniform and clearly stated. So users know,
in advanced, without having to call your museum's rights and reproductions department, what
they can and can't do with the content there. On Flickr, the copyright and permissions for
every photograph are stated clearly on every page.
"Free, free resources are crucial to innovation and creativity, " says creative commons founder
Lawrence Lessig. Free, findable and shareable form a particularly powerful combination.
The Internet archive website says on their home page that, "Like a paper library, we
provide free access." Sometimes people need a lot of something or all of something to
solve a problem.
On the Powerhouse Museum's website, you can download their entire collection database
with one click and sometimes you need to be able to write a program to work with data,
particularly when you've got a lot of it.
The information in the commons needs to be understandable to computer programs, machine
readable. is designed to encourage digital mashups across the federal government
through machine readable formats. A commons should make available, I'm going to slow that
one down because this is a biggie.
Ingredient number nine, a commons should make available for free, the highest quality, highest
resolution resource possible. On NASA's website, you can download photographs so big that you
can see how individual grains on Martian soil were compacted and parted by the Mars rovers.
The poultry images on most museum websites thwart the efforts of researchers and art
lovers and enthusiasts and undermine our attempts to let the drama and importance of our collections
shine through.
Ingredient 10, because are free and high quality and sharing and reuse are encouraged, new
kinds of collaborative work can take place. New kinds of collaborative work are taking
place right under our noses without needing to involve lawyers or contracts or bureaucrats.
This is fast, agile work.
Clay Shirky says, author Clay Shirky in "Here Comes Everybody" says, "We're living in the
middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another and
to take collective action all outside the framework of traditional institutions and
organizations, like mine. Getting the free and ready participation of a large distributed
group with a variety of skills has gone from impossible to simple.
Ingredient 10, collaboration without control is exemplified by MIT Open Course ware, some
wonderful case studies on that website.
Eleven, network effect. In a commons design with network effects in mind, you get a virtuous
cycle. The more the resources are used, the better they become. The better the resources
become, the more people use them. It's like a self-scooping ice cream cone. Over 180,000
people have added map data for free to the Open Street Map project. And those contributions
have created an incredibly powerful resource that can be reused, used by anyone, for free.
Open Street Maps.
The public domain. Ingredient 12. The public domain is important. James Boyle writes that:"The
public domain is not some gummy residue left behind when all the good stuff has been covered
by property law. The public domain is the place where we quarry the building blocks
of our culture."
Now after stirring this gumbo around for a couple months, tasting it, I think it needs
a 13th ingredient. And I think that 13th ingredient is trust. "Wired" magazine founding editor
Kevin Kelly said, "The network economy is founded on technology but can only be built
on relation to--it was also founded on beer by the way. [laughter] The network economy
is founded on technology but can only be built on relationships. It starts with chips and
it ends with trust."
The Smithsonian is in the forever business. By putting something in the Smithsonian Commons,
if it's a cultural treasure, a fossil of a bug, a folk song, or a community. We're asking
people to trust us. We're not going to scam you, we're not going to take advantage of
your personal information. We're not going to violate your privacy. We're going to be
honest about what we do and don't know, we're going to be open t new ideas, we're going
to be open to new points of view. We're going to help each other figure out the world.
And these promises are good forever. There really aren't many other organizations, kinds
of groups in the world other than museums and archives and libraries who can make these
kinds of forever promises. And we take that responsibility very seriously. We're just
getting started understanding what the Smithsonian Commons is going to look like. And to help
people understand it in a visceral way. We decided to build a series of prototypes. Four
prototypes that show what this finished Smithsonian Commons might look like as seen through the
eyes of our users. The people we care about.
The four stories are seen through the eyes of a visitor, a fourth grade teacher, a millennial
digital native who's mostly seeing our content out in the Web, out in the wild, and the last
story is about a citizen scientist. Let me play you the short story so you can see what
the finished Smithsonian Commons might look like. As seen through the eyes of this astronomer.
Amateur astronomer.
Shanai: Vast, findable, shareable, free. The Smithsonian Commons.
Michael: A third of Smithsonian web visitors identify themselves as enthusiasts. Lovers
of art, nature, science, and history. This story shows how the Smithsonian Commons helps
enthusiasts and citizen researchers to find and engage with Smithsonian resources.
Colin: I work as an electrician by day but I'm an amateur astronomer by night. I keep
track of a lot of astronomy resources on the Internet and I have a blog where I keep in
touch with friends and share what I'm working on. Every year I give a talk about astronomy
at my kid's school. And this year I'm making them a web mash up that links the sky chart
into photos and videos that explain celestial features. I've met a lot of great people through
astronomy. And I want to contribute something back to the community.
Michael: These are real people. [Man 1's voice goes back and forth between real-time and
his voice on the recording.]
This amateur astronomer uses his phone to subscribe to a number of astronomy related
RSS feeds. This one is from the Smithsonian Commons. He's notified that there's a new
picture in the Commons from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-Ray
Telescope. On the Smithsonian Commons he sees the image in the context of the whole Smithsonian.
With links to deeper information.
It's real information on our websites. Related topics. Those are the kind of faceted searches
you might see related to astronomy. Recommendations including related exhibitions. It's a real
exhibit. Interviews with staff experts. A real interview. And e-commerce opportunities.
Real tschotskes. [laughter]
Communities. Real comments. Made up shared items. And opportunities to participate and
get involved. You can control the Smithsonian Telescope through the web. Who knew? Follow,
add to the subject, ask an expert, find an astronomy club near you. There's my telescope.
The image and associated images are available in high resolution. It's a dramatic example of high res.
And because he can clearly see the sharing rights associated with this picture he knows
that he has permission to modify, adapt, or incorporate this image into new works. We're
giving permission right up front. He uses sharing tools to....don't laugh! Embed the
photo in his own blog. If you've never done that before it's magic! [laughter] But that's
how it works! Like many websites the Smithsonian Commons provides and application programming
interface. Or API that lets him automatically link Smithsonian images to the star chart
mash up he's making for his children's' school.
So who knew you could do a mash up from Google Sky? You can. It's a real website we found
using Smithsonian stuff. Done by amateurs. It's like Google Maps for space aliens. [laughter]
This is our amateur astronomer's home page on the Smithsonian Commons. He's personalized
it to help him keep track of what he likes and what he's done. He's an avid Smithsonian
Commons user with a strong reputation in the community.
And his input broadens the reach and impact of the Smithsonian's primary resources and
expertise. The Smithsonian Commons is free to use and join. Yay! But by creating a unique
and compelling resource the Commons encourages repeat visits which should result in increased
donations, purchases, and sponsorship revenue over time. He's sponsoring a number of projects,
he's a member. How courteous of us to tell him.
By encouraging the use of Smithsonian data beyond the walls of the institution and by
embracing the energy and intelligence of our visitors the Smithsonian Commons creates a
virtuous cycle of interaction and learning. I'll finish by saying if this kind of stuff
interests you, this prototype and the other three will, with any luck, be available online
Monday sometime: If this stuff moves you, if you like it, if you hate
it, let us know. Thanks.
[Whispers] Go ahead. [laughter]
Laura Musacchio: OK. Hi, I'm Laura Musacchio. It's a real pleasure to be here this afternoon.
As Colin mentioned I'm with the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University
of Minnesota. And the kind of comments I look at are different than the other speaker. My...actually
look at places where people live and dwell. And what I'll be showing you today are some
slides that, I do quite a bit of photography. And so I'll be reading, I guess you could
call it a visual essay.
My role is that I'm an Urban Landscape Ecologist and Ecological Designer. I have background
in both. So for me the world in art and science are deeply unified. They always have been.
And so I use photography a lot to understand the landscape. And so one of the most important
things about the Open Field is that I want to communicate to you, is that it is a metaphor.
But it's also a frame for understanding the collective.
And that could mean thinking, mental constructions, and things like that. The metaphor of the
Open Field has strong cultural saliency in Minnesota. And the Open Field as a collective
commons has visual manifestations throughout our metropolitan region. I do look at metropolitan
regions a lot. And the Open Field helps to visually define our collective mental ideas,
attitudes, and perceptions in values of the commons. What's very important is that the
commons in our metropolitan regions are overlaps between public and private spaces and places.
And the key words to keep in mind include ideas like common land, park, green, and commonality.
And in many ways, there's a lot of things going on here. They are complex spaces with
a lot of values and actually take a lot of time to unpack, to understand them. And so,
today I'm going to show you some of my photographs trying to reveal some relationships and connections
about the open field through a visual sequence and from my photographs, from Minnesota, Chicago
and Germany.
And I'm particularly a keep observer of human nature interactions and landscapes, and my
photography visually documents and filters key landscape features that capture my attention
from my perspective as an urban landscape ecologist and ecological designer.
The spaces that I'll show you today have been "designed" by regular people and professional
designers. And one of the things that I want you to think about when we're trying to define
these spaces is what is the shared sense of values that are driving the emergence of the
design? Whose values? How are they changing, and how do other types of non-human species
fit into all of this too?
Because the places we design are not only for us but other living creatures. We often
don't see them, they may be very vicarious experiences, but they live there. There is
also all the plants that live there that we have grown to appreciate or maybe not appreciate
as much or as fully.
So one of the big themes I want to talk about today is this idea of the commons from rural
to urban, but also how we have typically separated them out in terms of our urban planning, but
also in our conceptions of urban life. But how that is changing a lot where they are
really this inner, you could almost say, mashing up rural and urban and that this where they
exist isn't so easy to delineate anymore. And I actually think it's a good thing for
our understanding of urban nature.
So one of the things to think about the open field metaphor is that it's deeply rooted
in ideas of agrarianism in the cultural commons in the Midwest. And when we think about the
Midwest we think a lot about the family farm. This is out in the Minnesota river valley,
but also the key landscape feature there is the family farm and the farmstead.
And so you could see here the field is a very dominant visual element surrounding this small
family farm. But when you begin to see that in the urbanizing world is that we leave behind
this idea of the open field where the open field actually becomes an equivalent of a
401K for a farmers retirement, and that we actually retired the open field to suburban
This is Gibbs Farm in St. Paul where it's like a little boutique farm museum. That's
how we get to know the open field, or it may be a road side curiosity. This is out in Scott
County. You can get your farm produce here on a Sunday weekend but this is probably the
one reminder people have of the open field experience in their weekly life. And probably
the best open field people know in their suburban/urban lives is their front lawn. It's neatly manicured,
it also says something about us, is that in the open field, that neatness matters.
Especially when we drive by people's homes that this neatness matters to be perceived
of who is a good citizen and who is not. And there is actually a good example on the news
yesterday where someone who lived in Minneapolis had their ecological lawn. I guess it was
too tall, was greater than eight inches, it was moved down by the city of Minneapolis.
So we can see that this idea is very powerful, cultural salience, and the important thing
to realize is that our idea of open field goes into this public space too. This is a
field in the city of Chicago, it's where we play. So there's some very good ways that
we shape our collective values of how we live as citizens through team sports.
Also, we have the idea of open spaces in our parks. Here is, in Loring Park, a little bit
less manicured area, but we have to realize that these aspects of the open field help
with mitigating urban heat island, provide social space for dense populations living
in center cities, and also create a variety of habitats for nature appreciation and education.
But these are the kinds of models we've lived with for decades in the open field. It's either
a park or your lawn or it's a farm outside of the city, but this really is starting to
It's also this gentle balance or maybe not so gentle balance between managing open spaces
as cultural commons require careful interpretation of how individual independence and self-expression
intersects with preservation of public values and benefits. This is a real place, it's in
Scott County, it's actually a site that was a controversial subdivision in a trout stream
that feeds into the Minnesota River.
I thought the developer had a funny sense of humor. I don't know if it was related to
this development but it certainly marked the whole discussion about development in suburbia
and the important thing to realize is that this issue, the commons and what happens is
based on the signs we display.
I love going to the city of Chicago and their parks, because they love to put up these signs
that are very much like tell you what you can and cannot do. Like well, you know you're
not supposed to dump in this park. This one says, no open containers of any type, this
is a safe park. It's really saying what should or should not go on in this commons.
Here's another one, don't feed the animals, and because it attracts very undesirable species,
and so it's important to realize is that nature can be marginalized in these instances. But
as we know, with the whole, I guess you'd say trend and urban chickens and bees and
all these different things that our notion of what animals belong in the city and what
don't is changing again.
And it comes back to how we frame our public values about the open field that often extend
back to our private space of our lawns and it's important to realize is that our ideas
about the cultural commons are changing and that this is a sign in a community garden
in Chicago called The Water School. It's actually behind the community bulletin board, I think.
They like, they have all of these fun little handmade signs and I think this is one idea
is to say that we do need more wisdom about our relationship to urban nature. And here's
another more official looking sign within the Chicago City Parks of that is saying that
maybe nature can occur but also to make sure that the crews don't mow down their restorations.
And it makes us think about this connection to our legacy of the open field, the prairie
ecosystems and the human cultures who have lived here long, long before ours, and who
are still here trying to reclaim their heritage. And one is that you can see extensions of
this influence in our own restorations.
Like this Coastal Dune restoration at Montrose Point off of Lake Michigan in the city of
Chicago. You can also see this in a remnant black-land prairie that's been restored recently
on the edges of Chicago near an edge city. You can also see it in the open field or meadow
at the fields of Saint Croix.
We really do like meadows, and they are such a dominant element when you begin looking,
and they're right in front of us but I think they're right under our noses and we haven't
noticed them. We also can see it at the Prairie and Savanna Restoration at the Bruce Vento
Nature Sanctuary, just east of downtown St. Paul. And what you begin seeing is that these
alternative types of commons are actually places that people are wanting to seek out
for a broader range of human nature experiences.
Of course people want a play sports in the park or enjoy a stroll, but it's also saying
we want to experience other species and whether they're plants or animals to broaden our understanding.
And this is especially true in places where people usually think there's no nature like
in center cities. We're also beginning to realize urban nature can mean understanding
where our food comes from.
This is the city farm in Chicago, it's just north of the gold coast north of downtown,
and I just love this juxtaposition of new urban development with some of their well
known skyscrapers, because it begins asking a lot of questions about where our food comes
from. And it raises questions like, does agrarianism have to be isolated to the urban edge? Or
can agrarianism can be intermingled deep into the center city?
New interpretations of the cultural commons are providing answers. This is another view
of city farm, I liked it because it was budding right against this new contemporary looking
building, and so it begins asking questions. So are we going retro-rural? Here is, typically,
where we think of more agrarian type place, its appropriate place in a commons. It's at
the edge, like at a conservation subdivision.
But then you get examples like this of the community peace garden in the Seward Neighborhood
of Minneapolis. Rural is popping up in places deep in the center city and the question is
why? Why do people want this? Is it urban nature? Is it bio-cultural diversity? It's
also popping up in our cafes and where we eat and how we think about things.
It's a different aesthetic but it's a whole interesting way of thinking of things. It's
calling back, to the Dowling Garden to the Victory Garden tradition and saying, "What
role do these small places have in our understanding of ourselves but also of nature?"
And it gets back to a central point in the commons, is that the open field only works
if we each, individually understand that these spaces work best based on some sort of self-restraint
and moderation from overuse and allowing nature in these spaces and places to rest and renew.
This is a slide of a pipe draining water into the Minnesota River Valley.
There's many pipes into the Minnesota River Valley and the refuge there but it gets you
to think about our own individual contributions and us to think more holistically about our
human nature interactions, but also the role that each of us plays in life and allows personal
space and renewal of the cultural commons for future generations and other non-human
This is a view on my, that I took of a, it's a small architectural feasibility at a museum
in Germany called Insel Hombroich. It's in the rural river valley, but it's very beautiful
because I like... It's a view from inside a building looking at a culture nature with
the backdrop of, I guess you could say, a wilder aesthetic in this juxtaposition.
And I think it's a very apt metaphor for how we are supposed to think about our human nature
interactions. Is it really a cut and dry of rural and urban in particular places, or is
it better for us as a species and other species for these things to intermingle? Because ultimately,
we're looking for our own personal growth, but also growth of nature, and to think about
how we can rejuvenate and also think about our creativity in creating new forms of urban
So thank you very much and we'll move on to the next speaker.
Sumanth Gopinath: All right, here we go, yes. Hi everybody, I'm Sumanth Gopinath. I teach
in the School of Music in the University of Minnesota. And this next talk is just called,
"Digital Information: The Commons and Property Right: A Warning," is a project that comes
out of or is a meditation or reflection of a book that I'm writing on the global cell
phone ring tone industry, and so it sort of takes the other half of the Commons; the less
pleasant half of it's history which is about the enclosure, and really tries to at least
start thinking about that thing.
The images that show while I'm talking are semi-coordinated with what I'm talking about
but not entirely but they tend to draw from some of the things I've been thinking about
vis-a-vis ring tones and digital music, so you may catch some of the references in there
while I'm giving this little talk here.
All right, within the context of a self-avowedly liberal society, it is easy to take the fact
of ownership rights for granted. Aren't the locked in natural rights of life, liberty
and property mystified in the US context as the pursuit of happiness, thanks to Jefferson,
the essential tenets of such a political order, as conservatives love to point out?
And yet, the extensive social impact of an access-based model, with respect to the use
of digital information, has progressively crept into the mundane habits of billions
of Internet and communications network users all over the world, including over 230 million
Internet users in the United States alone, as of 2008, according to the World Bank and
over four billion mobile phone subscribers globally.
The most collective aspects of this practice, increasingly apparent over the last two decades,
would seem to signify a radical possibility of a new digital commons or even John Barlow's
Dot-Communism, through a decline of ownership practices as a result of the reproduce-ability
of digital information.
Although visions of a digital commons based on an increasing collectivization of data
usage are attractive to Marxists like myself, it seems that reality and ideal are confused
all too frequently. Hence, in this talk, in contrast to the generally optimistic tone
taken in discourse on the digital I'd like to ring out a modest warning about the digital
commons. And to advocate, perhaps paradoxically, for individualized forms of property possession.
The notion of the commons isn't frequently associated with that of individual property
ownership. Precisely because the two stem from entirely different conceptions of ownership.
One being at heart individual and the other collective. And yet, both arguably depend
on the privileged presence of what Marx famously called "use value over the role of exchange
value." In the case of individual ownership, outside of the workplace by and large the
scene of the marketplace is merely one brief moment in the life of a commodity that is
typically used to reproduce the labor power of the worker-consumer.
Though of course the principle of ownership leads to the possibility in theory of the
creation, circulation, and accumulation of capital. Particularly in the case of small
business owners or individual proprietors. The most significant capital transactions
in contrast, especially today, take not as a result of individual ownership but
of the collective ownership of stock holding.
Likewise, a commons by its very definition is a commonly owned--or better, un-owned--resource
that is accessed collectively and openly. Its very basis exists in its utility, its
usefulness, and the availability of that utility. As Marx put it, "The usefulness of a thing
makes its use value. But this usefulness does not dangle in midair." End quote.
This is even true of information: that precious and highly mutable entity that serves in digital
form as a primary class of commodities within the global economy today. For while information
itself would seem to dangle in midair, particularly when conveyed by the telecommunications network,
its use value is only realized in use or consumption, in Marx's words.
Which is to say that its material effects as image, sound, executable code, et cetera,
are plainly evident. Such as when you play back a downloaded music file or a ring tone.
The material and effect of information are of course highly valuable. For if it is the
case that use values generate exchange values, the magnitude of that utility, judging from
trade figures, is astonishing.
Already in 2007, global trade and information in communication technology, ICT goods, that's
total exports and imports, was worth 3.7 trillion dollars US, according to the OECD. Which doesn't
even account for domestic consumption of such goods. The magnitude of this value is inseparable
from the progressive expansion of capital accumulation across the globe.
And from the fact that this expansion has been made possible by the pervasiveness of
information commodities. Emmanuel Wallestein's dictum that, quote, "The historical development
of capitalism has involved the thrust towards the commodification of everything, " unquote,
rings true here with the added possibility that the leading edge status of ICTs suggest
a more limited corollary in the tendency towards the informatization of everything.
And yet the condition of information as a commodity poses a unique problem for the exchange
process. In that digital information is very easily reproducible. With the marginal cost
of reproduction tending to almost nothing. Limited only by computation time and energy
expenditure in distribution. What this does in practice is to create the possibility of
digital information serving as what Eleanor Ostrum calls a highly non-subtractive form
of commons.
Rather different from the traditionally subtractive forms of commons like water, land, forests,
fisheries, et cetera, whose use can quickly lead to their depletion. However, the same
fact also makes productive capital accumulation based on the production process far less profitable
than the rents derived from privileged access to the information resource.
Especially when that access is made use of as in the case of a monopoly. The danger for
information capitalism is that without controlling the scarcity of this information, very little
in terms of either monopoly rent or productive capital accumulation can be guaranteed without
introducing forms of access control over that information.
For free software advocates of the world like Richard Solomon this is a powerful aspect
of information. One that can be used to produce a more egalitarian world. For content owning
firms such as the big media conglomerates this feature of information is to be battled
at all costs lest free exchange and piracy run them out of business, or so they claim.
The story here is well known to US consumers and news readers. It is one of MP3 and YouTube
video sharing lawsuits, of digital rights management/DRM protection schemes, of walled
gardens through limited Internet access via mobile telephones. A story in which time and
time again intellectual property right control was visited upon the digital information commodity.
The conflict explains why it can be such a pain to extract video from DVD's?
Why, in 2009, you couldn't burn more than seven copies of the same iTunes playlist if
it included a AAC file purchased via iTunes? And, why for a long time, people paid $200
to $300 extra for ringtones representing fewer than 20% of the same sound file from which
they were derived?
For precisely the same reason, it is why hackers and consumers have largely devised ways of
working around these DRM schemes and limited access portals, leading to their failure in
many cases, spectacularly so in MP3 sales.
The impasse depicted here, coming to head in the mid 2000's, has led to a kind of a
third way solution, one that squares the circle of free culture and monopoly rent through
access based services, in which content is no longer owned by users but merely leased
to streamed to them, which amounts to a variation of the rent that I mentioned earlier.
Although one might call this a [commons] of content, and some have, it seems not to function
exactly in this way; the proverbial devil being in the details. A media conglomerate
solution to content delivery has long been in the works and has existed under a number
of different guises.
In the late 1980's, Vincent Mosco described it as a pay-per society, evocative of content
delivery schemes like pay-per-view or pay-per-minute telephone use. And he used the notion to make
an early attempt at theorizing neo-liberal capitalism and it's negative impact on state
regulation of public services.
By the mid 1990's, a new term within the media industry began to take hold: the celestial
Juke box. Articulated by Paul Goldstein in 1994, and transformed into a corporate catch
phrase by the early 200's.
As Patrick Burkart and Tom McCourt describe it, the celestial juke box is "a toll booth
into a web of privately owned and operated networks, where traffic and intellectual property
is carefully monitored and controlled, a wall garden of closed networks with restricted
access and tightly circumscribed activities". The key to this model is subscription instead
of sales, and streaming instead of downloading, though the difference is something of a fiction.
In the case of digital music, it is worth nothing that although DRM has been removed
from almost all compact discs and most digital audio sales, including iTunes, subscription
services like those of Rhapsody, Kazaa and others still include DRM as part of "all you
can eat streaming access models" that effectively prevent you from archiving your music.
In a rather different example, library subscriptions to academic journals have likewise prevented
i-libraries from archiving journals, leading to potential problems of access, particularly
when servers are down or if libraries stop paying subscription fees.
In these cases, I would argue that the most important issue here isn't the success or
failure of such services. Much more crucial is that a new set of media habits is being
formed; habits that favor instant access and the perception of permanence, thereby eliminating
perceived needs for ownership of digital files.
The most recent reincarnation of this kind of conceptualization would appear to be the
so called cloud computing model. Cloud computing, conceptually dating back to the 1960's, but
only recently getting traction as a business model, essentially imagines all major computing
services to take place off site via the Internet or the cloud instead of happening on your
own computer.
Oh..oops! Let's get there. The information access concept of the celestial juke box is
retained, and essentially all computing information and software are to be located in the cloud.
As media evangelist Peter Fingar writes in his book "Dot.Cloud, " the model of the new
perfectly globalized and collaborative business system will be "one shared world, one shared
computer, one shared information base".
The rhetoric around the cloud computing is eerily reminiscent of discourse on the digital
comments. To quote a book, serving as a mouth piece of Google, one of the major advocates
of cloud computing: "The cloud is a controversial buzz word that still frightens some companies,
especially large operations that want, need or think they need full control over their
They worry that if the provider company goes belly up, their data may disappear along with
the provider. There could be hackers, and what if the system goes down at a critical
time for their business? They wonder if their intellectual property or proprietary information
is safe online."
They critique of fears of hackers, control and, implicitly, trust, places firms like
Google in a vanguardist position, leading capitalism into a post recessionary future.
However, the issue of user habits are still crucial here. Web based email programs like
Gmail, online photo albums services like Flickr or Google's Picasa and other sites are examples
of cloud computing in practice to which users have already been habituated.
Such file storage and management systems are far less dependent on single computer terminals
owned and used by single individuals but through users' accounts still track user information
to customize advertising.
More disturbingly, data uploaded to the cloud is typically not subjected to the Fourth Amendment's
Search and Seizure protections. Indeed, in compiling an unprecedented degree of user
data and by working directly with Servient's technology firms and on-site federal intelligence
officials Google itself would appear to be at the epicenter of a massive transformation
of corporate and state security surveillance,the consequences of which are both profound and
difficult to foresee. Companies like Google therefore seem to offer the image of a pseudo
commons to Internet users in the digital world.
That image recalls Nike Dire Witherford's claim that light of the structural
failures of neo-liberal policies, capital good quote, "turned to a plan B in which limited
versions of commons, pollution trading schemes, community development, open source and file
sharing practices are introduced as subordinate aspects of a capitalist economy. Where voluntary
cooperation subsidizes profit. One can think here of how Web 2.0 re-appropriates many of
the innovations of radical digital activists and converts them into a source of rent."
Indeed, with the rise of the trademarked Digital Commons hosting platform system, which is
licensed by the Berkeley Electronic Press and used by universities and other institutions
for publication archiving purposes, as well as the proliferation of the university based
Digital and Media commons, which are typically limited to fee paying and/or employee university
community members....
The very concept of the digital commons appears to be one of those re-appropriations. But
if, as part of what James Boyle describes as the second enclosure movement, this very
rhetorical moves signals the temporary defeat of the alter-globalization and radical hacker
movements that claimed the language of the commons, perhaps they would for ownership.
Or at least for a form of unalienable absolute possessions of digital wares would provide
a strategic ballast against the proprietary control of large swaths of information by
apparently benevolent corporations and institutions.
Thus, while still dangling in midair the information commodities consumption might thereby be placed
more solidly on common ground.
Thank you.
Caroline Woolard: Hi, I'm Caroline. And I'm just going to start by showing you a video.
This is a project that I did with a bunch of people earlier this year. It should start.
OK. So, trade school was 35 days of classes. [music] And every night we'd have one or two
classes on anything ranging from grant writing to crochet to singing in rounds. And the class
would be paid for with barter items. So the teacher just says whatever they want in exchange
for their classroom students.
It could be anything from a letter to a stranger, to local vegetables. And it's been [laughs]
35 days straight! So now it's over.
Woman 1: There were also classes on how to compost. Demystifying caviar. And portraiture.
For 35 days, over 800 people crammed into a narrow storefront on the Lower East Side
to take those classes. It was a temporary space, basically a glorified hallway. Inside,
people traded skills and knowledge but money never changed hands.
Man 1: I think barter based education is awesome. I'd love for there to be more of it.
Man 2: I really appreciate the idea that we can share each other's skills.
Man 3: It seems like a lot of people come and they bring their ideas and then you get
to take from it, and not everything is about paying for stuff. If you've got something
to offer and someone else has something to offer it's easier to just trade it.
Man 4: I think it's really diverse. Everybody gets to talk and even the teachers learn some
Man 5: Yeah, I would definitely go again. I think it's something that should be done
more often.
Woman 2: You invest your time and talent and you get theirs.
Man 5: I would definitely come again. I'm here tonight for the composting class and
actually several other classes that I wanted to come to were all booked so I'd definitely
be interested in coming back in. I think bartering and exchange idea is a really interesting
idea to explore.
Woman 3: The idea of trade school and everyone coming together and working for a common goal
to bring ourselves, individually, to another level is what learning and education is all
Caroline: So now we're going to do another experiment. A bunch of you have laser pointers
so if you could just dim the lights. If you have a laser pointer could you draw a circle
on the screen? OK, so I've never done this before but I'm really excited about the potential
for us to model the Internet without Internet and to visualize the kind of energy we all
So we're not online but we're all on the screen and now could you guys draw a circle together?
One circle. Let's try, you can do it, you can do it. Choose your point, choose your
point. Maybe if you stand still you could all make a circle. Just try and just choose
one point and go next to each other.
I know you can do it, I know you can do it. Stand your ground, move over a little. Guys,
you can do it! OK maybe one big circle. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! OK, it's a good beginning,
I think that, it's a good beginning, give yourselves a round of applause.
Oh, the smiley face, this is going to be step two. You guys right there, wow, this is great.
You almost made the step two smiley face, wow. OK, well, I think this will be a class
in trade school if we do it again. OK, now we'll go to the slide show. Feel free to keep
drawing, you can draw while I show slides.
OK, can you... Yeah, I'll just, while he's loading that I'll just say, I think hearing
everyone speak so far, I think it's been amazing to hear all of this but the question that
comes to me is what can I do?
So I started, I need to refresh this actually. I'm part of a group that started a website
for artist to barter with each other. Just refresh.
Man 6: Yeah, it's good, OK, there we go. No, no.
Caroline: It's OK, it's the Internet. You can just tap...
Man 6: Yeah.
Caroline: And then tap forward, I bet. Oh, maybe I'll type it in.
Man 6: OK.
Caroline: OK. There we go. OK, OK, so here we are, I'm Caroline Woolard and I'm a co-founder
of the website, it's called OurGoods and thanks for being here. It's really great to come,
I've never been here before and I'm really lucky, so thanks so much. The website is called
OurGoods, it's a barter network for creative people.
So it's a tool that facilitates the barter of spaces, skills, objects, all kinds of things
and the real question is what is our work worth to each other? I think as creative people,
we often exist in a different kind of economy and it's important to realize that there is
a space where anyone involved in a creative project can get involved in someone else's
Some people would say that the arts have always existed in a recession economy or at least
in an alternative one and we know how to leverage things like enthusiasm and the support of
our friends to make great things happen without money. So OurGoods is trying to facilitate
more connections to expand the scope of people that we can become available to, to make projects
happen. It asks us to leverage our strengths.
So again, on OurGoods you can trade art objects, your skills, your space, all the things that
you have to offer and you can expand the network of people that you become available to. So OurGoods provides accountability tools
and it acts as a barter, matchmaker. There's enough people on the site so that the coincidence
of wants, that I have what you need and you need what I have is actually possible.
So we're using the web just to facilitate that connection, and we're considering making
a point system so that if I give you my time now and work for you, I can bank the ability
to get your time later. So hopefully we'll work that out.
What's exciting to us is OurGoods creates new opportunities to value creative work.
It's an opportunity for collaboration and it's an opportunity to create an interdependent
creative network across disciplines so that musicians and poets and furniture designers
can all work together. Our hope is that if it expands nationally, we can have inter-city
exchange and touring across cities.
So what does the site actually look like? We came up with an example user, we can call
him, Harvy and he is someone who just wants to get his work done. So he goes on to the
site and he makes his profile, you have to put all of your projects with your needs imbedded
in them so that everything is contextual.
So he's doing a performance and he needs help building a set, someone with promotional expertise,
a vocal coach and a soundboard op. So he goes and he searches, he's thinking, "First I need
to find my vocal coach, that's the biggest problem for me." So he searches and he finds
19 people and he can look at their past history of bartering and he decides to ask Bridget
to trade.
So the site knows already what he has to offer her that's a good match and he proposes that
and then they begin trading. So this is what the, his background trade history looks like
so he can keep track of what he's doing and that's one way to use OurGoods, but what's
important to us is that it isn't just about transactions.
OurGoods is also about building relationships. It's about the kind of mutual respect that
is possible when you have to really engage with people and come up with a subjective
equivalence of value.
So another example user would be Cassy. Say there's someone who just wants to explore
the site, they want to see what kinds of things are happening right now because suddenly,
everyone's listing what they're working on and they can see what's happening right now.
So she's an explorer, she just goes to see what trends are emerging, if she's a curator,
she might make a show around that and so that's one way.
Another example would be Anna, someone who's interested in the community that's online,
and she might be someone who sees that there's a skill that keeps being requested but isn't
available. She might start developing that skill in relationship to the community to
make it possible.
But most likely everyone will wear all of these hats at different points depending on
what project they are doing and what they need. What's good about OurGoods is that you
can approach it in all those ways.
So why is it going to succeed? We're really excited to be working with Carl Tashian, and
he's the Senior Side Engineer from Zip Car. He spent the first five years at Zip Car developing
the code and answering phone calls in bed to explain to people how to share resources.
So he's committed to make OurGoods Zip Car for the cultural commons.
We also have Jane Abrams who works in a barter-based system for her theater production in New York.
She's been working with Wow Theater for ten years, and knows all the nitty gritty of bartering
and really on the ground how it works.
Also, I've been bartering this dress that I'm wearing that I designed with people, just
to see what kinds of things happen right now, and I make myself available. So I've gotten
everything from my personal website to unlimited laundry access to lifestyle coaching.
And we also have Louis Ma and Rich Watts. That's the full five now. They are doing everything
from the user architecture, the way the site looks to the printed material and also the
furniture in trade school. They are doing all of this on a volunteer basis which is
So for us, OurGoods is a way to think about the cultural commons because all of a sudden
you can see yourself in a relationship to everyone else across disciplines. People suddenly
get to know what's going on in all of the studios that they don't have access to, or
all the recording booths that they can't really get inside.
Trade school is a way to connect it to real-time in space so that if someone has a skill, they
can make it available to other members of the community. Hopefully, we'll be doing trade
school again in the fall.
So this is a way to model this kind of interdependent plays of mutual respect where we build our
skills together and really understand this creative ecology of process so that you can
get involved in the way other people are making work.
Like I was saying before, you put all of the things you need within a project so that it
is not just Craigslist where you get rid of manufactured goods that you don't want. It
is about what you personally are invested in making right now and I understand why you
want what you want. You can actually start to think about people's rationale for being
Again there's the potential for this long-term connection. We're in the alpha test right
now so we'll see where the next hub will be. We're in New York but we could easily expand
to other cities. We're just in New York because that's where we live and that's where local
barters can take place.
Like was mentioned before, the most important thing is trust. We've spent a long time developing
a system so that people can track their deadlines, and that accountability becomes visible to
other users. So you have to leave a rating after you complete the barter and it is visible
so that people are actually reliable or if they are not everyone knows.
So we are really serious about barter becoming a new paradigm. We think that resource sharing
is the paradigm shift in the 21st century, and that more and more creative people across
discipline should trade and become available to one another.
We're in alpha right now, but if there is enough interest here this could be the second
site, and you should go on check it out. Thank you.
John Ippolito: Hi, I'm John Ippolito, and I'm batting cleanup. Which is tough, because
suddenly all of you have laser pointers that I didn't expect. [laughter] Don't shine them
in my eyes all at once. I know individually they're innocuous, but if all 20 of them shine
in one retina I may go blind.
But there's beer at the end of my presentation. That's the good news. [laughter] Let's see
what I can find here. OK. So, I'm going to talk about a bunch of stuff. But mostly about
the idea of commons as something that is compromised. I think I have a lapel mic so I can run around
and people can still hear me. Yeah, great.
At least the idea that the common is easily compromised. And we accept the idea for example
of a university or a hospital calling its dining hall full of Sbarros and McDonalds
a commons. That's about as compromised in my opinion as you can get. But in its historical
sense, of course, that's this idea of...sheep and animals can graze.
In a European context the commons was also a compromise. The original free culture, free
access to land practiced by indigenous peoples was of course taken away over time by medieval...and
fiefdoms and kings. And it's only with the now mostly forgotten Forest Charter Provisions
of the Magna Carta that the king essentially agreed to return some of those rights to peasants.
To go and father firewood, and make use of the land.
So that is also a compromise. That's already a step back from what there was originally.
Before that kind of ownership. Well, OK. So if we're talking about compromise then maybe
the question is not whether a museum should emulate a commons or be a commons, but what
kind of commons it should be. Where does the compromise go and what kind of compromises
could endanger us? As a public heritage institution?
And I'm going to basically look at a couple models that I think are high compromised.
Namely the idea of a market-based commons and the idea of a zoo-based commons. And I'm
going to talk about one which I think is more in spirit with the original values and freedoms
that were enjoyed before that compromise existed. So starting with the idea of market and zoo.
Museums like to think of themselves as above commerce. But all you have to do is walk into
a gallery, particularly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see how many gift shops
are located here and there. This idea of a "gift shop, " I never understood those two
words put together. Gift and shop. [laughter]
They're a great way of pointing out that disparity between the idea of, "Well here's a museum
which is open to sharing, and people coming in, and experiencing that culture. And there
is a shop where you buy things. And take them home, and throw them away eventually. Or give
them to relatives who don't want them."
When you think about the commons, though, the original commons was all about stuff like
firewood, and acorns, and grazing space, and game that you could take freely. Very few
museums will allow you to walk in, pick up their permanent collection, and walk out the
door. Usually they charge you even to get in the door.
And of course even wonderfully free museums like the Smithsonian still have their gift
shops as a reminder of that kind of market basis underneath some of the museum culture.
Well, if the way that museums control access to culture reminds us of a market, the way
that they attract visitors, to me, resembles a zoo. And I'm reminded, here, of the kind
of way that the words "curator" and "keeper" are interchangeable. [laughter] I'm not kidding.
This explains why a zoo has positions like the curator of large reptiles and I once received
a letter as a curator at the Guggenheim addressed to "The Keeper of Modern Art." [laughter]
The ideal zoo of course, the animals don't realize that they are subjects of other people's
economic attention, or perhaps laser pointing. [laughter]
Similarly, museums claim their value derives in the treasuries in their vitrines. But everybody
knows that if people didn't pay money to walk in and see those treasures the museums wouldn't
be able to pay the bills.
When a market or a zoo masquerades as a commons, which can happen with social networks too.
It's not just a brick and mortar thing. I think that the word degenerates into a marketing
term, rather than a radical shift in access. And that's particularly true if you think
about the kinds of transactions that take place and how they're conditioned by what
model of commerce you're working from.
So, I might sound glib like comparing a museum to a market or a zoo, but if you really want
to treat the commerce as something dynamic, you've got to think about, well, what is it?
What are we doing there? What kinds of transactions take place, both social and economic transactions?
Transactions in a market, of course, are usually based on the accumulation of capital. And
that's sort of true in a zoo, except in a zoo those transactions are invisible. The
animals don't know about the guests that are paying money to see them.
The zoo, that is Facebook, depends on its users being blindly ignorant of the fact that
their most private information is being sold to other interests without their necessarily
being cognizant of that. Each of these economic transactions also have social expectations
that go along with them.
So, it's well known that capitalist markets often lead to disparity in wealth that creates
hierarchies, haves and have nots. In the world of zoos the distinction between haves and
have nots is so dramatic that the animals don't even know the master. They can't even
vie with them because they can't even see them.
The zoo is more like a way of domesticating its denizens rather than simply creating a
ladder of importance. And that means--what do we mean by domesticating? It means that
we are essentially creating certain bonds that are useful for us, useful for the masters
and kind of oblong the rest of them.
So, though we might take a tiger and we might give it some fresh meat to chew or we might
let a male tiger into a female tiger's pen because we want it to reproduce and have more
tigers. We probably wouldn't let it go drink water next to the wildebeests or go to some
antelopes in the antelope paddock.
Those are sort of unacceptable behaviors for us, and yet a tiger that doesn't hunt, in
what sense is that really a tiger? And if we're museums who gather culture in a very
different sort of milieu or stuck under glass or some other way, changed from the dynamic
in which it was created, is it still culture in that way? Is it still art work? Is it still
astronomy? Is it still artifacts from native civilizations.
Similarly, Facebook encourages its users to post all kinds of stuff on their pages, perhaps
the mating rituals of their private lives. But we'll sue anyone who tries to use that
information on their own terms. In other words, Facebook is very specific about what those
protocols are.
Well, two last things, preservation and governance. Those are the other two kind of aspects of
the comments. Most museums follow a sort of containment model, like, the zoo as preservation.
So, here's what I think of when I think of how a museum preserves culture. Put it in
a box. Relegate the items under their care to a safe keeping, a safe for future visitors
to observe, of course. But also safe for future curators to profit from.
That's a lot like a zoo. I mean, keeping a tiger in a cage. We can say, "Oh, we are preserving
its species from extinction", but we're also preserving the zoo keeper's business. I think,
although Facebook doesn't have physical bars, its architecture has virtual ones. You can't
scrape it. You can't syndicate it. You can't redistribute it in any way that's not allowed
by Facebook. They're really controlling the way that content gets out, much more than,
say, blogs, YouTube videos or even newspaper websites.
Its technical and legal stickiness makes Facebook users stay putp in the box that it is Facebook,
even to the ignorance of the green space around them.
Well, OK, if the instrument of governance employed by zoos is a cage, the instrument
employed by the market is the law, and copyright, as has been mentioned earlier, is probably
the most infamous example of the law that enforces a market-based share of resources.
At first blush, we might look at things like creative comments and say, "Well, here is
our savior. Here is a legal approach that doesn't follow that kind of market based containment
model that actually allows people to share their music, their art with minimal constrictors
and non-commercial license terms and so forth.
Unfortunately, though, what creative common's licenses convey are still rights, and we hear
that word, rights. It's a very suspicious term when I hear it applied in the context
of the Commons and here's why, rights are a form of market-based law that detaches the
judgment of whether I should do this or not from the context.
Rights in that sense, have a universal aspect and creative commons, the rights that they
offer are wonderful and that they free consumers from the constraints of copyright and theoretically,
from a capitalistic economy.
Unfortunately, they also represent the lost opportunity. If I make an mp3 and post it
on my website and released in under a creative commons license, other people can take it,
depending on the license I choose, they maybe able to sample it, they may be able to just
listen to it on their iPods and so forth but I don't know who those people are.
They have no responsibility of contacting me, they have no incentive for contacting
me, in fact, in many ways, they have no way to contact me. So the structure of rights
is one, not of attachment, of social bonding but one of detachment of disconnection, right?
That's the idea of a market. In a market, the consumer has rights, the vendor has rights
but there's no necessary social bond created between those two.
Well, I'm going to propose or I'm going to look at, as the last sort of mode for the
commons, a very different model, I think it's different and I'm going to call it, for lack
of a better word, The Tribe. I think it's the closest in spirit to the original ideas
behind the Commons, at least closer than the market or the zoo.
The capitalist, overt economics of the market produces hierarchies. The more invisible economics
of the zoo domesticate the denizens. What does a Tribe do? The Tribe's transactions
create kinship, exactly of the sort that I think that the creative commons licenses don't
do such a good job of.
So in cultures that share feasts and songs in indigenous contexts like pot latch, are
those practices are designed to connect people, unlike that sort of detachable gift of creative
commons licenses. When you receive a gift in that context, you are indebted, you are
in debt but unlike the kind of toxic mortgage assets we talked about in the global economy,
that kind of debt is not bad, it is a good debt.
Furthermore, it's a kind of debt you can't possibly work your way out of because it's
an interpersonal debt that each of us owes to each other in a tribe.
How could I possibly ever repay my parents for bringing me up? My mother, for raising
me and giving birth to me, that's a debt that can never be fulfilled and anthropologist
James Leach argues, should not be.
It's actually a positive value even though, in our economic terms, we consider it a negative.
Now OK, what's an example, in contemporary terms, of a commons that follows that kind
of kinship model? Well, it doesn't do it perfectly but one example that I might bring up is the
pool. This is an online environment for sharing art text and code.
It's currently in use by a handful of universities across the country and it is based on the
idea that people can share a creative process even if they're not face to face and they
can create forms of kinship through that and I'm not going to go into much detail except
just to point out a couple of aspects which are that a whole set of versions of a project
are tracked by the pool.
A whole bunch of people who are involved in the project are tracked by the pool and what
involvement they have and what versions they belong to. There's tons of reviews and there's
also something called relationships which I think is the best, perhaps example I think
of, of that kind of kinship.
You might be able to see the words ancestors and descendants, where are those laser pointers
when you need them? Thank you. Up at the top, that's a very explicit suggestions of kinship
but it's no longer kinship like a physical or via family ties but via influence, artistic
influence. So this idea of the pipeline, actually was created in response to or influenced by
three other projects, Event Locator, Campus Calendar, one of those local affairs too in
turn, was itself influenced by then seeker.
So you see a sort of grandparents and parents. You can also see the children of a project.
The pipeline inspired yet another project called OJ Connection, which you can see here
on the right. So it's sort of a family tree that starts to develop between projects. That
type of kinship to us is very exciting. Another aspect that I think is really important to
the comments is governance.
And I admit that I tend to project my own predilections onto native culture, but here's
a case where native people from around the world actually had a big impact on a common
space project. Stillwater, the lab who created the pool, also held a series of conferences
involving more than two dozen nations, both native and so-called developed world, in which
we created the cross cultural partnership as one of the outcomes.
The idea here is that it's not based on an abstract right. It's a concrete context that
determines the legal document. It is both a legal and ethical framework for sharing
a cross cultural divide. So what do I mean?
I mean like what if you are a musician, an electronic kind of Hispanic musician and you
want use native flute in one of your compositions. How do you do that respectfully? What if you're
an artist and you have an idea that requires an engineer and you need someone from Bell
Labs whose an, an engineer.
How do you collaborate together in a way that takes into account those two cultures which
obviously are, maybe geographically located but an artist and an engineer tend to think
very differently. How about if you are a Cambridge anthropologist and you want to write a book
about the herbal medicines of Papua New Guinea?
How do you confront that divide that has that element of trust that many people today have
spoken about as being so important? The cross cultural partnership is meant to do that.
It doesn't emulate the physical boundaries of a zoo. It doesn't emulate the legal rights
of a market. But it's about protocols. Protocols looking back to the way indigenous people
looked at protocols as a model for sharing and treating with each other both inside and
outside of the tribe.
I think protocols are essential to the functioning of a robust commons. Whether they take the
form of the pool's software scripts or the cross cultural partnership's legal template.
OK, one last piece here.If ownership and containment are kind of the key paradigms of the market
and the zoo when it comes to preservation, I think a tribe preserves by crowd sourcing.
Crowd sourcing has two pieces. We always know about the one that's, well I'll give it to
a lot of people and they all do their job. Well, automatically you're breaking the idea
of ownership by doing that. But the other piece of crowd sourcing that people often
forget is you have to disconnect those people. OK, and that of course breaks the idea of
So we're already far beyond the sort of market and zoo metaphor here. Well, all right, what
does that have to do with preservation? Well, when you preserve stuff, you give it away
to other people hoping that they will keep it going. And while outsourcing our job as
curators, and archivists and conservators to a bunch of unreliable archivists sounds
really scary, in fact, indigenous people have been doing this for millenia.
And that accounts for why, for example, the oldest cultural memories are not embedded
in stone tablets in the British Museum, but are actually embedded in the oral histories
of say the Brazilian rain forest, where there are legends and stories and songs of beasts
that are literally pre-historic, literally died out 10, 40, 50 thousand years ago.
That's an extraordinarily long memory and it's made possible by this crowd sourcing
approach to unreliable archivists. Well, a similar approach to this sort of proliferate
preservation can be found in the remix culture that some people alluded to today of digital
So, the Berkeley Art Museum has an interesting project called The Open Museum which explicitly
says whenever we acquire something we're going to make the files open as the artist determines
to remixing by other people. Very different model than the usual kind of containment idea
of how museum collections work.
Closer to home, just this week, the Walker Arts Center was in fact the unwitting target
of proliferative preservation. In 1998, then Walker curator Steve Dietz commissioned an
online artwork from Janet Cohen, Keith Frank and myself called the Unreliable Archivist.
That was a prophetic title, you'll see why.
It took the irreverent approach to preserving this site called Ada'web one of the sort of
first and foremost online art projects which had been archived that year by the Walker
and is still accessible via the Gallery nine website which you can see here.
The Online Art Archive has got this irreverent approach by reassembling that art, images,
text, styles, languages, all of these aspects of that site and in order, it was not determined
by the original creators but by these sort of categories chosen by the users, people
who visited the Walker.
The most notorious aspect of the Unreliable Archivist however, was not how it worked but
how it failed because like a lot of that early net art, it depended on this HTML tag that
soon went moribund called the layer tag and so after a few years it stopped functioning.
So the laughing joke was like, "Well, it's so funny because it becomes, the Unreliable
Archivist becomes an ironic symbol of the very obsolescence implied by its tag, until
Now let's see if I can get down in here. Where are you? Unreliable Archivist 2. Well that's
weird, what happened there? There we go. This is the Unreliable Archivist as recreated by
its original artist and the only reason we were able to recreate it, I'll just show you
some aspects. You can play with, for example, the images change their style.
Each of these is drawn from a different aspect of Ada'web the original site. So the images
are drawn from one project, the text might be drawn from another one. I can change the
layout from another one. I can change the style from another one, just kind of add them
and it gets crazy after a while.
You see, the Walker never actually acquired the files necessary to run the work and why?
A totally practical reason which is, as artists we were always tinkering with it and we were
like, "Oh, don't worry Steve, we'll get it done soon. We almost got it, give us a few
minutes, " and of course we never, that few minutes turned into hours, turned into days,
turned into months and a decade and we still had the files running on our server.
Now the Walker had a frame set pointing to it so you never knew that it was actually,
secretly run by the artist and I think that we all forgot that that was the case and then
when it broke, we were all like, "Well, it broke."
Well, the fact that we still control the files now enables us to recreate the site, as we
did here. Frankensteining it back into working order, totally rewriting it according to the
current web protocols and that kind of act of proliferative preservation in which the
Walker, unwittingly gave control of its collection over to a bunch of crazy artists, has now
allowed that work to live again.
So I'm proud to announce, for the very first time, the Unreliable Archivist 2, an up to
date doppelganger of the original and has taken its place back in the Walker's online
collection thanks to the tribal protocols of the Internet, thank you very much. [applause]
Shanai: OK, don't go yet. We're going to, this is a lot of ideas, I don't know if you
guys are feeling this, but it's kind of like idea overload. We didn't know exactly what
everyone was going to say, and it's great because it was all over the place.
We're going to invite all of the speakers up back up here. I thought someone was going
to hand them some chairs. Yeah, so we're going to invite them all back up here, and what
we've asked them to do is to come up with a question that they like to ask you. And
so we're going to do the Q & A, but it's going to be in reverse, and they're each going to
ask a question and we're hoping that some of you will have some answers.
And so we'll have microphones on both the aisles, and we're going to try to get them
to people in a timely fashion. And the reason is that we're recording this for a live webcast,
and so whatever is on the mic makes it on there, whatever is not doesn't. So why don't
you guys all come up here and, we don't have a set order for this so if one of you is really
pumped to start, go for it. Maybe John, since you've got done, maybe you're in the, you're
like ready to go. So yeah, we'll do this.
John: OK, so, yes that's on. I talked to, a little bit about protocols and how important
protocols were for my sense of the commons, I'm just curious if anybody in the audience
has examples of a protocol that worked really well for commons-like experience you have
or one that really stink.
Woman 4: [Inaudible 94:03]
Man 7: Great test protocols.
John: This is only going to take about 10 minutes. It's soon, it's coming very soon.
There's one question from each presenter and we'll just kind of move down the line.
Woman 5: I was going to ask something about barter but actually, I just want to see if
you guys can make a circle. Can we do that? I just wanted to, I feel like you've gotten
Man 8: 12 o' clock, 12 o' clock, OK? So clockwise at 12...
Shanai: Oh, see it needed somebody to lead the way to steward this...
Woman 5: Perfect. OK, thank you.
John: How many of you watch TV on your computers as opposed to on aTV? All right, how many
of you download music files, as opposed to listening on a CD? Wow. How many of you download
smart phone or iPhone applications, apps? Man...
Man 9: All right...
Shanai: All right.
Man 10: You don't want to know who doesn't?
Woman 6: Who doesn't?
Shanai: Who doesn't?
Woman 6: We want to know who doesn't.
Man 10: Yeah, that's good, who doesn't?
Man 11: Who does it legally?
Man 11: Yeah, why, why? Why not? If they don't.
Woman 6: Why don't I?
Man 11: Yeah.
Woman 7: Because I would rather have direct, person to person interactions and I gave out
my TV 25 years ago. I use my computer for work and I don't use it to interact, I like
John: Do you make art or music yourself?
Woman 7: I do.
John: Good for you.
Woman 6: I do. A lot of times by myself, but I do make art.
Laura: I guess I'm next for a question. I'm wondering how many of you saw the news item
about the guy with the ecological lawn and it was mowed down. Did anyone of you watch
it? It was on WCCO last night?
Oh yeah, what did you guys think of that? He planted a certain grass, I don't know what
type but it was taller than eight inches. Do you think it should have been mowed down?
Man 12: No...
Laura: He lived in Minneapolis I think in south Minneapolis.
Man 12: Seward Neighborhood.
Laura: Oh Seward Neighborhood. One of our ecological neighborhoods where that is considered
an ecological lawn or plantings but there's now a lot of tall grass prairie lawns at small,
like in the median strips. Any thoughts about that?
Woman 6: Well, I heard that he put about three years into it and possibly at least 1, 000
and at a certain point, it would take care of itself but it had reached a point where
it takes care of itself. So I guess we're not willing to give people time to let things
take care of themselves.
Man 13: That was the question about it was it the city or neighborhood ordinance?
Laura: Yeah, I think it's a city ordinance.
Man 13: So did it need to be cut?
Laura: Well, it's a good question, if we think about lawns and if it's more than eight inches,
if we talk about the inspiration for a lot of our ecological designs, it's kind of like
prairies and those are definitely taller than eight inches because we live in a tall grass
prairie but the question is should we miniaturize landscapes like that for our lawns?
Is it even, have we gotten to a point where we're still doing small little plantings.
You know perennials with flowers. For example, if it had been planted more like flowers,
would it have been mowed down if it was more than eight inches? It's a good question.
Caroline: Just in response to that, it's a city ordinance. I have a friend that works
at the city council. And generally it depends on who your neighbors are and how they complain
about you.
There's a house near mine that has a lawn that's about five feet tall and nobody complains
about it. In response to your last comment, I think it's quite interesting that the rain
gardens that are sponsored throughout the city have similar types of landscapes to that
one in Seward that you're pointing out.
And some of those rain gardens that have been funded around the city are almost exactly
the same. But they have signs that say [laughs] it's an official rain garden.
Laura: And that was one of the things that was pointed out that if you want to have something
like this in the future, that you should put up a sign that it's an ecological lawn. And
it reminds me of a story that I read in a book. I forgot the book. But it was very interesting,
where a similar thing happened. I think it was an etymologist allowed his lawn to become
a more native habitat. And people were starting to complain about it.
And then he put up a sign that said it was a wildlife habitat. And the complaints stopped.
And so it raises a lot of interesting questions. Like the signs I had about the commons. Like,
it's a form of social communication. And so it's very interesting to raise. If it was
flowers and they were really tall, or a rain garden, which does have tall grasses in it,
it's a really good question whether everybody reads these landscapes the same way.
Sumanth: I just...I guess I want to hear a little quick story from anyone out there who's
either been delighted with the digital resource, a museum digital resource that they've been
able to find online. Or conversely if they've ever been frustrated or thwarted thinking
they should be able to get something digitally from a museum but haven't been able to find
it, or get it.
Laura: Way in the back.
Sumanth: No museum professionals, please. [laughter] [Overlapping Conversation] All
Man 14: No, I'm a middle school librarian. And the Library of Congress site confused
me with some of its resources and how to find the resources within it for kids. I didn't
think it was very intuitive and allowed the kids access to find the stuff within it. And
there's tremendous resources on there like all the old videos from Thomas Edison and
da, da, da.
One resource that I find very intuitive is iTunesU. Which is just like phenomenal searching.
That's the other end of it too. So--
Sumanth: That's great. That's great to hear. [cross-talk] That's really useful to hear.
Man 14: [Overlapping Conversation] Yeah. Unfortunately my school district doesn't allow iTunesU.
It's illegal. [laughter]
Sumanth: I hear that a lot. That's really helpful. Thank you.
Shenai: Was there one more person out there?
Laura: [Overlapping Conversation] Yeah there's one more in the back.
Man 15: Yeah I just went to...what's the Russian museum here? [He gets an off mic answer] OK,
yeah, The Museum of Russian Art. And they had an exhibition of photographs by this guy
who did photography around the turn of the century. And they did two versions of the
exhibition. And in between exhibits I went to the gift shop.
And they had one of the prints from the first install. And I said, "Are you selling that?"
And he said, "No. But you can go to The Library of Congress and download the exact same hi
res image. And I've been doing that. There are about 2,000 of those. [laughter] But yeah,
John: That's neat. That's a very cool story.
Shenai: So I think it is time to wrap it up. I think folks have...sat for a while. But
I really thank you all for coming. It was great to have all of you here as well. I know
that some of you came in from very far away. I hope that this was a conversation starter
and got your minds turning a little bit about Open Field and what could happen this summer.
We'll take it outside and there's actually a DJ out there who's going to be playing some
music. Maybe you feel like dancing [laughs] now that you've sat for a while. So come up
to the presenters if you have questions for them that you didn't get a chance to ask.
So we'll keep it going. Thanks everybody for coming.