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reflection : Carrying the Torch
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Competing to Be Seen
Carrying the Torch for New Media
by Susan Kennard

In recent times the role of the artist and the state of funding for the arts has had an increased profile in the political discourse of Canadian society. The relevance and purpose of artistic practice has undergone much debate. Tensions have been underlined between notions of the creative economy and art for art's sake. Canada lags behind the United States in terms of philanthropic support for the arts, leaving the state of arts funding highly susceptible to the priorities of the ruling government of any particular time. There's no question that the recession has had an effect on the arts. Things are not being greenlighted as much and it is more difficult for people to get work. We are in a time of accelerated change with the ubiquity of technology touching the farthest reaches of society. Innovation is required, and technology transfer admired, and economic growth desired. What then of the Olympics and flow of funding that branches between sport and art? This is a subject of great debate on an international scale with host countries having citizens who both celebrate and criticize the tremendous momentum that is part and parcel of the Olympic movement.

The people behind the Cultural Olympiad's CODE program could be said to know the ins and outs of this argument. Hailing from the world of convergent media, broadcasting, cultural industries and research they have grasped the Olympic torch and made the commitment to celebrate Canadian artists through a showcase to the world in February 2010. The CODE program has also recognized the need to involve the international arts scene and those who have no intention of attending the Olympics. The work of the CODE program in partnership with independent artists, arts training organizations, museums, curators and institutions is poised to underline that VANOC is not just about one glorious winter.

The curatorial theme of CODE both benefits and suffers from the generous participation of individually curated online and live exhibitions. Democracy is perhaps favoured over curatorial context, but the end result is an extravaganza of artistic work that profiles senior artists to emerging designers through a web of clicks, downloads and the promise of live performance and intimate interaction for the lucky ones who attend the live venues and make the visit to Vancouver.

This commitment to outreach is why the Banff New Media Institute at The Banff Centre agreed to publish a commemorative issue of the online magazine HorizonZero which celebrated the best in Canadian new media arts from 2002-2004. One of the many satisfying outcomes of the HorizonZero publication was the fact that with each issue we were able to employ and therefore fund Canadian new media artists, interaction designers, writers, theorists and critics in return for the creation of their new works. The notion of a new media content economy was as elusive in 2004 as it is in 2010—and yet, now as then, specialists as well as generalists recognize that technology and creativity are setting the stage for new ways of developing our culture, experiencing art and means of knowing our world. The relationship between the maker and the consumer has become distorted and the idea of culture and what it means to produce it, sustain it and share it in global and local environments has generated a bubble of creative participation and critical reflection focused on a set of digital tools and capacities that would otherwise remain under the radar as technology operates seamlessly in the background processing all aspects of society.

Since 1995, the Banff New Media Institute has supported the critical and creative development of new media artists from across Canada and around the world. We have had direct connections with many of the artists featured in the CODE program and have traversed many of the themes through workshops, residencies and research initiatives. Like the CODE organizers we apply ourselves to creating a platform for the development and celebration of new media art and take joy in developing it and presenting it in unlikely environments. The CODE program has taken a number of risks in showing this kind of work on the international stage and this special issue of HorizonZero is one part of the structure that forms a bridge between art and technology, innovation and reflection, games and play and the experimental and applied. This issue of HorizonZero takes the CODE LIVE and online program of CODE as its point of departure and augments the official program with further content, critiques and contexts that weave together and describe the intangible yet deeply relevant world of new media art and digital culture.

Susan Kennard is the Manager of Heritage Programs Banff Field Unit for The Parks Canada Agency. This role oversees cultural resources as expressed through human creativity, cultural traditions and the built environment. In 1998 she joined the Banff New Media Institute at The Banff Centre and was the Director & Executive Producer of the Institute from 2005-2009. In 2005, Kennard completed a Master's degree in communication for development at the University of Malm÷, Sweden, on the relationship between contemporary art practice, social change, and civil society in post-war Sarajevo. Susan participates in numerous juries and review committees in Canada and abroad.

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