The Stage / Features / A meeting of minds

15 Jul

A meeting of minds

Published Thursday 15 July 2010 at 13:51


Setting up the Skype Chat with Sir Ken Robinson for Shift Happens Photo by @documentally

Artistic director of Pilot Theatre Marcus Romer talks about the highlights of this year???s Shift Happens event at the York Theatre Royal, and the unique challenges and opportunities that face the sector as the line between the arts and technology becomes increasingly blurred

For the last three years, I???ve curated an annual conference focussing on the opportunities that technology has to offer the arts.

Last week, Pilot Theatre???s third annual Shift Happens event took place at York Theatre Royal and, this time, the focus was on arts, learning and technology.

We had 27 speakers take to the stage to share their insights, stories, and provide provocations for discussion and debate.

Our 300 delegates and participants were able to hear a eclectic range of speakers. Keynote speeches were delivered by Ken Robinson – author, and educator, Alice Greenwald from the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York, Jonathan Harris, the artist from Brooklyn, John McGrath from National Theatre Wales, DK from MediaSnackers and Lyn Gardner from The Guardian.

We were joined by Andy Field from Forest Fringe, Clare Reddington from Watershed and David Sabel from NT Live at the National Theatre. Meanwhile, we also heard from green arts organisation Julie???s Bicycle, as well as Mind the Gap, Slung Low, Body>Data>Space and my own Pilot Theatre.

Using new technology, we were able to provide Skype links across the world – Robinson spoke to the conference live from LA.

There, he shared his thoughts about the shifts in the cultural landscape, explaining that we are now entering a period where we need an educational revolution in how we create learning opportunities so that young people can survive and thrive in a changing world.

???What is coming down the track is more important than what has gone before,??? he explained and also made clear that we need to have a global responsibility, as we connect, communicate and share creative ideas.

Indeed, the common theme at Shift Happens was that we need to take a longer world view about how and what we are creating, and more importantly, why and for whom.

In his keynote, DK talked about literacy in this new landscape, saying that we all need to be able to ???learn, unlearn and relearn??? to keep us moving forward and why sometimes it is beneficial to look to the sides first and learn from other sectors and how they are navigating their way too.

The live connection to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the address by its director Greenwald was very moving.

The ability for us to be able to hear and question her live across the Atlantic from a theatre building built before the French Revolution was testament itself to the fact that shifts do happen.

Going forward, it???s important not to just ask what can the technology do for us, but what can we do with the technology. So, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are key to the evolution of the sector.

Gardner raised this point, as she talked about the changes since last year???s conference, when there was much scepticism about Twitter.

She pointed out that now, more than ever, in a tough funding climate, we need to connect as a sector that is grown up, joined up and more open.

She also highlighted the importance of online networks and sites such as which has grown to more than 400 members in three weeks.

The future of arts funding was, of course, on people???s minds. But, refreshingly, the main themes of the event were about wider creative thinking and the longer view.

The arts world needs to think about the big shifts which will affect us all – climate, global financial stability and how we find new ways to connect and communicate – and what the arts??? response to all this is. We need new models and ideas and, as a creative sector, we are well placed to be able to do this.

That is not to say that all that is new is necessarily better, but as a sector we must embrace the possibilities, and realise that these new platforms are not just for marketing and another way to ???push??? your product.

They are about a genuine two-way engagement and conversation. They have immense creative potential and we have some exciting artists pushing these boundaries.

As Field said: ???Bring art and technology together to dream stupid, impossibly grand visions of what the future might look like.???

Over the course of the event, people were able to discuss the conference using social media site Twitter.

The use of the #shifthappens hashtag meant that people could share nuggets, links and pictures inspired from the live talks. Again, amplifying, remixing and sharing the ideas that surface.

We shared with more than 280,000 people those two days, and made more than two million impressions with people via Twitter – many of whom were following the conference remotely in other parts of the planet. This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago – and shows just how new technology can help people engage with us, as a sector.

As Herb Kim, director of Codeworks and Thinking Digital said – the challenge for all of us is ???go big or go home???.

For the full list of talks and links please visit us at:,,,



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One Response to “The Stage / Features / A meeting of minds”

  1. helen cadbury July 16, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Hi MarcusI’m still feeling the waves of motivation rippling out from Shift Happens in all my work. The conversations on Twitter and the sharing of knowledge is incredible. Thank you.Helen (@theatrestudy) p.s. There is something very endearing about the scale of that photo. Like Gulliver’s travels.

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