Digital Arts Services Symposium 2017

Digital Arts Services Symposium 2017

Orienting Ourselves

The inaugural (English-language) Digital Arts Services Symposium 2017, ‘Orienting Ourselves’, took place in the fall of 2017, with digital literacy and networking events for artists, arts professionals, and technologists unfolding across two cities and three days. The mandate of DASS17 was to help incite greater collaboration between arts and technology leaders in Canada, to strengthen the digital skills and intelligence of Canada’s diverse arts services sector, and to position Canada as a leader in the visioning of innovative new digital services purpose-built by, and for, the arts.

As a networking and professional development event seeking to empower positive change for collective impact across the industry, the objectives of DASS17 were to identify and respond to gaps in knowledge and resources that prevent the arts services sector from capitalizing upon advances in the digital revolution. DASS17 was designed to encourage collective dialogue and brainstorming alongside the presentation of inspired and practical workshops facilitated by industry professionals.

Following quickly on the heels of the official launch of Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund, DASS17 strived to identify answers to three guiding questions:

  • What skills and resources are Canadian artists and arts professionals missing to be able to effectively envision innovative digital platforms for broad impact?
  • What business and legal structures are necessary to scale new Canadian digital arts services platforms in diverse communities?
  • What values and models will help the Canadian arts services sector sustain new, long-lasting collaborations in transitioning to digital?

Schedule & Activities

DASS17 took place in Ottawa (November 18, 2017) and Toronto (November 30 and December 1, 2017). Both events featured seminar presentations from arts leaders and representatives from the digital world, including:

  • In a Glass Darkly: Illuminating value assessment in the arts (keynote)
  • Nurturing a Vision: Research, prototyping, and partnerships for incubating new digital arts services initiatives
  • Kvetching the Commons: Mapping missing links to the digital world
  • Planning for Innovation: Alternate business and legal structures for governing digital arts services initiatives
  • Managing Digital Initiatives: Navigating the knowns and unknowns
  • Coming Together: Developing collective solutions for the digital world
  • Panel Discussion: Diving into the digital unknown
  • Breakout Sessions: Gathering Steam (research, prototyping, partnerships); Building the Solution (digital project management), Growing the Dream (governance, revenue, alternate models).

Facilitators & Speakers

Facilitators for DASS17 included:

  • Jessa Agilo Co-Curator, Facilitator (ArtsPond/Étang d’Arts)
  • Margaret Lam Co-Curator, Facilitator (BeMused Network)
  • Amine El Facilitator (BeMused Network)
  • Catherine Moore Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, Sherpa (University of Toronto)
  • Tammy Lee Panelist (Culture Creates)
  • Ryan Clark Panelist (Electric Bat Records)
  • Diane Davy Panelist (WorkInCulture)
  • Ben Dietschi Panelist (Soundstreams)
  • Lila Karim Panelist (North York Arts)
  • Sarah Lochhead Panelist (The Dance Current)
  • Matt McPherson Panelist (Quantum Capture)
  • Sara Meurling Panelist (Professional Association of Canadian Theatres)
  • Scott Nihill Panelist (Embreate)
  • Gregory Saumier-Finch Panelist (Culture Creates)
  • Zainub Verjee Panelist (Ontario Association of Art Galleries)
  • Arthur Yeung Panelist (Canadian Film Centre Media Lab)


Partners for DASS17 included:

  • ArtsPond/Étang d’Arts
  • BeMused Network
  • Canadian Arts Presenting Association/Association canadienne des organismes artistiques (CAPACOA)
  • The Heliconian Club
  • Ontario Arts Council

Impacts & Outcomes

DASS17 invited representatives from across the arts sector to share their experiences, concerns and strategies around adapting the arts to the ongoing integration of technology into society and daily life. Several key challenges emerged that were expressed by multiple individuals from a variety of different disciplines and roles. These included:

  • “We don’t know what we don’t know” – disconnection from the digital world and lack of information around how technological advances might disrupt or alter the way arts service organizations operate
  • Engaging with digital solutions that integrate with the structure and values of an arts organization, rather than having to bend to fit the technology
  • Lack of funding and capacity for digital literacy within the arts
  • How to address the unique needs of different arts disciplines and types of organizations while searching for digital solutions and platforms that elevate the sector as a whole.

Rather than attempt to arrive at any definitive solutions, the purpose of DASS17 was to provide a space for open discussions, collaborations and brainstorming around emerging digital realities. DASS17 was conducted with the underlying notion that creating wider and clearer lines of communication across the arts sector will ultimately make the sector more nimble, adaptable, and able to innovate.

More than 90% of participants surveyed said they would like to attend the next edition of the Symposium in 2019. Positive testimonials included:

  • “I think I’m more comfortable talking about digital initiatives now. So much more confident going into a website/data management redesign process for my organization.”
  • “Buzzing with ideas and excited by the connections made at DASS17!”
  • “The Symposium was well thought out and informative”
  • “A very good conference”
  • “I loved the mix of formats, panels, presentations, and breakouts”
  • “Both wrap-up sessions on Day 1 and Day 2 were great! I loved hearing what other people in the room were thinking of and sharing!”
  • “I was so pleased to receive such practical advice about managing digital projects!”
  • “The panel discussions had lots of interesting conversation and possible solutions”
  • “At one point during the Symposium, someone said: ‘We were not ready for the Digital Strategy Fund’. I understood this statement in a particular way: the readiness we were missing was a readiness for collaboration, for opening up to one another in drastically different ways, for new ethics of partnership. The Symposium contributed to closing this critical gap.”
  • “The Digital Arts Services Symposium was well worth my trip. Thank you to organizers and participants for your generosity.”


  • Categories:Digital Literacy
  • Dates:Nov 29 to Dec 1, 2017