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In Dubai, Imagining Future Cities

A presentation for the International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA) Dubai 2014 conference by Nina Colosi

Dubai, with Burj Khalifa in distance. Photo by Nina Colosi

Streaming Museum was a creative partner in the 20th International Symposium of Electronic Arts which took place at Zayed University Dubai and at cultural and educational centers across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates in November 2014.

The invitation to participate came from Janet Bellotto, Dean of the College of Art and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University and Artistic Director for the ISEA events. The dramatic futuristic cityscape that is evolving as part of the UAE’s master plan to become a world center of knowledge and innovation, was the right setting in which to reflect on the conference question of How Streaming Museum Contributes to Future Cities.

Nina Colosi Founder / Creative Director, Streaming Museum


Imagining future cities can begin from the vantage point of looking at The Big Picture: people see things through the eyes of their own beliefs and cultures. But the world that we all have to deal with is an interdependent one.

Image courtesy of NASA . Astronauts get the true sense of this when they have the awesome experience of seeing the earth in space – it’s called the “Overview Effect.” It transforms their perspective of the planet. They see it as our shared home without boundaries between nations, humans and nature.

Photo by Teru Kuwayama, Afghanistan 2011. Courtesy of the artist. . There are no national borders when it comes to global warming and economic crises, health pandemics, terrorism, poverty, weapons of mass destruction, trafficking, crime, and many other problems of the 21st century. It is futile to try to address these challenges with 18th century solutions conceived around the notion of national sovereignty which stop at territorial national borders.

But imagine… a league of “global digital cities” sharing a new system of governance through Internet communication. They could share best practices, join forces to solve problems, and enable the monitoring and distribution of renewable energies, health services, and social needs.

And imagine… exchanges of art, culture, visionary ideas and data visualization to enhance this global governance digital network. 

It would build upon and expand existing international cultural exchange programs  – such as the Fulbright Scholarship program that assists in the development of peaceful relations. But in addition to these on-location programs, this future scenario offers audiences worldwide the opportunity to participate in cultural exchange through mobile devices and in public spaces across many cities.

The digital circulation of art via the Internet and a network of large screens and media facades in public spaces across continents is already up and running with Streaming Museum and the Connecting Cities network. It is a precursor to globally connected city government systems proposed by political scientist Benjamin Barber and others.

Streaming Museum launched in 2008 as a symbolic experiment to interconnect the world through the arts. It produces original themed exhibitions of contemporary art and accompanying public programs that have reached millions of people from North Pole to South Pole, from the largest metropolises to remote locations. The exhibitions are presented at, and in public spaces and partnering cultural centers on seven continents.

Our partner, Connecting Cities, is building up a connected infrastructure of media facades, urban screens and projection sites to circulate artistic and social content. Initiated by Public Art Lab and funded by the European Union, it launched in Berlin in 2012 and is expanding worldwide.

World Travel and Communications Recorded on Twitter, by Eric Fischer, 2011, Courtesy of the artist Establishing a body of governance for globally connected cities is a monumental challenge. However, the notion has broad appeal as the best solution for tackling the world’s worst problems. Fortunately, several organizations and individuals are enthusiastically working to make it happen. Two of the most promising outcomes are The Mayor’s Challenge Initiative which was recently launched by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the Global Parliament of Mayors founded by political scientist Benjamin Barber.

In his book “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities” Barber asserts that mayors are hands-on problem solvers unburdened by issues pertaining to borders and sovereignty which paralyze the capacity of nation-states to work together. Barber intends for the Global Parliament of Mayors to usher in a movement of networked “glocalism” to tackle shared problems. It would become the keystone over existing mayoral organizations such as the 100-year old United Cities and Local Governance, the US and Mexican Conferences of Mayors, and many other associations across the globe who are already sharing best practices.

One of the ways mayors can work together is by leveraging the global market place by incentivizing the use of manufactured products that can bring about fundamental changes. For example, in Jersey City the mayor has a plan to use the market to change gun laws: If city police departments across the country were required to buy their guns from companies that don’t sell magazine assault rifles and armor piercing bullets, the market would drive more gun companies to shift away from selling the most egregious types of guns to citizens. A coordinated mayoral policy such as this could be a more effective way to reduce gun violence than lobbying for anti-gun laws.

The A.T. Kearney is a global research company that publishes an annual Global Cities Index of the top 84 cities. Their research makes clear that working together on a longterm vision is completely within the grasp of urban leaders and business leaders around the world. The shift to a more global perspective of problem solving will result in greater human and economic development and create an environment that offers a better future for all of society.

The United Arab Emirates from a regional and global perspective

Established in 1971 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates, a federation of 7 Emirates, has been moving rapidly through the stages of nation building. Following the priorities established by Sheikh Zayed, the UAE is nurturing generations of educated men and women, and developing international ties establishing the UAE as a country with global reach and significance. A.T. Kearney’s 2014 Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, an in-depth view of forward-looking investment sentiment, ranked the UAE in 11th position increasing its global lead by moving up from 14th position in 2013. The U.S. maintains its 1st place position from last year followed by China and Canada.

Dubai, the commercial capital of the Persian Gulf region and the most populous Emirate, won the bid to host the World Expo in 2020 because of its infrastructure and level of national support. This mega event platform presents the UAE a golden opportunity to engage the global community in common priorities of enhancing mobility of people and goods, ensuring sustainable use of resources and creating economic development by expanding networks of information and financial capital.

Dubai, photo by N. Colosi. . Visionary leadership is ushering the UAE into the future. Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises founded the Pearl Initiative in 2011 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, in partnership with the UN Office of Partnerships, to promote the factors that will incentivize growth in both international and regional business in the Middle East: Government regulation to provide the framework for public and private sectors to work within, and corporate leadership that creates a prevailing culture of internal checks and balances. Jafar asserts that ethics can be turned into competitive advantage.

In Sharjah, known as a capital of education and culture in the UAE, a collaboration between the Pearl Initiative and the School of Business and Management at American University Sharjah is engendering a culture of transparency and accountability in the leaders of tomorrow. The talent in business and the creative economy that the region has to offer can act as ambassadors to develop communication with other parts of the world.

American University Sharjah and the Sun Chaiser solar car created with support from Siemens. . Jafar’s vision extends into social entrepreneurship, empowerment of women, youth employment, and the arts which he says “have the power to change hearts and minds.” In 2011 he founded the Middle East Theater Academy in collaboration with the Kevin Spacey Foundation, to introduce, influence, and nurture the youth of the region in the art of theatre, stage performance and related education. He co-produced the music video “Tomorrow” with the legendary music producer Quincy Jones featuring leading popular Middle Eastern and North African singers, to inspire a new generation of young people to think about peace and a better tomorrow, and to bridge divisions across the Middle East.

Developments in the arts sector including the development of international ties through the arts, are an important part of the UAE’s forward thinking planning for the region. The arts are considered an important way to communicate an understanding of the region, its history, values, philosophy, and its future vision and global outlook.

Zayed National Museum Abu Dhabi, designed by Norman Foster (computer rendering).. . Three museums are under construction that are being financed by the government of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates: branches of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry and the Louvre designed by Jean Nouvel, and the Zayed National Museum designed by Norman Foster.

Architect Frank Gehry told the New York Times that the intentions of the Emiraties in building the Guggenheim is to show the world that these cultures “can be together in one room and talk to each other. I think it’s some kind of a revolution and I think given the political mess of all these countries including ours, there’s a clarity in talking to each other through art, through classical music, through literature, rather than trying to politicize one-upmanship and all the military options that are threatening everybody. It seems that the art takes the threat out and it becomes more humanistic – it’s more questioning it’s more… like, who are we, why are we, why do we talk alike, why can we relate to their art and they can relate to our art, and why don’t we do more of it. That’s the exciting thing. And hopefully when this building is built it will deliver that message. And if it does, the architecture will be part of something bigger.”

Clearly, including the arts and culture within the growing global movement towards prioritizing international collaboration and a new digital network of global cities would strengthen international relations as well as social and economic sectors.


Photograph Buckminster Fuller with Fly’s Eye Dome and Dymaxion Car 1933, courtesy Buckminster Fuller Institute. Buckminster Fuller, a renowned American visionary (1895 – 1983) spent his life working across multiple fields, such as architecture, design, geometry, engineering, science, cartography and education, in his pursuit to “make the world work for 100% of humanity.” He insisted on resisting monikers of specialization to describe his work, preferring instead to describe his output as that of a ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist ‘ – an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.

Fuller’s whole systems thinking and belief that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality — to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”, has links to the 21st century ideas of Benjamin Barber, Badr Jafr and others who are working to create new models in business and governance that reflect integrity and society’s interdependence.

Although Buckminster Fuller professed a lack of interest in how his projects looked, he believed that a project at completion was beautiful if it possessed integrity, which to him was the key to aesthetics. Integrity is a crucial word in redefining art according to Fuller – integrity of individual communication independent of the medium of its articulation. Fuller believed that “The great scientists and great artists are not only subjective and pure but also objective and responsible inventors.”  The creative process and a comprehensive outlook reflecting many disciplines leads to breakthroughs in solving the world’s problems.

THE POWER OF ART AS DESIGN: motivating society to create a better interdependent world

From “Serving Abroad..Through Their Eyes” photography project, US State Department commission of Lincoln Schatz. . Just as technology industries, corporations, foundations and policy makers are developing solutions to world problems, the arts and visual imagery can also be considered a practical problem solving design system.

Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s Senior Curator of Design and Architecture explains “Design allows science and technology to become part of people’s lives. Without it there would be too much distance between progress and reality, and so progress would be useless.”

In other words, the arts delve into society’s psyche and emotions. They inspire, beautify, protest, educate, stimulate empathy, and entertain, thereby influencing human perception and behavior. They stimulate creative thinking and invention.

Images can communicate across cultures, transcending linguistic barriers and national boundaries. The contemporary imagery – or as I call it “contemporary hieroglyphs” – presented by Streaming Museum is analogous to Ancient Egyptian pictograms as well as to the International System of Typographic Picture Education, known as “Isotype” developed by Austrian statistician Otto Neurath in the 1920s-30s.

Approximately 30,000 year old art, Chauvet Egyptian hieroglyphs, Graeco-Roman period

Caves South of France

Otto Neurath, Isotype characters. Collection of Department of Typography and Design, University of Reading, England.  The Isotype characters were developed by Neurath to show social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form. Neurath believed that the Isotype could be a universal picture language that would transcend national borders and help unify the world. The same can be said about music which brings people together around social and political issues.

Marina Zurkow, Slurb, 2009, single-channel HD video animation, stereo sound, 17 min, 42 sec., loop, dimensions variable. Photo Courtesy: bitforms gallery, New York. . Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. This can be relevant to the mission of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to build the technology system that will bring the internet to the whole world: “Communities of people can channel their energy to do great things, and having connections between people is the infrastructure for the world to do that.”

Considering the fact that the arts have the power to motivate people, the energy of these communities can be channeled using social media to solve some of the world’s problems and to incentivize government and corporations to respond to the need for and create modernized infrastructure and social systems and commercial industries that benefit society.

Moreover, the metrics prove that art displayed in public space and cultural venues invigorates society’s quality of life and the vitality of neighborhoods, cities and regions, which can incentivize program funders.

Vital to the presentation of art in public space is its placement and scale in relation to the structures and traffic patterns around it. The New York City-based organization Project for Public Space refers to well-planned public space as “placemaking” and has developed design guidelines that have been used in the creation of successful public spaces around the world. Placemaking, they say, has the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century in the burgeoning field of social innovation and the design of new systems for solving social, environmental, economic and emerging nation problems.

THE POWER OF ART: The science behind why and how it works

Miguel Chevalier, Magic Carpets, 2014, interactive artwork at former Sacre Coeur Church, Casablanca, Morocco. Photo courtesy of the artist. . Understanding how aesthetics inspire and affect human perception, involves looking at the science that underlies how people process and are motivated by imagery and how their perception is shaped by their beliefs and cultural background.

Those aiming to communicate a message across the media about their ideas, mission or product can tap into relevant research that can help them shape content that will make a lasting impression – for example:

-A study conducted by the University of Georgia has proven that art is the best marketing tool because it is aligns the subject with an image of importance, quality, longevity, and craftsmanship that far surpasses the effectiveness of celebrity photos and commercial images.

-Neuroscience research at Case Western Reserve University has found that there is a connection between emotional experience and learning. Spectacular art that touches people’s emotions will leave a lasting impression.

-And at New York University researchers discovered that people only remember ten percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do.

Whether in a public outdoor space, a cultural venue or online, the ability of technology and social media to instantly deliver art content and transfer audience enthusiasm for an art experience to others around the world makes art a powerful real-time communication vehicle.

According to research at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, videos that elicit positive high arousal emotions – astonishment, elation, inspiration, hilarity, exhilaration – are shared more in social media than videos that elicit negative high arousal emotions.

Coca-Cola uses this high arousal positive emotions approach in its marketing strategy for expanding its product distribution to some of the most remote and economically depressed parts of Africa. They tap into local talent and culture to create aspirational imagery, music, and messages tied to what makes people happy, promising that they will achieve the lives they want to live by creating their own businesses selling Coca-Cola. Pew Research Center reports that in emerging and developing economies, people’s satisfaction with their material well-being has the biggest positive impact on their overall happiness.

Coca-Cola’s marketing and distribution operation is so effective that aid organizations are using it to deliver supplies to places where Coke is delivered routinely but supplies of medicine, solar lights and other necessities have trouble reaching.


Photograph by Teru Kuwayama, in Afghanistan. Courtesy of the artist. . In a practical sense, collaboration between artists, corporations and organizations forms a perfect symbiotic. As Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London explains, “Sponsorship is not a donation; it’s a deal. It has to work for the business as well as for us.”

Sponsorship, when done correctly, is the modern iteration of 16th century Medici family art patronage that made Florence into the cradle of the Renaissance. Sponsor corporations or organizations — assuming they are properly aligned with the project they are facilitating and consent to display only their name and no commercial imagery within or near the artwork, can therefore be considered the Medici family of the 21st century. Artists reluctant to work with for-profit corporations may reconsider it from this perspective.

“Contemporary art is an important way to understand the transformation of society and culture in our time,” said Robert Y. C. Ho, chairman of the Guggenheim Museum’s The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative which explores the ideas and artworks from China. Contemporary art in all societies, he believes, “questions the status quo and makes people think about their world in different ways, gain deeper insight into contemporary society and culture, and where it is heading in the future.”

And as Marshall McLuhan said in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), “Art is a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”

Since 2008 Streaming Museum’s exhibitions have symbolized global interconnectivity and reflected on the possibilities for the future. They have been viewed by millions of people around the world – from north pole to south pole, from metropolises to remote locales.

Art can be a leverage point within a complex system – a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem – where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

I think that ART IS A WORLD BRAND FOR THE PEOPLE: A BRAND THAT NEEDS A NEW BUSINESS MODEL to expand its reach as both an inspirational and a practical design system for making a better interdependent world. The power of the arts can be activated by using the mechanisms of marketing and distribution systems of the most powerful world brands. “Don’t fight forces, use them,” Buckminster Fuller said in 1932.  And now in 2014 and beyond, the forces of corporations, governments, organizations and the arts should work together in inspiring and creating this better world.

Ryoji Ikeda “test pattern [times square]” October 2014, video by David Bates, Jr / Streaming Museum


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