Arts & Culture
...But valuing similar ideals, the city's tech and arts communities come together at CreateBaltimore
Published: January 12, 2011
Jan. 15 At Mica's Brown Center
Co-sponsored by MICA, Direct Dimensions, Joe Squared, Flying Dog brewery, Zeke’s coffee, MP3Car, the John Henry Sculpture project, MindGrub, MacMedics, and Community Analytics.
For more information visit createbaltimore.eventbrite.com
Dave Troy had a wild idea a few weeks ago. The self-described local entrepreneur, software developer, and community builder was touring the old Lebow Clothing Factory in the Station North Arts District. Old, abandoned urban industrial spaces often get repurposed when developers get hold of them—into mixed-use retail/residential housing, say. Troy considered something else.
“I had this crazy thought, which was, What if you made clothing in the clothing factory?” he says during a midday interview at a Mount Vernon coffee shop. “And I started to think through what that would mean. Today, we’ve got really awesome digital cutting machines, digital sewing machines, you can actually create fast fashion for the New York to Washington market here in Baltimore that is more innovative, more original, quicker turnaround, higher margins, and you could vertically integrate the sales of it in amazing new ways. You could employ the people that live across the street making clothes—which would do wonders for that neighborhood.”
Troy shares this idea as a consideration/example of how the technology industry and the arts community can not only mutually benefit each other, but work together as agents of city enrichment. “There are certainly things like that that come to mind, and taking people who are otherwise eking by an existence making clothes on Etsy and they do an amazing job, but figuring out a way to add capital to that and make it something that is really substantive as opposed to being a nice hobby but not necessarily scalable,” he says. “And that’s not to put down those people, but if you add $3 million of great equipment to it, you could do so much more. And if they wanted to do more, that would be great for everyone.”
At the table, Troy is flanked by J. Buck Jabaily, a co-founder of Single Carrot Theater and the executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA), and Scott Burkholder, project coordinator of the mural organization the Baltimore Love Project—two of his three co-organizers of CreateBaltimore, a Jan. 15 participant-led convention that they hope will facilitate collisions of local art and tech conversations much like the spur of the moment idea Troy just assayed. (Not present is blogger and podcaster Andrew Hazlett.) CreateBaltimore is a rally point intentionally without a clearly articulated agenda, and as of this midweek interview more than a week prior to the event, more than 120 members of the local arts and tech communities, institutional and individual, have already registered to attend.
“I think Baltimore is a place of great potential, especially at this moment and time,” Jabaily says. “It’s a place where anybody with a good idea can come and make it happen, and nobody is going to stand in your way. And if you’re savvy and can put things together, it works. So it seems like these two communities are thriving to some degree at the same time, and we thought it made sense to get everybody in the same room together and see what happens, what comes of that.”
Burkholder, Jabaily, and Troy say the CreateBaltimore idea started during a series of conversations growing out of a few events and openings in October. The GBCA sponsored a lecture by futurist David Houle, author of The Shift Age, at the Walters Art Museum, which Burkholder, Hazlett, and Jabaily attended and where they had a discussion about noticing the similarities between Baltimore’s young entrepreneurial arts and tech communities, emerging groups that don’t always overlap.
“It’s funny, because they’re drastically different personalities,” Burkholder says, before talking about the usual stereotypes: business people being all about money and artists being emotional. Past those superficial reactions, though, arts and tech people share a number of characteristics. “They both have similar values,” he continues. “They both value creativity. They love putting something together out of nothing. They value change, and more than not it’s a change that says tomorrow will be better than today. And beyond that, they’re very motivated people. They’re people who get things done whatever it takes.”
Burkholder ties these overlapping attitudes into a number of pop economics discussions that have been happening since the mid-2000s, citing the work of Houle, problematic creative-class urban theorist Richard Florida, and A Whole New Mind author Daniel Pink. “There’s a lot of business literature around the idea of the future of business relies not just on people who are technologically, engineering, and scientifically logically minded, that we’ve moved beyond the industrial age and the information age,” he says. “Those ages were led by left-brain people, people who have logic, that skill set. Not to say that artists don’t have logic. Richard Florida, David Houle, Daniel Pink are all talking about people who embody the right brain, people that have empathetic, sympathetic, design, aesthetic skills. We need people who see that and, frankly, there are very few people who embody both. So part of our ambition is to put both of those people together and see what results.”
Troy sees this synergy as well. “If you look at Apple and everything they’ve done, they’ve really used design as a competitive weapon against everybody,” he says. “That trend is rippling through every aspect of tech. So it’s no longer sufficient to make something that’s functional and has all the right algorithms. People have to create an emotional relationship to stuff, and I think that’s something that everybody’s recognizing now, so we want to make sure that the very best people in the design world are talking to the entrepreneurs and people who can help try to bring that kind of thing to the market.”
CreateBaltimore is using the bar camp format, where the participants generate topics and choose what the day’s sessions are going to be, so what, exactly, is going to be discussed is yet to be determined. And that open format is how an event like this gains its potential momentum: It’s going to be powered by the local tech and arts people already active in their fields, but what could happen when and how they collaborate and partner is one of the event’s hopeful long-term outcomes—not what it intellectually produces that day, but the relationships that form that can become action. As Jabaily points out, “Everyone here has a social mission too, within the arts community and within the larger entrepreneurial tech community. Everybody wants Baltimore to get better.”
“I think that we all share that as a common value is something that really is one of the great underlying threads about this,” Troy says. “We all believe that we can make the world better. Tech people tend to be a little bit more, let’s start a business or something. And the arts community, to its credit, is a little bit more human powered than perhaps the tech community tends to want to be, but we’re doing the same thing. And I think now the fun is being able to take all of these connections and convert them from online to real world and see that happen in the flesh. It’s just magic when that occurs.”
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