When my dad, John, was a teenager in the 1940s, he made money by producing puppet shows in his Denver garage. During wartime, he took the puppets into veteran’s hospitals and entertained wounded soldiers.
Johnnie’s Marionette Theater was a creative joint venture that drew on individual talents to make something out of almost nothing. My grandfather built the sets. My grandmother typed the playbills. My great-grandmother sewed the costumes. Dad’s best friend wired the lights and drove the van that took the shows from venue to venue.
One of the stories involved a dragon, made out of green felt with a spine of sequins. Running through its body — from open jaws to long slithering tail — was a narrow tube. At the height of the show’s suspense, my grandfather would take a puff of tobacco from his pipe and blow it through the tube in the dragon’s tail, cleverly hidden by the stage curtains. The smoke would magically billow out through the Dragon’s open mouth, as if it were breathing fire. When I was little, they showed me how this ingenious bit of stagecraft worked and I was mesmerized.
This past weekend, entrepreneurship and ingenuity of a 21st century variety was taking shape in Cincinnati. The first-ever Tidal Art x Tech Challenge — organized by ArtsWave and #StartUpCincy and sponsored by Fifth Third Bank — brought more than 100 creative professionals together to solve challenges posed by some of the region’s largest arts organizations. The idea came from ArtsWave Board Member Chris Ostoich, co-founder of the red-hot start-up LISNR. Chris has long been inspired by his own dad, a musician in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and his mom, a pianist. As a child, Chris was surrounded by classical music and performances. As a young adult, he noticed the disconnect between younger creatives and the city’s world-renowned arts institutions. His answer? Bring them together, a “collision” of sorts.
The result wasn’t just a collision of different sectors, it was a collision of talents. What was most astonishing to me was how the Tidal teams, most of which were made up of relative strangers, could so quickly identify and blend their individual talents in order to make something out of nothing. Instead of scrap fabric, wood, heavy string and family members – the raw materials of my father’s 1940s creative enterprise — the Tidal Tech participants used coding skills, software, apps and computer languages that most of us have little familiarity with. But the results were as magical as a smoke-blowing dragon: pitches made after a weekend working not in a garage, but in the beautiful new Union Hall facility that houses Cintrifuse, StartUpCincy and The Brandery.
The other awe-inspiring thing for me was how immersed the participants became in understanding the struggles and complexities of local arts organizations. They put their skills to work creating the equivalent of magic on stage: new business concepts, new Apps to improve the arts patron experience, new ways for the arts to better capture and use data. To keep these connections building and growing, we are creating a new ArtsWave Tech Advisory Council. Email me if you’d like to know more or be added to the mailing list for next year’s Art x Tech Challenge — we can already tell we want to do it again.
The folks at Cintrifuse wrote this conclusion coming out of the weekend, which we echo wholeheartedly:
“Culture is what makes us laugh and cry. It brings us together through the emotions it evokes and allows us to find common ground.
"We’re a prideful city but without art and culture we lose the story around that pride. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s keep telling our story and using technology to do it.”
Thank YOU for being part of the story.
Stay tuned for the next chapter, as we report back on the next magical event produced by ArtsWave, tonight’s third annual CincySings and the countdown to the finish line of the 2016 ArtsWave Community Campaign. Fifteen days to go, and hopefully some magic still in the air to propel us forward.