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Sundance Institute New Frontier Workshop

On Saturday, September 9th, Anna and I attended the Sundance Institute New Frontier workshop in Philadelphia, PA. We got to explore some newer virtual reality set-ups, listen, and interact with a variety of artists from Philadelphia and other parts of the USA.

"New Frontier at Sundance Institute is a dynamic initiative created to identify and foster independent artists working at the convergence of film, art, media, live performance, music, and technology. The labs and residency programs at New Frontier work to identify and foster independent artists and creative technologists innovating the art and form of story at the convergence of diverse forms of creative expression, in addition to building a community of collaborators across diverse disciplines to push the boundaries of story."

The manager of New Frontier Lab Programs, is Ruthie Doyle, and she began the discussions of the day and moderated others that followed. The presenting artists for the day included: Ricardo Rivera, Bayete Ross Smith, Yasmin Elayat, Ashley Baccus-Clark, and a panel of local artists including Leslie Birch, M. Asli Dukan, Sara Zia Ebrahimi Hughes, and Joshua Mosley--moderated by Maori Holmes.

There was a lot that was covered, however I do want to highlight a few things from each artists and then summarize what I took away from their presentations.

"Story is the oldest technology-we encode who we are through story."-Unknown...might have been Doyle who said this.


Ricardo Rivera is primarily a installation/projection artist/projection mapper by profession. He spoke very openly comparing some projects he's done for advertising companies, opposed to the pieces of art that he has created for himself. For Ricardo, it was pretty obvious when he did something for his own passion, or because it was what a vendor wanted. Ricardo is apart of Klip Collective, which is "an experiential art shop in Philly.We integrate projection, lighting, and technology with storytelling to create compelling experiences." A couple of things that I took away from Ricardo's presentation was a confirmation of my own frustrated feelings of how as an artist, living in the world, I have to balance the work that pays and the work that fills up my fulfillment bank. Sounds pretty basic and perhaps common sense, but it was nice to hear it from another artist who has been doing work for a long just say's a hardship that doesn't really go away...just work around it.

I really enjoyed Rivera's description of his installation Nightscape, at Longwood Gardens, and the work being done at BOK, one of Philadelphia's older vocational schools that shut down in 2013.

Being new to Philadelphia, I had no idea that implications and mixed feelings surrounding BOK. In the midst of continued educational struggle and reform in Philadelphia--I see this a little through my wife's eyes being a part of the educational system--the Q&A following Ricardo's presentation seemed to draw quite a bit of interest regarding his choices in the BOK installation. It was cool to see how he defended his choices but also acknowledged some frustration/curiosity from a couple of the questioners. That project is continuing to be developed in an attempts to honor the past of BOK while combining the most modern of VR technology.


Bayete Ross Smith, was my favorite speaker. He creates work that deals with identity, beauty, and perception. I found his presentation style to be very engaging and his material to be culturally relevant on a micro and macro scale. I was really impacted by the project "Question Bridge." The project was initially put together over a 4 year period and is still a living project today. Question Bridge is that it took a variety of black men from different backgrounds and perspectives asking each other questions and hearing the answers. Man, isn't that relevant and culturally engaging? It was such a cool glimpse into the power of perspective.

Being a white-male, I know that I have in fact benefited from some form of "white-privilege." Just as a black person doesn't choose their cards when they were born, I did not choose mine. Whether a person is born into poverty, middle, or affluent class, we didn't draw our cards, nor do those cards always stay the same. I believe that we are all God's children beautifully different and equal. I believe people have been given a responsibility in proportion to opportunity to make a difference in the community that they're placed.

Being sensitive in wanting to love and understand all people, I have been in situations where I have felt that I couldn't actively participate or ask a question because it might be offensive in some way. Almost like I didn't have the right to ask--but to my shame--that's probably just my fear talking from some specific situations that I have lived through. Maybe I will share those at another time. Perspective, again. In some ways, Question Bridge was a personal look into many different groups of black males. I really was fascinated by it's personal, yet expansive qualities. I think that this project will continue to be used to draw awareness--and then awareness creating change.

Another project that Smith did was called "Our Kind of People,"(part 1 seen below) which took a subject and dressed them in different outfits and it speaks to how our perception of these subjects change merely by their dress. Once again, challenging perspective. Really interesting stuff. Smith discussed some of his other work, but these two stuck out the most to me.

Our Kind of People part 1


People make generalities--it's just a part of what people do. Most prejudices have been created because they are a result of hurt, and a person then feels entitled to anger, pride, bitterness and fear associated with that initial incident/person involved--and that is often identified by what we see. Instead of seeing the deeper issues at hand, people often are deeply impacted by visual differences--(look at that glaring generality I just said!). But how can we create positive change, unifying change, selfless change? How can we put aside what we believe we are entitled to rooted in hate and put on love--that takes a real transformation from being made truly aware who you are--and I believe we were all given a second chance through Jesus Christ who provided true grace and love for all.


Yasmin Elayat was the next artist and she too had created a "living project" that grabbed my attention. The project is entitled 18 Days in Egypt. Summarizing directly from her website: "18 Days In Egypt is a collaborative web-documentary about the ongoing Egyptian revolution." Elayat spoke about her personal passion in the project and wanting to provide an opportunity to document the events while they happened to prevent history from being erased. This project also gave the involvement over to the community in Egypt encompassing the events surrounding and gave anyone the ability to upload directly online. If you'd like to know more about her inspiration and background, click here. Her passion and courage to "just go" was truly inspiring.

She also discussed a VR project that her team, SCATTER, created that dealt with people's experiences on the subway--Blackout. Looked like something I would love to experience.


Ashley Baccus-Clark is part of the team of Hyphen-Labs and was speaking at the Institute due to her project NEUROSPECULATIVE AFROFEMINISM. She discussed some of the challenges that she and her team faced in creating this piece. I found it inspiring how she pitched her idea to Sundance but hadn't had much experience in the medium that her team was going to work with--yet another example of "just going and doing it." I will say though, I don't know if it was because it was in the afternoon and I was starting to crash, or Ash's presentation style, but I wasn't able to absorb as much from her presentation as the other presenters thus far in the day.


The final panel of artists was interesting from the stand point of all of them being based in the Philly area. All 4 of the artists had a different area of expertise/medium but what I enjoyed mostly was that they all knew what things made them tick. Not just within the panel, but all day, I saw artists who knew what type of art/stories they wanted to tell and explore in the world. As I have reflected over the last couple of years, I am starting to get a better grip on what truly are the stories that I want to tell--and how am I going to tell them?

I left the workshop inspired by the opportunities presented by new technology and my head swimming with things to think about. It also inspired me to see artists who were unashamedly excited about their work, proud of what they were doing, and not asking for permission to do so. It was yet another growing experience for me to see other people going out and doing it--and since this workshop day--I don't want to just watch other people do it. Conviction or encouragement is useless unless there is some sort of action attached to it.

I can proudly say I have "done" some stuff for my own passion in the last couple of weeks and have some more things that are on there way. I will discuss those projects in a different post, the typical--What's new with Adler post...

For more on the Sundance Institute, including opportunities, click here.

Until next time.

#SundanceInstitute #NewFrontier #RicardoRivera #LongwoodGardens #Nightscape #BOK #BayeteRossSmith #QuestionBridge #OurKindofPeople #YasminElayat #KlipCollective #PhiladelphiaArt #AshleyBaccusClark #NEUROSPECULATIVEAFROFEMINISM #SCATTER #Blackout #storytelling #actorlife #communityoutreach #RuthieDoyle #LeslieBirch #MAsliDukan #SaraZiaEbrahimiHughes #JoshuaMosley #VirtualReality

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