“As a European project, we had a responsibility to be a platform for diverse voices and experiences.”

09.04.2020 by Hester Gersonius

Keywords: conference, interview, recap

On the 5th of March, the SMARTPLACES conference took place at the Dortmunder U. This edition was curated and organized by dream team Abhay Adhikari and Jenni Müller, who kindly shared their experiences with us.

You organized the third and final smARTplaces conference. The first conference was all about data and the second one addressed audience development through digital technology, and new forms of cultural mediation. What did you focus on this time?

Abhay: Our focus, for this final conference was to tell the story of our project. And the only way we could do it justice, was to talk about how we have evolved – in the way we think about and engage with digital, as a consequence of all the activities and experiments that we’ve run since 2016. This led us to the conference theme: the human experience of engaging with digital.

You had over 20 speakers from 10 countries participating. How you did you manage to get such a diverse group of people on board?

Jenni: On the one hand we gathered a great network through our smARTplaces project that we realized with 9 partner institutions from 7 different countries during the last 4 years. All institutions were represented on-site at the conference. But the key factor was the decision to hire a curator with a large business network in the international sector. Dr Abhay Adhikari who has been part of the smARTplaces as a consultant since 2017 managed to create a gathering of generous, clever and thoughtful people from across the world.

Abhay: Once we had the conference theme in place, it was a case of finding people with shared values. We were also conscious that as a European project, we had a responsibility to be a platform for diverse voices and experiences. This is what led us to identifying speakers, who were kind enough to accept our invite and share their honest insight.

You had some surprising elements lined up for the attendees. Can you tell us more about that?

Jenni: We wanted to add characteristics to the conference that represent besides our way of working also the variety of professionals in the cultural and creative sector. With the performance of the great cellist and singer/songwriter Caroline Lavelle and the interaction session of Professor Dorothée King and Radek Rudnicki, we managed to create an added value to the conference apart from the standards.

Abhay: We wanted our attendees to really get to know each other. And sometimes, a moment of unexpectedness is a great ice-breaker. This is why we planted surprises throughout the day. I’d like to add that we wouldn’t have been able to pull them off had it not been for Jenni Müller, our brilliant producer, who had many sleepless nights sorting out the logistics. Whilst it might sound pretty straightforward, it’s not that easy, to plant a 30 minute mindfulness meditation half-way through the day, and keep it a secret till the very end.

What did you take away from organizing the conference?

Jenni: Running an international conference is a huge challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn. Organisation has to be very structured and simple things such as checklists and time management skills finally prove their value. When it comes to great events, preparation is everything. Be motivated by a strong sense of responsibility, patience and clear principles. The process of planning an event from start to finish may be divided into different phases such as setbacks and success. The challenge is to keep the overview at any time.

Abhay: As organisers, we must view our events as a platform not just for the success stories, but for new and emerging voices. Because it’s this mix of experiences that communicate the complexity of working in the cultural sector. I’m so pleased with the number of people who came up to me during the day saying they were pleasantly surprised and inspired by our speakers and activities.

And what was your biggest challenge?

Jenni: People. They can be your team, the attendees or the speakers. You can be perfectly organized and follow your schedule strictly on time but it’s about human resources and their constant change. Never underestimate that the human aspect of any success is of capital importance. From the start of the project, always have a backup in mind in regards of last minute changes specific to the individuals.

Abhay: To be honest, as a team, we worked so well together, that we didn’t really face any major challenges. We were all aware that there were many moving parts to this project, but we were confident that any issue that did crop up, could be resolved.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing the talks on our website and social media channels. What should people look out for in particular?

Abhay: I hope you enjoy the mindfulness meditation conducted by Professor Dorothée King accompanied by the soundtrack composed by Radek Rudnicki. At this present moment, with so much uncertainty, we all need to take a moment for ourselves.