A Bigger Sandbox: When Arts & Tech Play

Jennifer Wilson speaking at TechTO

As a newbie to the tech sector in Toronto, a night at TechTO was a total unknown for me.  

I’m a passion-driver. I wake up every day and live for new challenges, connection, and cause-driven excitement. I have an unrelenting enthusiasm and just flat out, unapologetic LOVE (yes, all-caps LOVE) for positive social change. Finding like-minded people isn’t always easy and so I was thrilled to discover so many kindred spirits at TechTO. 

As I entered the room,  a flashback hit me: it’s 2000 (stick with me here) and I’m at my very first leadership conference. I’m a wide-eyed teenager sitting amongst other wide-eyed teenagers as we await our dose of inspiration to build us up on the belief that we can be the change we want to see. The room is full of an unmistakable combination of high energy, optimism, ambition, community, and fun. Fast forward nearly two decades and here I sit at my first TechTO event and the energy is exactly the same. 

Within the tech sector in Toronto, there’s this entire sub-culture of people who are aimed at pushing boundaries, taking risks, finding solutions, driving positive change, lifting each other up, and living out their passions. I watched a room of people unapologetically state their passions, admit to their stumblings and share their keys to success – all in service of growing together.  

Being part of that room showed me how much similarity there is between DAREarts and the tech sector’s culture and approach. We teach our students to think outside the box, go beyond the confines of status quo, see potential where others can’t, take risks and define their success by welcoming failure as part of the learning process.  

I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to speak to this group of phenomenal change makers. What surprised me the most about speaking at TechTO was how quickly the audience resonated with the DAREarts story. We serve students who are often told that they aren’t good enough, that they’ll never become anything, that they don’t quite fit. As I learnt through talking to others in the room, many people in Toronto’s tech scene didn’t quite fit either, until they found their place in tech. I was approached by many people who shared inspiring stories similar to our DAREarts students: the story of the first time that someone saw potential in them or the moment when they found a safe and secure space to really be themselves.  

So where does this leave us now? How does technology connect to arts-based leadership development? The division between tech and the arts is artificial once you scratch the surface. They are deeply informed by one another and when you blend the two, magic happens. Art is about so much more than its medium. Art is about creating. It’s about believing that you can create something out of nothing. It’s about story-telling, expression and exploration. We apply creativity in so many facets of our personal and professional lives. There are many fields that appear scientific in nature, and in reality, rely heavily on creativity. That blend of science and art is everywhere around us. The concept of identifying solutions and building them is rooted in a creative process that dives deep into the diversity of human experience, requires empathy and openness to truly create something meaningful. Whether you’re building the next must-have app or writing the next masterpiece – the same rules apply.  At base, tech, like art is a set of tools to help us realize our passions, solve problems and connect with each other. 

There is no part of our lives that isn’t touched by technology. It is a foundational part of literacy, no less vital than reading and writing in our rapidly changing world.  We want DAREarts students to be equipped with the confidence, creativity, and skills to build a brighter path for themselves and technical skills and digital fluency are an essential part of that.  

Designing our new arts-based curriculum to include ways to create using technical tools and building digital literacy and confidence through hands-on learning is critical to keeping our curriculum relevant and giving our kids the best opportunity for their future. 

And that’s why I was in the room that night – to ask the folks who create with these tools every day to share their expertise with us and help us build meaningful learning opportunities for our students. The response was overwhelming. The outpouring of support from tech professionals across the city has been so incredible. The community that has been built by TechTO is simply inspiring. Thanks to the warm welcome from this community, DAREarts is well on its way with its new-found tech volunteers to harness the magic that occurs when tech and the arts share the sandbox.  

Original post can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bigger-sandbox-when-arts-tech-play-jennifer-wilson/

DAREarts is a registered Canadian charity that provides arts-based leadership development opportunities to children and youth from underserved communities across Canada. We are currently developing a new national curriculum that will integrate digital learning and technology into our art-based learning experiences. We are seeking volunteers to support our integration of technology into our work and the development of web-based applications to better support and connect with our students nation-wide. We are, of course, always seeking funders who want to transform the lives of young people and would love to discuss the opportunity to fund tech-informed arts programs for young leaders.  

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