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Art and technology make not-so-strange bedfellows at Forward Fest

All photos courtesy Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. ©MMoCA

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In ways like never before, the lines between art and technology are being blurred. So much so, in fact, that it’s one of the topics being presented at this year’s Forward Festival, August 18–25, in Madison.

The event, which began in 2010 as the Forward Technology Conference and has since grown to a full-blown, eight-day event with the tech conference at its center, attracts over 2,000 attendees and includes 40-plus events organized by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.

This year, Forward Festival organizers are working with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), to bring the arts and technology communities together in a marriage made in heaven for creative types from all business sectors.


In addition to hosting on of its regular MMoCA Nights events on August 19 during the Forward Fest proceedings, MMoCA programmed a special ART+ event specifically for Forward Fest and its diverse audience of entrepreneurs, nerds, designers, geeks, hackers, foodies, and creative professionals from across the Midwest.

MMoCA’s ART+ events use art as a pivot point to look at a lot of different topics and issues, notes Elizabeth Tucker, director of development for MMoCA. “The event is typically less talking about art and more about using art as a lens through which to talk about many other topics.”

Previous ART+ events include ART+ Place, ART+ Identity, ART+ Geopolitics, and ART+ Learning.

“The ART+ Geopolitics is an excellent example,” says Tucker, “of where we had a photo show up at the time from an artist who did photographs of unrecognized countries — countries that had declared their independence but hadn’t yet been recognized by the international community. These were beautiful photographs, really rich in their content, but through them there was a whole range of international political issues that could be discussed.”

On Aug. 24, MMoCA will present ART+ Code, which will explore ways in which artists, designers, and front-end developers use programming, new media, and of-the-moment technologies as the tools and mediums for their work.

A panel discussion will feature:

  • Stephen Hilyard, professor of art UW–Madison with a focus on digital media practice and theory;
  • Dan Merfeld, founder of TheoryThree Interactive and President of Design Madison; and
  • Kelly Rauwerdink, digital artist and front-end developer for

“The ART+ Code event is going to draw in a segment of people who are interested in art along with people interested in the programming, designing, and tech side of things,” says Tucker, “not to mention people just interested in the general business angle outside of the normal scope of their jobs. We expect it will trigger new ideas and allow them to make new connections with other professionals they might not normally interact with.”


According to Tucker, there’s been an explosion in recent years in the amount of digital and new media artwork exhibited at MMoCA and other galleries throughout the world.

Entrepreneurs are looking for ways to capitalize on this movement, notes Tucker, such as local startup 23 VIVI, which sought to commercialize the sale of unique pieces of digital artwork, and launched to much fanfare earlier this year before shuttering due to an inability to sustain is early momentum.


“There’s a lot of digital artwork being created,” says Tucker. “We have a gallery space called the Imprint Gallery specifically devoted to digital and new media art and we’ll be doing a lot more in the coming year.”

In September, MMoCA will open its Wisconsin Triennial exhibit, featuring all Wisconsin artists and including a wide array of digital and new media artwork.

Tucker also notes while art curriculum has been a victim of budget cuts in many schools, there has been a rise in new media work, animation, and digital artwork creation being taught in schools, even at the elementary level.

“Art, digital technology, and new media education are unique and critically important in the school system because those are subjects that particularly keep students engaged,” Tucker comments. “Studies show arts education not only keeps students engaged and in school who might otherwise decide to not stay in school, there’s also the fact that the skills that arts education provide fuels their critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit. All of those skills are so important for whatever career path students end up taking.

“Part of that comes from this whole STEM to STEAM movement, so I think when we bring that back to our own community here in Madison it really speaks to wanting to invest in that next generation and growing talent at home,” Tucker continues. “If we’re thinking about the arts and new technology, those two areas are going to serve our students uniquely in terms of getting them on the best possible path to whatever they want to do for the rest of their life.”


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