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

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.”



Best of the rest

The Forward Festival has always celebrated innovation and entrepreneurship. As the event has grown each year its organizers have sought to include more industries. This year a concerted effort was made to include a social good/charitable component.

The 2nd annual Social Good Summit will take place Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Madison Public Library. This event will tackle the question of how Madison’s entrepreneurs can transform good intentions into intentional actions.

Other events of interest happening at this year’s Forward Fest include a Business Bar Camp hosted by the Middleton Chamber on Aug. 22, which is described as “an ad-hoc unconference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment,” along with the Black Entrepreneur’s Summit aimed at both aspiring and already established entrepreneurs, and held Aug. 20 at the Urban League.

Additionally, there’s a session on turning minipreneurs (kids) into entrepreneurs by getting parents and children alike to think about entrepreneurship at a young age. Children will have a chance to visit a banker, create an advertising brochure, and sell their own paper airplanes on Aug. 20 at the Dreambank.

Anyone who owns a business or is interested in starting a business is encouraged to attend Forward Festival. All events are open to the public and many are free. The full schedule of events can be found at

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