The Incubator

CryptoIndigenous is an experimental urban and land-based arts and culture training program for next-generation Indigenous talent, with the goal to incubate sustainable self-employment. It builds upon proven cultural entrepreneurship training to foster new arts industry employment through a careful balance of traditional knowledge, science and modern technologies.

Indigenous artists from Northwestern Ontario, Nunavut and Manitoba will learn alongside an inclusive team of researchers, arts educators and professional artists to: 

  1. Develop and launch art and culture-based businesses utilizing digital technologies (animation, augmented reality, virtual reality, lights and visual projection, film, and immersive digital art).
  2. Provide hands-on digital arts and cultural entrepreneurship training and advanced mentorship for emerging urban, rural and remote Indigenous artists
  3. Explore and better understand the role and impacts of culture and creativity in driving community-based research and economic development.

What is Digital Greenhouse?

The Digital Greenhouse is a digital innovation initiative for Canadian individuals, groups and organizations. It supports short-term projects that leverage digital technology to address sectoral and digital challenges, including:

  • the development of new digital tools and solutions that increase the resilience, sustainability, and discoverability of the arts sector
  • the development of sector-wide and cross-sector collaborations, partnerships, and networks to support innovative digital business models, revenue models and monetization strategies
  • sectoral approaches aimed at strategically increasing the digital/data literacy and ongoing digital transformation of the arts sector
  • addressing challenges and exploring digital solutions related to accessibility, equity, diversity, decolonization, social justice, and climate responsibility created by, or relevant to, the digital world
  • addressing challenges and exploring solutions related to the lack of access to digital infrastructure for remote regions and Northern and under-represented communities.

Context and background 

The Covid-19 pandemic has obliterated opportunities for northern, remote and rural Indigenous emerging and professional artists to participate in opportunities to display, disseminate and promote their creative and cultural products. The pandemic has brought with it many challenges to business opportunities in the North, but also several opportunities.

This unique program works to capitalize on one specific opportunity and challenge: The increasing reliance and utilization of digital communication technologies and collaborative hardware/software solutions to connect physically remote locations with each other and major urban centers.

The main goal of the project proposed here is the creation of a comprehensive education program for indigenous artists and cultural workers.

The incubator will provide synchronous and asynchronous training programs educating youth and adults about the use of digital technologies to create and valorize their artistic work.

Beyond entrepreneurship training focused on starting up a business in their own cultural context, our program also addresses the creation of digital art work, utilizing the use of augmented and virtual reality, game design, visual projection technology, photography, filmmaking, and the creation of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).

As such, this project will support skills development, training and mentorship for Indigenous youth from Nunavut, Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba. Indigenous learners and community members will participate alongside established professional Indigenous artists and culture carriers to ensure the training and experiences are inclusive and culturally appropriate. 

Context

This project aims to contribute to and expand the existing work on indigenous entrepreneurship incubation, and adds a specific program focused solely on creating digital products and services, to address the barriers of high transportation costs in the North.

The program follows the examples set by indigenous and people-of-color focused incubation programs such as the Arviat Film Society, Creative Startups (Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA), the Neighborhood Development Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) and the Incubator for Digital Entrepreneurship in the Arctic (currently working with the Tanana Chiefs Corporation in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Hamlet of Arviat, Nunavut).

Our new proposed program seeks to adapt the Indigenous focus of these existing programs and hones in on training that is exclusively focused on digital art and cultural products. 

There is tremendous potential to expand the fast-growing global creative economy to remote, rural and northern Indigenous communities. A key advantage of this sector is the fact that many products and services developed under this rubric are digital in nature, such as (but not limited to) audio and video production, podcasting, still photography, augmented and virtual reality games and applications, coding, telepresence and numerous others. With broadband access, the remoteness of the northern and rural communities can be overcome and aspects of resource extraction economics can be supplemented by a digital creative economy that reduces the typically high transportation costs and creates location-independent jobs. 

Addressing Sectoral and digital challenges

Canada has many Indigenous communities successfully producing tangible artistic and cultural products and services, requiring shipment of raw materials and/or finished products. Kinngait, for example, was established in the 1950s as such a community, and continues to produce large quantities of artistic work that is distributed worldwide. The pandemic had significant impacts on supply chains and transportation sectors for material and tangible goods, making virtual creation and distribution of digital arts and culture products a viable alternative. The barriers and disconnection created by COVID-19 decimated opportunities for already disadvantaged and marginalized Northern, rural and remote artists to effectively participate in, advance and contribute to the arts economy. 

The importance of digital training for arts and cultural sectors, as well as job creation and participation in markets for digital products is widely recognized as essential for economic recovery in modern economies, as evidenced by several creative economy reports by the United Nations Creative Economy Program (UNCTAD 2008, 2010 and 2013). Key to the implementation of arts-oriented economic initiatives for rural and underserved regions is local access to and familiarity with information technology and digital media.

The arts-oriented economic development initiative proposed here contributes to supporting the design and testing of a culturally-aligned and community-focused digital creative incubator facilitating development of new artistic and cultural training opportunities and jobs for remote and rural Indigenous artists and cultural connectors. Research supported by the University of Minnesota Duluth and ArcticNet, for example, indicates the implementation of any entrepreneurship incubator/accelerator requires careful study of the traditional and contemporary values that communities see in such programs.

Benefits: Accelerating sectoral recovery and advancing the resilience of the arts sector 

This project aims to create meaningful training, work and professional development opportunities for northern, remote and rural Indigenous artists through advanced mentorship and arts-oriented, digital economic development. Specific anticipated benefits include:

  1. Indigenous Consultation and Co-Creation of Digital Entrepreneurship Curriculum. 
    1. A collaborative team of Indigenous youth, elders and experts will work with scholars, community organizers and non-profit organizations to identify and assess the challenges and barriers that currently exist with participation in the arts economy. 
    2. A collaborative team of Indigenous youth, elders and experts will work with scholars, community organizers and non-profit organizations to deliver/teach the curriculum in Winnipeg, MB, with indigenous youth in attendance. 
    3. The curriculum developed for this project will be accessible to indigenous communities across Canada, and will be freely usable under a Creative Commons license. 
  2. Improved mental health and confidence in artistic expression through increased social connections. Participating artists will create: 
    1. new opportunities to engage, collaborate and grow within the local and regional arts communities; 
    2. better employability for themselves through targeted skills training; 
    3. increased visitors to their community; 
    4. increased sales of their youth and community-facilitated art. 

Who will benefit? Artists. Arts organizations. The arts sector and the broader community.

Three distinct types of benefactors will emerge from the proposed project: 

  1. Individual indigenous artists will benefit most. Participants will be better prepared and trained to create sustainable arts-and culture-based businesses. 
  2. Emerging arts organizations, through a participating leader, will gain a deeper understanding of arts incubation and train-the-trainer programs focusing on cultural entrepreneurship, digital skills development in the arts, networking, team and community building. They will be able to support the increased delivery of therapeutic recreational art programs, participation in events and community economic development. 
  3. The broader communities in which the participating artists and trainers reside will gain a deeper understanding of the barriers communities face navigating participation and socio-economic development for the digital arts and culture sectors.