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knowledge. In fact this has been one of the traditional roles of the artist throughout
history." (Shaw, ZKM; DigiCULT Interview, June 29, 2001)
So why do commercial companies not queue up in front of the ZKM to catch some of
those innovative concepts for new uses of technology?
It's not coffee, it's not cheese ... it's something new
There are mainly two reasons that create obstacles for a successful technology transfer
from the creative, artistic world into the commercial world.
First, there exists a lack of a real understanding of what artists are doing as in many cases,
artistic research in new media is three to five years ahead of its time. Of course, this has also
an impact on the ZKM as cultural institution that displays this kind of radically new art.
Although industry works closely together with the ZKM in many projects the Institute
for Visual Media raises 50% of its budget from third party funds and the Institute for Net
Development is financed up to 75% through projects the ZKM has not been successful so
far in creating long-term private partnerships that are not project-based. It seems, that
private companies are not yet willing to invest larger sums into artist-driven research and
In this respect, the ZKM has an `identity problem' because it does not conform to the
traditional perception of the boundaries between art and science.While the ZKM embodies
a uniquely new synergy of research, production and exhibition activities, it is still largely
perceived as just a museum where people go to look at exhibits. On the other side, what's
going on behind the scenes the turf-breaking research and development in new media -
remains mostly invisible to the public (and industry) because that sort of activity is not
expected of or understood within the context of a cultural institution."It's not coffee, it's
not cheese it's not the stuff that's already around you.The ZKM is offering something
new and challenging that crosses the boundaries between art, science, industry and society."
(Shaw, ZKM; DigiCULT Interview, June 29, 2001)
Industrial pragmatism
The second factor that hampers technology transfer has to do with the way industry
works. Fundamental innovation implies taking high risks, yet most of industry is really
conservative from the point of view of arts and culture. Private companies are enormously
pragmatic and under severe financial and time pressures with the objective to deliver
affordable, market-ready products in short term. Developments that do not have a guarantee
of providing a commercial benefit at the end, are not followed through."The problem with
most artist driven research work is that it's technically speculative and conceptually
experimental, so that industry is not able to immediately recognise its commercial
implications. And these implications are all the more valuable because they derive from an
adventurous content driven and socially sensitive understanding of the technology." (Shaw,
ZKM; DigiCULT Interview, June 29, 2001)
Within ZKM, the need to build bridges and establish relationships to private industries
has long been recognised.There are also ideas of how to better manage technology transfer,
for example by creating a new employment position for a skilled professional concerned
only with technology transfer. But building bridges and generating trust is a big challenge
to this young institution which needs the "right formula" for public-private partnership to
gel, so that both private companies and an arts-focused new media research facility would
feel comfortable working together.