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What if The DJ Were The NGO?


So, you graduate from a small liberal arts school with five-figure debt and want to work in the arts? Start drafting those coffee-shop and restaurant resumes to keep you afloat while you put in long thankless, underutilized hours as an unpaid intern.

I graduated from Bard College last May and the only people I know from my graduating class with full-time paid jobs in the arts are the wealthy few whose parents bankrolled summers of full time unpaid work for them while we were still in school. Let's not even get into the fact that most internships are technically illegal. The point is that the largess of the late '90s that gave my generation our fantasies of success and airs of entitlement is long gone, and we are collectively struggling to face the reality of down-scaling our dreams in the midst of a sour economy.

But it doesn't have to be like this. I think these limitations open new possibilities for creative work outside of traditional channels. If it's a struggle to even find an unpaid position - why not re-evaluate what your employment goals and go to work for yourself? Instead of racking up hours on Facebook while waiting for the next menial task to complete, create the organization or company you would want to be a part of. I collaborated with some friends and founded Beyond Digital, a new type of media production company dedicated to documenting and engaging instances of digital culture around the world.

Beyond Digital: Morocco, our first major project, is an artist production and research residency taking place in Marrakesh this June. We will create new works with local artists. These works will include songs, documentary video shorts, and photography collections. We will build a DIY recording studio in our rented house and perform weekly free public concerts together with the artists we work with. Marrakesh-based arts organization Dar Al-Ma'mûn will be our primary partner for presenting our work and linking us to local musicians and artists.

We will post daily updates online -- texts, photos, rough cut videos -- publicizing the project and giving an 'open source' window into our working methodology. After our residency is completed artifacts will spread globally through museum installations, public lectures, writing, photo essays, video segments, and live performance.

Through a series of free workshops we will teach what we like to call 'postmedia network literacy' as we collaborate. This is a fancy way of saying that as we work we will explain digital production tools and the global media system so the musicians and kids we're working with will have a better idea how to navigate and use these systems, on their own terms. Simultaneously we will be exploring related localizations of Western tech, such as the robotic vocal transformations of Antares' Auto-Tune software in Moroccan Berber folk music --especially fascinating because everything else about the music is staunchly traditional.

We asked ourselves what if the DJ were the NGO? Take the same mobile media production practices we have been perfecting for years to a new locale, share our skills through community workshops and collaborate on projects with local artists. Beyond Digital is about exploring the limitations of bandwidth and creating new multi-media work that soaks through data and physical infrastructure and networks of distribution.

Once you grow accustomed to high-speed, always on, digital networks, it's easy to assume that almost any type of experience can be translated through fiber-optics. But there is a limit to what can be communicated through bandwidth alone. Beyond Digital for me, is a project about overcoming these limitations while using these same networks to tell our story. The only thing I have to lose is time. We are fundraising through a combination of grassroots efforts like Kickstarter, non-profit grant applications and direct corporate support. It's been a struggle building an organization from the ground up with zero start up funds, but worst-case scenario I'm still working for myself.