Kansas City: Humanizing Data Through Art
We’re living and breathing data. We are hurled headfirst into signals and sensors that chronicle everything about our world and our lives. We are digitally tracked and monitored, and our usage patterns reveal much about our psyches and behavior. Nearly every device is a connected device: cars, phones, fitness bands, glaring streetlights, and dim stairwells all participate in the data production economy.
This represents a shift in the human condition, a shift in what it means to be human when everything about us can be quantified, measured, analyzed, and nearly permanently stored. All this creates unprecedented economic opportunity, along with new anxieties about privacy, identity, and the nature of hyper-quantified humanity.
Enter the artist, whom we’ve always trusted to reframe the world in new and different ways. Consider what a moment this is for artists as they embrace a new medium: the brave new world of data.
In Kansas City, the artists have a room of their own.
The Art of Data exhibit in Kansas City showcased ten artists who humanized city datasets into works of art. That is, they took a specific, dedicated dataset such as life expectancy by zip code and the city’s homicide rate, then translated it into tangible and provocative beauty.
Julie Steenson, an exhibit organizer, believes that the data belongs to Kansas City’s residents. “There’s no reason to hide it, there’s no reason to back away from a trend, even if the trend is negative. If the trend is negative, and we interact with the data that’s turned into art, maybe we can change some things and start a policy conversation,” says Steenson.
The response to the exhibit was positive, with viewers engaged by the art, as well as the artists’ creation process. Kate Bender, Kansas City’s Senior 311 Analyst, comments, “Everyone is so enthused about the prospect of blending these two important topics, of art and data. I think a lot of people really enjoyed both seeing the art but also talking to the artists about their interpretation and their experience engaging with the data. I think many of us were surprised at how much they said the data had changed their perceptions and shaped their view.”
This is the first of a series of posts dedicated to the artists and their work.
Artist and piece: Karen Cusumano Miller, We Are The City
Karen’s goal as an artist is to create a venue through which she can interpret ideas and emotions that attract viewers and encourage interaction. Her fascination with cities and city structures often leads her in her creations.
When City Hall put out the call for local artists to translate datasets, Karen’s reaction was, “Oh, that sounds interesting! Data is what we all survive by in this world. We ARE data. It just got my passion rolling. I thought how can I get the people involved? All the information the city gave us was amazing. How could I get all this information across in a way that made sense to people?”