Full STEAM Ahead: Intermitten highlights the intersection of art and tech

A lot of folks blame the influx of tech companies in Ann Arbor as a prime reason for the rising rents that have gradually pushed portions of the creative community out of downtown. The Intermitten conference returns June 8 and 9 to remind us that artistic adventure and modern business success don't need to be mutually exclusive or adversarial (even if there's no immediate solution to the rent situation).

Now in its second year, Intermitten brings together speakers to discuss how "how creativity in both art and technology helps us add value to our home, work, and global communities," as stated on intermitten.org. "We're technology people with creative prowess and artistic people powered by tech, and we unite to discover the many ways in which working together and thinking creatively can help us accomplish our goals."

Trevor Scott Mays, co-founder of Intermitten and director of support operations for Duo Security, walked us through the event's brief history, current focus, and bright future.

Q: Who are the principals behind Intermitten and how did you end up banding together to do the conference?
A: The core organizer group of Intermitten is comprised of four individuals from local Ann Arbor startups Duo Security and FarmLogs. We were all involved in the Ann Arbor Customer Experience Meetup, and following one of those events, were at a local coffee shop brainstorming how so many tech conferences were bad and all the same. As so many of us had diverse creative backgrounds -- dance, poetry, podcasting, DJing, etc. -- we were determined to showcase how Ann Arbor is one of the KEY places where those two lifestyles mesh so well.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the correlation between the creative and tech communities, only to realize that we were mistaken in trying to correlate them when they are so often the exact same kind of people. So many of our coworkers in tech were involved in passion projects writing books and designing new products, and so many of our friends and colleagues in the arts were adapting and including the latest technologies into their creative process.

After seeing so much friction between the creative and tech communities in places like San Francisco, we really wanted to showcase a community like Ann Arbor where that relationship is more harmonious and collaborative. As a result, the community tends to prosper and benefit from the output, both fiscally with new business, and culturally, with invigorated energy driven by the art scene.

Q: What are the biggest changes from last year to this year and why?
A: We surveyed our attendees last year, and some of the biggest changes include more time for attendees to ask questions of our speakers, as well as bring in speakers from a wider array of backgrounds. This year, we have authors, designers, hackers, CEOs, poets, inspirational speakers, comedians, artists, founders, producers, editors, and even an elementary school principal! I think some of our learning lessons from last year were to slow things down a little bit and allow some breathing room for the event to just happen. Working at tech startups in Ann Arbor, there can be a tendency to go, go, go. We took a lot of feedback in and are ensuring that attendees this year get a really good chance to absorb and engage, rather than get bombarded with knowledge!

Q: Why do you think people, in general, are paying more attention to the intersection of arts and technology?
A: I wholeheartedly believe people are looking beyond the norms and rules that have traditionally dictated their lines of work. People want something to differentiate the work they do, and there is so much out there that can not only enhance one's work but also accelerate it beyond a natural cadence. I can attest that many of the individuals working in tech substantiate their frantic work life with hobbies and interests that round them out. Others are holding down their jobs in tech until they can sustain themselves professionally with their craft. Sustainability is a big deal to us, and I think that artists and techies alike benefit from the symbiotic relationship that courses between the two archetypes.

Q: What can you tell us about some of the free events and art installations at the Ann Arbor Art Center and the Mayor's Green Fair?
A: The Ann Arbor Art Center will be featuring a special music performance by Coffee Cup Sessions, which in my opinion is perfect music to peruse and take in an art gallery. We're also working with the Art Center and ICON Interactive to set up a special exhibit which lives right at the heart of high-tech and creativity. Intermitten speakers Christina York and Marty Shea will be showing off their projects -- SpellBound and CollabFeature, respectively -- at the event, which should be a really cool way for attendees to see tangible output from our speakers this year.

At the Mayor's Green Fair, we're bringing in a bicycle-powered DJ soundstage where local DJ Roman Martinez will be spinning hot fire. Of course, we'll need volunteers to be spinning the pedals to keep the music going! We're bringing some special art projects as well that locals may recognize from other annual events like FestiFools. You'll have to go to find out!

Q: What do you hope people do with the information they gather at the conference? Are you aware of anyone taking what they learned last year and applying it to projects?
A: One of my core goals with Intermitten has, and will always be, to help attendees integrate and give back to their own respective communities. Our speakers' collective knowledge alone should be enough to inspire and motivate our attendees, but we've seen it go a step further in the past and watched collaborative projects blossom from attendees who met at the conference. A great example of this was the collaborative work between Ghostly International DJ Shigeto and startup ICON Interactive. They put together a VR exhibit where Shigeto's music altered the world within the VR headset. Since the event, the collaboration has continued and I know Zach (Saginaw, aka Shigeto) is still working with VR actively on several projects to date.

We've seen attendees from the event placed at new jobs in Ann Arbor, particularly in the startup scene. Attendees from our event have also sought out volunteer opportunities with organizations who presented or sponsored. As our conference progresses into year two, we anticipate a whole lot more collaboration and connectivity within our community, as we continue to drive our initiatives forward and expose individuals to all that makes Ann Arbor unique.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Intermitten 2017 runs all day Thursday, June 8, and Friday, June 9 at The Ark; the full schedule is here. Tickets are $70 to $120 from eventbright.com. The free pop-in event at Ann Arbor Art Center runs 6-9 pm on June 8. Finally, the Intermitten crew of musicians and artists will participate in the ​​17th annual Mayor's Green Fair on June 9; the free event runs 6-9 pm on Main Street in Ann Arbor. Related: Read our wrap-up of Intermitten 2016 here.