Heather Sarkissian: Betascape about the technologies 'democratizing the ability to make stuff' [Q&A] - Technical.ly Baltimore

Sep. 21, 2012 10:00 am

Heather Sarkissian: Betascape about the technologies ‘democratizing the ability to make stuff’ [Q&A]

Betascape, the weekend-long “exploratorium” for Baltimore’s artists and technologists, is happening this weekend at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Unlike the previous two years, this year’s event is a little more structured, with a series of lightning talks Saturday morning and keynote addresses on both Saturday and Sunday. “Everybody complained about the lack of […]

Betascape, the weekend-long “exploratorium” for Baltimore’s artists and technologists, is happening this weekend at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Unlike the previous two years, this year’s event is a little more structured, with a series of lightning talks Saturday morning and keynote addresses on both Saturday and Sunday.

“Everybody complained about the lack of cohesive talks to bring everything together,” says co-organizer Heather Sarkissian, a product manager at DAP (and a former Peace Corps member in Ukraine). “So we set up two days in the mornings of keynotes so there’s some sort of commonality.”

But Betascape is more than talks. Think of it like an alternative to Legoland, only for adults. Three labs on physical computing, digital fabrication and data visualization will take place, and participants can either participate in the sessions happening continuously throughout the day, or just show up to a lab and build stuff. The SparkTruck crew will be there, as will several employees from ShopBot Tools (along with an impressive CNC cutter).

Technically Baltimore met with Sarkissian to talk shop about the third year of Betascape.

TB: What’s the elevator pitch for what Betscape is all about? 

HS: This is all about teaching on the tools and technologies that are bringing down the barriers to creating. It’s all about democratizing the ability to create, to make stuff.

TB: And what’s the point of bringing artists and tech types together for a weekend?

HS: Baltimore is arts and technology. And I wouldn’t say it’s best in class in either of those two fronts, but rather it’s a very renegade, very edgy type of city, and so Betascape is an event at the edge of the intersection of art and technology.

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TB: Last year’s Betascape was in Station North, which seems like the perfect neighborhood for this sort of thing. Admittedly, MICA is still Station North, or close to it, but any reason for the switch to the campus?

HS: It was in different venues [last year]. It’s challenging to organize because you have different people who manage those venues. We had done it because we thought it could drive economic development on Station North.

We did surveys at the end. … Fundamentally people were bothered with the location. They were bothered with the safety, people who weren’t from here. Others said if this is going to be an awesome event held in Baltimore, can we at least put our best foot forward? We were really thrown off by the feedback.

TB: Baltimore’s bigger cousins—New York City and D.C.—tend to be events capitals on the East Coast. What do you hope this event does to raise the city’s profile?

HS: I think … it shows that Baltimore has a significant future in terms of developing this event. Originally the reason why [Betascape started]—I was really aware of the lack of visibility people had into Baltimore. Just no knowledge or interest whatsoever. So it was originally started to raise awareness about what Baltimore has to offer and put it on the map. If this is successful, it will be huge for the city.

TB: Any chance that this becomes something that has to be moved out of Baltimore?

HS: I try to design things that make sense. This is a very niche event. If we do a great job, we’ll be attracting people across the U.S. and elsewhere very, very quickly. If it doesn’t make sense in terms of there not being a critical mass in Baltimore, then I think we need to consider that. I think there’s a really vibrant community in Boston, there’s a really vibrant community in New York. It’d be great to keep it here, but at the same time we’re not going to do it at all costs.

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