Interviews

Are.na

Screenshot from Are.na, 2018.

Are.na is an online platform for creative thinking and collaborative research. Founded in 2011 by artists Charles Broskoski, Daniel Pianetti, and Chris Sherron, today Are.na is a flourishing web-based community. Artists use it to conduct research; teachers use it to share course materials and interact with their students; and museums and galleries use it to host blogs and interactive exhibitions. Here, the Are.na team discusses the platform and the ideas that underpin its structure and development.

WE BUILT ARE.NA INITIALLY FOR OURSELVES. A few of us were making art online, and some of our peers had research-based practices, and they would collect ideas from disparate places and demonstrate how those ideas led to their art. The research itself was inspiring. Are.na is one result of our desire to build a new kind of artistic agency.

Working online fosters ongoing, ambient conversations with people anywhere thinking along the same lines or making similar work. Much more so than in a gallery setting, it makes sense for viewers to have access to the context surrounding the work. We believe the delineation between process and result, or between published and not published, is artificial—we see this relationship instead as a smooth gradient.

What we are trying to do now is take a skill artists and creative people in related fields possess—how to assimilate, sort through, and process lots of information, much of it visual—and help others become better at it. The interests of artists are baked into Are.na; now we want to take how artists think and inject it into the rest of the world. Even our interface, which is hands-off and open-ended, is an attempt to build a space for self-directed inquiry. This is part of what distinguishes us from other platforms. There are no “likes” on Are.na. Instead, it connects things: you have to see something, understand its context, then slot it into a new context. The difficulty of that, as opposed to clicking “like,” is akin to building a muscle—one we think is healthy and helpful. Doritos are addictive, but running can be, too. We are not just a technology start-up; we come from different backgrounds, and everything we do is culturally inflected.

And we’re beginning to see how our work is branching out. One group of Are.na users discovered overlapping interests and perspectives, and so they formed a reading group called Learning Gardens. That has led to things like a conference on cybernetics. We enjoy seeing people who, while working on their own, notice where their curiosity converges with other people’s. The hardest thing about being on the internet today is having the motivation to move beyond the same five websites, to actively seek new things out. We hope Are.na stimulates that sense of discovery.

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