Prelude

Preamble and motivations

Vishal Kumar

Hey there,

Thanks for signing up to my newsletter. It’s been a whole quarter since I last wrote to you. Things have really taken a turn for the worst this March and I hope that all of you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now that most of us are working from home, I found some time to focus on writing my newsletter, which is going to be called Data Science for Arts and Culture. This first post is about framing my motivations and what to expect.

A consolidation

My newsletter is an attempt to consolidate all of my outputs and Data Science for Arts and Culture is the umbrella term I am using to do that. The diagram below breakdowns my outputs into three areas: cultural data science; machine learning for creativity and design; and, computational photography.

I’ve brought data science to arts and culture in a number of ways and across a variety of roles as an:

  1. Academic. I’m a cultural data scientist and researcher at The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL measuring the value of art and culture in cities using data science and visualization. I’m also visiting at CUSP at King’s College London, the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Christie’s Education.

  2. Consultant. I’m the director of cultureincities, the world’s first data science consultancy dedicated to arts and culture, which builds on my academic research.

  3. Artist. I create data visualizations and generative art under the alias vishualize as a data artist and I’m a visual artist in residence at the Public Sphere Salons.

  4. Entrepreneur: I’m the co-founder and CEO of Photogram AI, a computational photography startup specialising in artificial intelligence for photography. We are building the Alice Camera™, an AI camera for content creators.

I’m also part of the Culture in Cities Research Network and Museums AI Network, I am on the Technical Reference Group for the next UK City of Culture, Coventry 2021, and I led data science for Waltham Forest Council as part of London Borough of Culture 2019. Before this, I worked as a Forward Deployed Data Scientist at Sotheby’s and studied at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and the London School of Economics.

Purpose

I’ve worked in the creative and cultural industries all my life. My interest in arts and culture stems back to my A-level in Fine Art, which I studied alongside Maths, Economics and Geography. In fact, I wished to study architecture at university but decided to forgo this dream because of the long and painful years required to qualify.

Still, deep down I’m a bit of a closet architect. I am inspired by grandiose cultural buildings and places, I thrive at the intersection of aesthetics, mathematics and design, and I enjoy taking a multidisciplinary approach to tackle problems.

I was fortunate that from a young age I was able to hone my skill set around my interest in arts and culture. Over time I have added data science to my arsenal and I use my technology tools to argue for sustained and continued investment to the creative and cultural industries. I'm extremely grateful to be in a position where I can view developments from several angles because what I do is varied and novel.

What to expect

This newsletter will be a collection of my academic and consultancy research as well as my interest in creativity and innovation. My work will be used as a bedrock to discuss and reference relevant and interesting ideas from other authors. I will also provide news updates and will link to interesting developments in the industry. Therefore, it will be a mixture of theory and evidence which I hope can offer you value.

The diagram below illustrates in more detail the topics I aim to cover in subsequent episodes. These topics are diverse and varied but all related to each other in one way; I will connect the dots over time. You will notice that I tend to use diagrams to visually communicate my thoughts and ideas. Expect to see more data visualizations.

My newsletter will be a way for me to communicate with you in a more personal way. I aim to keep every post to around 500 words or three to four minutes read—not as short as an email but not quite long enough for Medium—and I intend on writing to you once every couple of months.

Why now?

The discussions in this newsletter will build on my lecture and keynote series
Data Science for Arts and Culture that I gave at several amazing places in 2019. I spoke twice at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, at Christie’s Education, at Goldsmiths University, at the LIFT conference in Helsinki, and at Travel Massive in Edinburgh. It feels like the right time for me to be getting down my thoughts into words.

It’s a challenging time for me to be writing and getting out my newsletter. There are so many other people out there writing great content. The COVID-19 work-from-home lockdown has probably instilled a lot of drive and adrenaline into other authors’ side projects too. So, I will have to do my best to keep you interested!

Yet, it’s such a relief to be away from all the noise on social media platforms. Facebook is basically dead in the water. I received more ads on Instagram in the last year than in my whole life combined. Twitter has become a self-perpetuating storm of geopolitical mayhem. And Medium has turned into a melting pot of “how to…” guides. This feels like a comfortable retreat where I can consistently get out thoughts and mould ideas.

News round-up: What did I get up to this quarter?

Before wrapping up, I’d like to provide you with a round-up of some personal news.

London Borough of Culture 2019

Throughout 2019, I was working with Waltham Forest Council in London on their successful bid to be crowned the first-ever London Borough of Culture. The London Borough of Culture programme was launched by the Mayor of London with the aim to “bring communities together to celebrate cultural diversity across London”.

I led cultural data science research for the council and helped with regular evaluation reporting by analysing social media and survey data using a range of machine learning, natural language processing and data visualization techniques. I was able to reveal indicators of social value and how citizens were responding to cultural events. The final evaluation report was launched at City Hall on 6th March 2020. A great team run by Hayley Sims and Lorna Lee at Waltham Forest Council delivered a beautiful and comprehensive evaluation document that really sets a high bar!

London Borough of Culture 2020

In 2020, the crown was passed over to Brent, the new and second London Borough of Culture. This year the opening event at Brent 2020 was RISE, an hour-long performance choreographed by Southpaw Dance Company. I had a lovely and enjoyable time attending the event and took some great photos! I decided to independently write a blog post on Medium about their opening event where I analysed 3,000 tweets and applied machine learning and natural language processing techniques to illuminate social value and cultural value. Click the link below to read.

Museums AI network

Last year I was invited to take part in The Museums and Artificial Intelligence Network. The Museums + AI Network was formed in 2019 by Dr Oonagh Murphy, Goldsmiths, University of London and Dr Elena Villaespesa, School of Information, Pratt Institute. The network was funded through the AHRC Research Networking Scheme and so far has brought together 50 leading academics and museum professionals to critically examine current practice, challenges, and near-future Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies in both the UK and the UK.

The toolkit “serves as a practical starting point for museum professionals who are interested in working with technologies that fit within the broad field of Artificial Intelligence” and contains case studies from the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I highly recommend reading the free toolkit which can be downloaded at this link.

What’s next? Cultural data

In the next episode of my newsletter, I hope to discuss cultural data.

Did you know that every day 100 million images and videos are uploaded to Instagram, 1 billion hours of video watched on YouTube and 1 billion videos watched on TikTok?! And, the British Library has a collection of over 170 million items, together occupying 746 kilometres of total shelving!

Lev Manovich’s (2017) article on cultural data will provide a good base to discuss the differences between contemporary cultural data sets and historical cultural data sets. I will also provide links to institutions pioneering the collection of cultural data sets.

Thank you

Thank you for reading my first newsletter post. Please do consider forwarding this post to your friends or colleagues who might find this content interesting. You can contribute by adding your thoughts in the comment section or feel free to hit reply to let me know what you think. I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks,

Vishal

Vishal is a Cultural Data Scientist & co-Founder of Photogram AI. You can get in touch with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. See more of Vishal’s work on Instagram or on his website.

#culturaldatascientist #creativeai #generativeart #photogram_ai #alicecamera