Mayra Ortega-Maldonado on influencing technology through art

How can you use art and technology to achieve social inclusion? That’s what the session by Mexican sustainability consultant Mayra Ortega-Maldonado is all about during CWF2019. She is not only giving a lecture but really wants to work with people who are interested in the combination of art and technology, and in exploring their relationship with social inclusion.

The importance of social inclusion became clear to Mayra Ortega-Maldonado when she left Mexico to join Philips, armed with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and a master’s degree in Environmental Science. “I then began to understand that sustainability revolves around values. Only when people change the way they behave and relate to each other is change possible.”

The power of the community

This insight stems partly from a trip to India. “At the time, I was working on sustainability and new business development. Philips wanted to develop products for the large group of poorest people in the world. They don’t have much to spend individually but collectively they do have quite a lot of money. A business model in which each person pays just five cents a week, or a similar amount, would give these people access to new products and opportunities. I took a trip to the Indian countryside, where I worked with poverty-stricken people. I noticed that if you train them and give them tools and direction, they can really improve their lives. That was an eye opener.” Ortega-Maldonado also saw the power of the community in India. “Women come together there in self-help groups. They each put five cents in a pot every week and this is used to help a family. In this way, the women organise opportunities for themselves to start a business, for example. A great idea!”

‘People develop all kinds of things and only later do they consider the impact’

Predicting impact

When Ortega-Maldonado became a sustainability consultant at Philips Research, she learned something important about how people develop technology. “I saw that people develop all kinds of things and only later do they consider the impact on the environment and on people who have to deal with that technology.” The wrong way around, Ortega-Maldonado realised, and she made a tool that enables developers to predict the impact.

‘We can influence technology through art’

Three years ago, Ortega-Maldonado studied for an MBA at Tilburg University and wrote her thesis at the Van Abbe Museum for Contemporary Art in Eindhoven. While there, she saw what was needed to make the world a better place. “I came into greater contact with design and art, and I realised that we need to ensure a connection between art and the city. Not only because we can use technology to create new art, such as science fiction, but above all because we can use art to influence the development of new technology. Aesthetically, of course, but we also need other competencies from artists: thinking critically, having ambitions, creativity, the ability to view a problem from different perspectives. An artist also contributes emotional intelligence and a passion to shape things differently.”

Artists can help to tackle a major underlying problem: the lack of a dream, a goal. Ortega-Maldonado: “It’s all about money. Here in Eindhoven, for example, we are constantly talking about how the region is growing with new high-tech businesses. Every year, the city brings in three hundred expats to work there. But there aren’t enough homes for them and the international schools are full. What does that mean for the well-being of these people?”

‘We have to solve global problems locally’

A local perspective

Inspired by her master’s programme, Ortega-Maldonado set up the Art + Tech Society. In doing so, she is trying to increase social inclusion. She is developing various programmes that use design and experiential learning to enhance people’s well-being; in this way, they live in greater harmony with each other and with nature. On a local level, in Eindhoven. And with bottom-up initiatives. “I place global problems in a local perspective. We have to solve global problems locally. In India, I saw what empowerment and bottom-up initiatives can do. If we don’t look to governments but implement solutions ourselves from the bottom up, this creates greater impetus to bring about change.”

During her session, Ortega-Maldonado will talk about how she does this with the Art + Tech Society. Through cultural expeditions, for example. And by encouraging people to develop new skills and thereby operate outside their comfort zone. “Combining critical thinking with ambition and creativity, for example.” In addition, Ortega-Maldonado develops events and other products to promote social inclusion, such as a game through which new residents get to know the city: expats, but also new Dutch residents and students. A think tank is also being developed, including people from creative centres. In general Art + Tech Society has attracted the attention of important organizations like the department Studium Generale of the TU Eindhoven (Eindhoven University of Technology), with which it will start developing a common programme.

‘If your dream is good enough, it will energise other people’

 A dream

During CWF2019, Ortega-Maldonado explains why art is needed to set things in motion. “I miss the emotional, the creative, the common goal in our society. I miss that in companies, in the city, in education. As if there’s no dream to strive towards. But as soon as you have a dream, an ambition for something beautiful, it gives you the energy to make it real. In this way, art can provide human contact and fulfilment. The rest will follow. If your dream is good enough, it will energise other people.”

‘Visualisation helps you to make your ideas explicit and to reflect on them’

After Ortega-Maldonado’s introduction, visitors will be able to get to work themselves, in the form of a workshop on social inclusion. “I’m thinking of groups with different kinds of skills and background. They will be using critical thinking, envisioning and creativity to make our city more social inclusive. We’re definitely going to work with our hands as well: we will draw and I’m going to bring along material to visualise things. Visualisation helps you to make your ideas explicit and to reflect on them. And if you can picture a new, more humane society, that makes it easier. All you have to do then is find the technology and additional tools to make that dream happen.”

Meet Mayra Ortega-Maldonado at day 3 in Eindhoven >

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