How do the arts and humanities contribute to innovation? How might industry players harness this potential? These questions have been asked for many years, and while many inspiring local and individual responses exist, systematic, fluid exchanges of knowledge and expertise are still far from the norm.
As a part of its 2022 Innovation Forum, the DARIAH ERIC is seeking to explore this challenge through a novel mechanism: an open case competition inviting cultural and creative experts in the arts and humanities to submit their solutions to a culturally embedded, but also economically, environmentally and socially relevant ‘wicked’ problem.
The 3 finalists will be invited to present their ideas at the DARIAH Innovation Forum on 3rd November 2022 in Dublin. From these, one overall finalist will receive a cash prize of €1000, the two runners up will receive €500 each.
For the purpose of this case competition, we have chosen a problem we all may be aware of, but have perhaps not considered as a problem of culture and aesthetics. The regional airport. By “regional airport” we mean smaller airports which are not the home base for any airline and whose routes typically connect to bigger “hub” airports such as Paris, Amsterdam, London-Heathrow, Frankfurt etc. Examples of regional airports might include Nürnberg, Aarhus, Eindhoven, Lille, Bilbao, Shannon, and Wroclaw, just to name a few.
The central question of this innovation challenge is: How might the services and spaces of regional airports be reinvented so as to continue to serve their longstanding mission as hubs for cultural exchange, even if fewer actual flights arrive and depart from their gates? How might they draw inspiration from other kinds of transformed cultural spaces, such as libraries, museums and bookstores in order to find new pathways to economic and social vitality?
There was a time when air travel was associated with glamour and comfort. With the rise of low cost airlines in the 2000s, however, this perception has been greatly changed. While the shift has in some ways been a positive one, making foreign travel more economically accessible to a wider range of individuals, the current business model for air travel and transportation based on large numbers of cheap flights is out of step with the realities of climate change.
One of the greatest beneficiaries of the expansion of air travel was the smaller regional airport. Once used as stopping points for shorter range aircraft, or anchors for transport networks in wider, more dispersed, less fully urbanised areas, these airports came under great pressure from a shift in airline network management from point-to-point to hub-and-spoke systems. This consolidation by larger carriers left open an opportunity for the low cost carriers, however, who established new bases at farther-flung places such as “Frankfurt-Hahn” (120km from Frankfurt) and “London Stansted” (65km from London). The dominance of low cost airlines as feeders for regional airports was at the very least a double-edged sword, however, with the airlines having to accept sometimes very disadvantageous conditions for a small number of flights, not necessarily well-matched to their communities.
Smaller airports are more economically precarious than larger ones, and therefore make a smaller share of their revenue from airlines, relying to a greater extent on “non-aeronautical” revenue, i.e. directly from passengers. The most prominent example of this is the omnipresence of duty free shops, which tend to offer a fairly limited range of high-value, portable goods that is standardised internationally through the dominance of a small number of large players in the duty free shopping industry.
The Regional Airport as a Cultural Space
Even in the face of a recognition that air travel is a major polluter whose overall carbon emissions must urgently be reduced, it is unlikely that air travel will disappear entirely anytime soon. Indeed, new technologies may ultimately transform the air travel ecosystem in unforeseeable ways, but such a shift is still decades away, at the least. In the shorter term, one might expect that as a result of emerging regulation and carbon taxation, there will be a significant contraction of the industry, which will again limit who can afford to fly, and how often. We may indeed return to the era of the ‘grand tour,’ when young people in particular mark important moments in their lives with extensive travel they might not be able to undertake later in their lives.
Some of these reductions may not seem like great losses from a cultural point of view, for example if you live in a city that is attractive to short-stay, culturally agnostic travel, like stag and hen parties. But we should not underestimate the extent to which travelling to experience other cultures serves as well as a driver for intercultural understanding and community ties. It is a mechanism by which we can develop the kinds of affinities and affiliations that build shared identities across distances and cultural divides, letting us both experience the otherness of the world and maintain ties within families separated by the economic realities of a globalised labour market.
Cultural Institutions as Models for Venue Transformation
This DARIAH Innovation challenge asks its participants to consider the above challenge from a cultural point of view, encompassing not just the exchanges facilitated by a regional airport, but also the models that cultural institutions themselves have developed to address similar challenges of shrinking direct user bases due to changing externalities. So when we consider this challenge of cultural participation and sharing in the context of regional airports, a set of unlikely comparators comes to mind: the library, the museum and the bookstore. In the past 20 years, each of these institutions has seen a major shift in not just their mission, but how they deploy their infrastructure.
Driven by shifting social needs and the trends toward information access via digital rather than physical sources, many libraries have changed their self-perception from places that held and served collections to places that host and serve people and communities. Open stacks of more arcane materials have given way to collaboration and interaction spaces, with the books and other materials now ‘backstage.’ Museums feature their collections alongside vibrant cafes and maker spaces. And bookstores are connecting with their communities in ways the comprehensive offering of Amazon can’t compete with. Are there inspirations for the regional airports in these very different institutions?
How to submit
Please submit your responses to this challenge following the link at the end of this post by by 5PM CEST on 17 October 2022.
The Programme Committee of the event will choose 3 finalists who will be invited to present their ideas at the DARIAH Innovation Forum on 3rd November 2022 in Dublin, with travel expenses covered. From these, one overall finalist will receive a cash prize of €1000, the two runners up will receive €500 each.
To get you thinking
In order to inform your thinking, we have assembled the following resources, mostly in the form of short presentations by experts in the field. Keep an eye on the DARIAH-EU Twitter feed for further sources of inspiration.
Focus on Shannon Airport (a regional airport in the West of Ireland):
- How Shannon airport reinvented itself (1950s-1960s version)
- Expressing its identity through historical images
- The airport as innovative event space
- Supporting local young entrepreneurs
- Shannon ‘Airport as Artport’
Comparators from the Cultural Space
- TED Talk: The reinvention of the library
- The rise of the Museum Cafe
- Independent Booksellers fight Amazon
“Air travel reminds us who we are. It’s the means by which we recognise ourselves as modern. The process removes us from the world and sets us apart from each other. We wander in the ambient noise, checking one more time for the flight coupon, the boarding pass, the visa. The process convinces us that at any moment we may have to submit to the force that is implied in all this, the unknown authority behind it, behind the categories, the languages we don’t understand. This vast terminal has been erected to examine souls.”
– Don DeLillo, The Names.