Talking Digifest with Dr René Smith

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Waheeda Peters, DUT Communications Officer, chats to Dr René Smith, Festival Director and Executive Dean (Acting): Faculty of Arts & Design. DUT FAD is all set to host the second annual two-day DUT Arts & Design Digital Festival from11 to 12 September 2015.

Waheeda: Tell me more about the second annual Digifest?

Dr Smith: DUT Digifest is an Arts & Design Digital Festival, initiated by DUT’s Faculty of Arts and Design. It is a staff and student showcase that promotes the faculty and the University as a learning institution of choice; relevant and responsive to needs and trends. The festival  objectives are to showcase student and staff creative work and artefacts, encourage an entrepreneurial spirit and advance social innovation. Each year, the festival engages relevant local and global themes and trends. This year’s theme is My Story/Your Story/Our Story.

Waheeda: Why was there a need for such a festival, what prompted you to start this festival, especially at DUT?

Dr Smith: We need to promote design and the arts and the integration of digital in our work. There is a growing recognition of the significant contribution of design and the arts in general to the country’s GDP. Put another way, Art is not only fundamental to building our constitutional democracy, it also makes business sense. Notwithstanding, we find that the arts and humanities are constantly under threat, having to defend our work and relevance. We live in a media saturated world. Invariably our choices as to the products or apps to consume for example are driven by aesthetics and design as much as it is by utility and interoperability.
We believe in changing the discourse, which shows that technology and innovation needs artists and designers. Simultaneously, the arts field needs to be strategically situated to ensure relevance and resonance.

Waheeda: In terms of preparation for the event, how long did it take you to get things on track? Were there any challenges?

Dr Smith: The faculty was informed last year, 2014, that this is an annual event and encouraged to include Digifest in the curriculum. Of course the coordinating team still had to make selections and decide on what to profile and to include on the programme. The last three months of the festival are always the most stressful; hence the appointment of both a festival curator and coordinator. Notwithstanding, faculty has been abuzz with activity and creativity.

Waheeda: There is an exciting guest lined up for Digifest, for example, Naddrama Pillay, a former DUT student? Why is his role so vital to the Digifest?

Dr Smith: The opening night speaker for Digifest on Thursday, 11 September 2015, is Naddrama Pillay, who was selected because his work promotes social good and he is one of our industry partners. In keeping with the global movement of sustainability, social investment and responsibility, the faculty seeks to promote social innovation in design and the arts. It was a natural fit.

Waheeda: How was the theme for this year, my story, your story, our story, conceptualised?

Dr Smith: This year’s theme is about telling our individual and collective stories and celebrating our diversity. We need to get to know each other better. Who are our current and prospective students? Who is teaching this new generation? We need to know who our students and staff are, where do we come from, our backgrounds, views and ideas.
So as an Arts faculty, we welcome engagement and critique; students are encouraged to interrogate the idea of individual and collective stories, especially in relation to identities, race, gender constructs, and heritage for instance. We all have stories to tell and we need to hear these different voices. If we are to move forward as a country, we must be inclusive.

Waheeda: What are the highlights of Digifest?

Dr Smith: The opening night showcases the voice and dance pieces by our Drama department, Interior Design student work as well as the OXX design exhibition, which is a collaboration between fashion, jewellery and graphic design disciplines. We also have Nirma Madhoo-Chipps’ world-class digital design exhibition and Delphine Colin’s digital photography. Madhoo-Chipps is a fashion lecturer who recently completed her Master’s in fashion photography at the London School of Fashion. Dr Delphine Coli, a french lecturer in the faculty is an international artist and a graduate of the Sorbonne (Paris). Nellie Ngcongo’s ‘Our Story’ runs at the Courtyard Theatre. Video Technology’s Video Voyeur is back this year and will run at the Arthur Smith Hall.

We also host the ever popular PechaKucha event, which has a Durban and international following. This year, we will also include an e-learning exhibition to profile some of our work as well as to encourage more students and staff to adopt online and blended learning approaches. Marí Pete from CELT and Ben Tarr from our School of Education will profile BlackBoard classrooms. This year’s talks will be on digital media and social innovation. The South African Press Ombud, Joe Thloloe will talk on digital media ethics and Kimaal Baker from award-winning World Wide Creative will talk on digital media.

Busi Dlamini will talk about social entrepreneurs as pioneers of change, while Peter Rorvik from Arterial Network and Anita Sainsbury from the SA Fashion Council will talk about social innovation in design and design and the arts. Chris De Beer has championed our 2015 Digital Design challenge. This year’s challenge was driven by student needs. Our students entered a challenge to design websites that promote their work and demonstrate and entrepreneurial spirit. The best design will enjoy a year-long sponsored web-hosting. We hope to have more challenges next year, which are driven by industry needs and corporate social responsibility.
We also have slam poetry, digital scrabble and various student exhibitions. Also, branded Digifest memorabilia will be on sale.

Waheeda: Why should people attend Digifest, what makes it different from last year?

Dr Smith: The first year of the festival was experimental. It was the beginning of a movement to promote design and the arts in general and specifically in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Several exhibitions made use of QR codes and there were some video and interesting stop-frame animation projects. This year you will see more staff work on show. This year’s festival organising team run by Francesca Verga, festival curator and Glenda Unteidt, festival coordinator, have placed a bit more emphasis on putting on a professional, quality show. Last year’s festival curated by Francesca Verga and coordinated by Glenda Unteidt, emphasises professionalism and quality. Last year’s Digifest was largely experimental and focused more on creating a vibe and energy to attract future patrons.
Pictured: Dr René Smith, Festival Director and Executive Dean (Acting): Faculty of Arts & Design, who is all set to host the second annual two-day DUT Arts & Design Digital Festival from 11 to 12 September 2015.
–Waheeda Peters