What Lies Beneath
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What Lies Beneath

The Beta Test

No society is perfect. There are always things that can change for the better. But in trying to work out how our society could improve, describing (or complaining about) what we don’t agree with doesn’t change things on its own; we need to learn to better describe what it is we actually want to see.

With this in mind, CRIN joined forces with the Digital Maker Collective in March as part of the week-long event called BETA Society hosted by Tate Exchange. It brought together tech activists, students, creatives and the public to explore ideas for making society a better, fairer place. For our part, we organised Beta Utopia — a first attempt at drawing a picture of a world where human rights are respected, where problems come with solutions, and where anyone can pick up a pen and contribute.

Setting sail to this Beta Utopia was a pirate ship filled with rule-breakers who imagined ways to save the environment, to smash the patriarchy, and even to deny adults the right to vote (because they’re so irresponsible with it, ahem).

On that same ship, everyone was encouraged to take a stand against the injustices they see in the world. Armed with just pens and paper, people created protest signs addressing privacy rights, climate change, feminism and youth suffrage, among other issues. And to inspire new visitors to become pirates too, we proudly displayed the signs for all to see.

Things didn’t stop there. Privacy International ran hair and make-up tutorials to help visitors fool facial recognition software, musician and educator Melissa Uye-Parker helped people create their own music using the soundscapes of the Tate Modern, and the Little Inventors set up a workshop for children to create solutions to an array of different problems.

But when a problem proved too large, we called out for superheroes, and Tate Modern visitors did not disappoint. When it comes to environmental problems, for instance, those setting things right will be the likes of the Recycling Monster, the Multi-headed It, Protesters for Mother Earth, and Farty Girl!

It wasn’t all play, though. We also organised a series of talks and workshops to provoke people to think outside the box. We addressed the environment, tech and surveillance, citizenship rights, and a world without borders, and were joined by a youth campaigner, a Member of Parliament, and a range of activists working on data and privacy rights, the open source movement, environment and pesticides, and even a local beekeeper!

The week also coincided with International Women’s Day, for which we held the special talk ‘My Period is My Power’, an honest, funny and refreshing debate that reframed periods through the experiences of two young women.

Talk on children’s rights and the environment. Speakers from left to right: Nick Mole, Policy Officer at Pesticides Action Network-UK; Veronica Yates, Director of CRIN; and Caroline Wright, community gardener and urban beekeeper.

As with any undertaking there are always lessons to be learned. In the case of BETA Society, it overwhelmingly proved that things can happen when groups of people come together. With human rights and social justice being a collective responsibility in which we can all play a role, the sharing of ideas is a necessary ingredient if we want to design a better world.

Debate on the right to vote for under-18s and how young people can influence policy-making. Speakers from left to right: Danielle Rowley, one of Britain’s youngest MPs and chair of the Votes at 16 campaign; Veronica Yates, Director of CRIN; Arkam Babar, member of the youth campaign group Let Us Learn.

In CRIN’s case as a non-profit used to walking alongside fellow charities, sitting nervously in funders’ offices or trying to find our way out of United Nations buildings after hours, this event also meant we got to step outside of our comfort zone. We worked with new people of different ages and differing talents, ideas and ways of approaching big issues. And we believe more firmly than ever now that it’s the un-usual suspects who are asking the bolder questions and offering the more novel and experimental solutions that the rest of us should be spreading and replicating. Fundamentally, if we are to build an ever bigger alliance of human rights and social justice warriors, we need to keep looking beyond our own back garden.

The sheer awesomeness of the event, however, had stretched our imagination and the realm of new possibilities so much that by the end of the week we were all ready to drop. So we did just that.

BETA Society event partners

Digital Maker Collective conceived and produced BETA Society. They are a group of artists, designers, students and academics from the University of the Arts London who explore emerging digital technologies in the arts, education, society and the creative industries. As the ‘laboratory’ for the future, they have created a space with unique anti-disciplinary culture that encourages the mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas. digitalmakercollective.org/

CRIN is a centre for creative thinking on human rights, with a focus on children and young people. It challenges the status quo because the norms that dictate under-18s’ place in society need radical change. Through questions, artwork and our vision for the future, it encourages people to think critically about the world and start their own conversations. crin.org/

LionHeart in the Community aims to empower local communities through sport, apprenticeships and international youth exchange.Through a range of activities, which emphasise engagement of people from all backgrounds and ages, the organisation seeks to make a real difference to the lives of individuals, especially those from deprived communities and regions. www.litc.org/

Black Thrive is a partnership for black wellbeing, supporting people of African and Caribbean descent who suffer disproportionately with mental health and wellbeing. It believes social factors such as access to housing, education and employment can impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, so it connects local residents, organisations and public services to reduce inequality and injustice. www.blackthrive.org.uk/

Happy Finish is an innovative creative production studio dedicated to visual storytelling and specialising in retouch, CGI, XR, AI, Motion VFX and animation. On the belief that everything is possible, it allows brands, agencies and independent artists the freedom to develop creative ideas and unique visual styles to set new standards in the industry. www.happyfinish.com/

OD&M is a knowledge alliance of students, professors, researchers, makers, entrepreneurs and creative practitioners distributed across Europe and China. Under the open design and manufacturing paradigm, it aims to connect universities, maker communities, enterprises and stakeholders to create new innovations oriented to the social good. odmplatform.eu/

Tate Exchange is an opportunity for everyone to play, create, reflect and question the impact art can have on individuals, communities, and societies. Held on the fifth floor of the Blavatnik Building at Tate Modern, each year’s free-and-open-to-all programme is built collaboratively by a small army of associates whose debates, workshops and art making aim to spark debate and engage with issues that matter today. tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/tate-exchange