CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The inventive and interactive new performance piece “HOME” considers how a house becomes something more to its occupants, and features the creative construction of a home onstage as the piece unfolds at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Meanwhile, hackers just outside the theater where the performances are taking place this weekend will propose how to make the Champaign-Urbana community a more inclusive place to live.
PYGHACK – the culture festival Pygmalion’s hackathon – will be held at Krannert Center for the first time, and the themes for the hackathon were inspired by the concurrent performances of “HOME” on Sept. 27-28.
“We’re very pleased to be the venue for PYGHACK,” said Krannert Center director Mike Ross, who noted the center has had a connection with Pygmalion’s musical programming since the festival’s beginning. “Krannert Center has been the venue for many kinds of creative endeavors, and this feels like a very natural fit.”
The hackathon is about creative problem-solving – asking participants to look at a community need or issue and come up with a proposal to address it. They’ll have 24 hours to develop their concept. PYGHACK has much in common with the performing arts in that both are collaborative enterprises, Ross said.
PYGHACK was hosted for its first two years by the University of Illinois Research Park, one of its collaborators in designing the hackathon. The move to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts gives PYGHACK more space and provides a showcase of the combination of technology, art, innovation and design.
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“Hacks very much depend on creative thinking. When they’re put into a pressure cooker environment where there is competition and a limited time frame in which participants have to work as teams to address challenges, it’s not exactly the same as creating a new dance piece, a theater piece, a piece of music, but there is lots of common ground,” Ross said.
The team creating the hack is seeking to broaden its appeal by making it more multidisciplinary.
“We want it to be not just appealing to computer science or engineering students, but also to people who are creative and have a vision for what something can be,” said Patrick Singer, one of the organizers of Pygmalion.
The new setting is important. PYGHACK, which was launched three years ago, was held for the first two years at EnterpriseWorks in the University of Illinois Research Park. It has outgrown that space, and the move to Krannert Center will put the event on display to community members who are attending events there and hopefully provide some inspiration to them, Singer said. It also means the hackathon will take place in the midst of the “HOME” performances, as well as concerts, a poetry marathon, a food demonstration and a talk by a spirituality podcaster, among other events.
“There will be a critical mass of people bouncing ideas off each other in that space,” said Donte Winslow, a design strategist for the Siebel Center for Design, which partnered with Pygmalion this year to design the hack. “We want people to walk away from the hack with a new appreciation for interdisciplinary problem-solving, a new awareness of what the problems in our community are and how, after the hack, they can continue to be a benefit to the community.”
The team designing this year’s PYGHACK – titled “HOME@PYGHACK” – tried to draw as much inspiration as possible from “HOME,” in which the house on stage is burned down, rented and remodeled, while residents move in and out, get married and divorced, grow up, die and haunt the house, then throw a party. Both the PYGHACK and the production of “HOME” are inspired by people finding connections with one another and ways to work and live together. The PYGHACK team developed the themes by looking to their home community.
“Everybody has a reason for why they stay here. Everyone has a voice in developing the community of Champaign-Urbana,” said Jordan Patterson, a design strategist for the Siebel Center for Design who, along with Winslow, helped develop the hack.
The themes are homelessness and housing insecurity; architecture, technology and aging in place; the new student population, including international students and the growing number of first-generation college students; and civic relations between residents and government officials that are positive and mutually beneficial.
A group of community leaders from business, education and nonprofit organizations will serve as moderators to elaborate on the issues raised by the themes and help hackers think about the problems and come up with ideas. But the hackers are free to work on any idea that fits within the larger theme of home and inclusivity.
“We’re providing areas of inspiration but not forcing people to answer specific questions, to allow their creativity to spark and see solutions and concepts that we can’t even imagine,” Patterson said. “We’re hoping we see things and say, ‘Wow, we didn’t even think about that.’”