Inside Hack the Bass: an idea for the arts worth emulating

Published by The Starting Gate, The Miami Herald

It is inspiring to witness firsthand the engagement of our local tech community in what I see as the chess tournaments of our times — The Hackathon. Unfortunately, the term “hacker” has come to be unjustly and inaccurately associated to criminal technologists. It is too bad, because Hackers actually represent many of the best and most innovative qualities associated with technology. Actually, to hack is to fix or improve, to write or refine computer programs skillfully, according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

Last month more than 160 contestants participated in the AT&T Mobile App Hackathon at UM’s Life Science & Technology Park, a remarkably large crowd. That is not even accounting for the more than 100 hackers that competed remotely from five co-working spaces in three different countries in Latin America via Google+.

Innovation is about connecting the existing dots differently and Silvia Cubiñá, director of the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, did just that, when she heard about mobile apps developed at hackathons from her son Alfredo, who was interning at the co-working space LAB Miami in Wynwood. She realized it would be ideal to leverage the local tech community’s innovation and creativity to come up with a mobile app for Temporary Contemporary, the Museum’s Public Art program to be launched in November, just before Art Basel Miami.

Having passionate and seasoned hackers pack a big name sponsored Hackathon is to be expected, especially since there haven’t been that many in town. Having them participate and be equally driven, although in smaller numbers, in one sponsored by an art museum is priceless and far more telling of how far our tech community has come. What an idea for the rest of the museums in town to emulate!

The “Hack the Bass” event kicked off last Friday, Sept. 14, at LAB Miami, where a diverse crowd of about 60 mingled, with many newcomers checking out the scene along with hackers, designers and sponsors. Everyone had the chance to share their background and better understand what the Bass needed. On Saturday, the race moved to Miami Beach and by Sunday after an intense two-day session, nine solid proposals were ready to present and compete for the $5,000 cash prize awarded by the sponsors, Bass Museum and The Knight Foundation.

The list of the cool ideas included: a self guided tour app for use by both locals and tourists; multiplatform (Android, Blackberry, IPhone and Web) route calculation for walking tours with geo-localized content and 3D aerial mapping; links to artists, artwork info and to the museum’s permanent collection; cloud based data; social network to Temporary Contemporary, museum events and the surrounding area, through Facebook, Tweeter and Yelp; and a “my gallery” tab to share favorite artwork.

A nice trend was the adoption of augmented reality through the use of mobile’s device camera, which allows the user to engage the museum exhibit along with neighboring shops and restaurants. Design ranged from easy feel and use tap icons to 3D space environment and QR Codes attached to the artworks.

The winners of the grand prize, $5,000, were Alfonso Guerra (Apokalypse Software), Alexandra Saba (artist) and Chris Scott (Gnome Labs). First runners-ups were FIU AppDojo students Daniela Guerra (Business) and José Miguel Infante (Computing and Information Sciences). Second runner up: Wilmar Siqueira. Both teams were awarded $1,000 cash prizes.

The excitement continues with the next stop: October, Hack Train. Book now!