Episode 135 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Dave Elfving. Dave is an experience designer and educator. He worked for eleven years at Apple, and currently is my colleague at the California College of the Arts. He’s also co-chairperson at Gray Area, a San Francisco-based nonprofit interdisciplinary cultural incubator. Gray Area is fostering fascinating work, and I wanted to discuss it with Dave.

As Dave described it, Gray Area is a combination maker space and venue for artistic expression that provides learning opportunities in advanced technologies. By ‘advanced technologies,’ I mean digital interventions in physical environments, such as augmented reality and projection mapping. Dave described it pithily: “It’s a play space and an empowering space for teaching and sharing various technologies.”

Such technologies have been mostly out of reach for most people outside of corporate contexts. Gray Area aims to democratize them, overcoming industry gatekeeping.

This manifests in various ways. One is public exhibitions of digital art, including guest exhibits by renowned artists, which set an example and motivate local students. Another is opportunities for hands-on experience and instruction on these technologies to make them accessible to a broad range of people.

The result is a community that provides access to firsthand experiences with technology plus the know-how to use them, opening doors to new possibilities. As Dave put it,

[Gray Area] brings together such an interesting group of people: amazingly technically proficient people who have an inkling to do something creative but have been told or don’t have the opportunities to be creative. And on the other side, creative people who see a possibility to do something with technology, but they have this vibe, or they’ve heard that they don’t have the technical skills to make that possible.

I got the opportunity to visit Gray Area before the pandemic, and was impressed by the work. That was before I knew about their educational mission. It’s such an exciting idea — one that I wish was replicated in more places.

The Informed Life episode 135: Dave Elfving on Gray Area