Ars Electronica
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Die Geschichte der
Ars Electronica
von Peter Kraml


An Extraordinary Festival Premiere
The first node in the network of technology, art and society was set in place in Linz on September 18, 1979 as Ars Electronica premiered as part of the International Bruckner Festival with the first Linzer Klangwolke featuring the music of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. The ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Company’s Upper Austria Regional Studio) and the Brucknerhaus were the driving forces behind the festival that was one of the world’s first to deal with the artistic possibilities and social consequences of digital technology. The initial public response was overwhelming, with a hundred thousand visitors thronging to the banks of the Danube to partake of an experience on a grand scale.

The Arrival of the Future
The first cultural initiatives along the path leading up to Ars Electronica had been the establishment of the Linz University of Art and Industrial Design in 1947 and the construction of the Brucknerhaus in the late ‘70s. A key pioneering role was played by the Forum Metall, a 1977 metal & plastic exhibition that showcased the fascinating interplay of industry and art. The musical group Eela Craig continued along this course in 1978 with the performance of their electronic opera “Missa Universalis.” The strong interest in establishing an annual electronic symposium as a context in which to explore these developments led to the founding of Ars Electronica the following year. With the premiere of the festival, the steel town’s struggle to define a distinct cultural identity for itself was finally a thing of the past, and with an Ars Electronica-based festival format that was unique in all the world, Linz set out on a course to become the internationally acknowledged center for digital media and technologies. Completely given over initially to the digitization of the world and a constant preoccupation with the future, there ensued a change of course in the direction of art and an intensified encounter with the present. The 1987 Festival undertook a greater concentration on substantive matters, and every one since then has focused on a particular theme.

A Prize for Outstanding Performances
The founding of the Prix Ars Electronica in 1987 represented another important step in the development of Ars Electronica and the medial deployment of computer technology. This first international competition dedicated exclusively to digital media and their development further enhanced the Festival’s linkages to the artistic community and positioned Linz as an international barometer of trends in the field of computer art. With over 19,000 submissions from more than 63 countries since 1987 and total prize money of 100,000 Euros a year, the Prix Ars Electronica is considered the world’s highest endowed prize for computer art. When the Golden Nica statuettes and awards for the most outstanding works are handed out each year, Linz becomes the meeting place of the “who’s who” of computer art. In 1998, the Prix added “cybergeneration – u19 freestyle computing” as a prize category for young people in Austria under the age of 19.

The Museum of the Future
Another significant milestone in the history of Ars Electronica was reached in 1992 when the City of Linz decided to go ahead with construction of the Ars Electronica Center. As a Museum of the Future and a “house-in-progress,” the facility was designed to function as an intermediary among the domains of art, technology and society. In June 1995, the AEC Operating Corporation was founded and Gerfried Stocker was named CEO. The opening of the Ars Electronica Center in 1996 meant the completion of the institutional triad consisting of the Ars Electronica Festival, Prix Ars Electronica and Ars Electronica Center, and thus a redefinition of the term “digital revolution.”

The Producers and Organizers

In 1979, the organization of the Ars Electronica Festival was taken over by the Brucknerhaus Linz in concert with the ORF. In 1986, the festival was spun off by the Bruckner Festival and its programming underwent a thematic reorientation under the joint directorship of Gottfried Hattinger and Peter Weibel (associates of LIVA and the Brucknerhaus). The opening of the Ars Electronica Center in 1996 was accompanied by the complete separation of Ars Electronica from the Brucknerhaus, though the Linzer Klangwolke remained as a link between the two. Since 1996, Ars Electronica Center CEO Gerfried Stocker and the ORF’s Christine Schöpf have been responsible for the organization of the Festival.

Here, you can download Peter Kraml’s detailed historical overview from the beginnings of Ars Electronica to the year 2000 (available only in German).