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Encoding culture with technology

Caption - Shawn De Freitas and Deidre Cristal Lee Kin

The Arts and Culture of Trinidad and Tobago was given a tech injection this past Carnival when the Living Arts Project  was launched by young techies Shawn De Freitas and Deidre Cristal Lee Kin .The project is a collaboration with the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism, fully endorsed by Minister Dr. Lincoln Douglas. The project received sponsorship from B Mobile who also provided support in powering the WiFi Zone.

Residents and visitors witnessed the installation of life-sized replicas of traditional mas characters all the way around the Queen’s Park Savannah. Each replica bore a unique two dimensional QR code image linking to the Trinipedia mobile app   when the QR code was scanned by a smart device. There users were able to access details about the mas character they were looking at.  

The platform is solely dedicated to promoting the Arts and Culture of Trinidad and Tobago and the work of the creative sector. “It is also designed to allow the public access to this country’s heritage, history and culture ” said De Freitas Information is delivered to users in text, picture, audio and video formats and, according to De Freitas, encourages participants to explore our island’s treasures at their own pace, or even to stumble upon troves of information while running everyday errands.

The popularity of the mobile phone and its impact on the social lives of the young and even the old was not lost on De Freitas when he returned to Trinidad from the UK- “I registered the domain name Trinipedia.com over seven years ago when I was living in England at the time and never got around to doing anything with it.  It was only when I came back to Trinidad  and I observed  the widespread use of mobile phone and I re-examined  the Trini culture that I started to marry the idea with mobile technology and QR (Quick Response)  codes."

“This is when we came up with the Trinipedia mobile application.”

Aware of the apps that were out there, the team didn’t just want to create another mobile app that engaged the user in the environment of the phone but one that used the device to encourage the user to explore the environment around him. Promoting the arts and culture in this novel way was not without its challenges, especially since a project of this kind hit a lot of firsts. “We didn’t realise that we were actually pioneering the delivery of many things that weren’t done before.  We were launching the first mobile app by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, first use of Interactive signage, first displays positioned around the Queens Park Savannah and WiFi coverage enabled by Bmobile.”

“We had to get approvals, licences, permits and permission to do everything the right way. There were some challenges but all the partners were committed and we were able to deliver the project on time.” The team, supported by Ministry staff Kurt Wheeler and Ashaki Scott, saw Carnival as a good time to launch because they believed the festival to be T&T’s greatest exposition of culture.

The team saw Carnival as a good time to launch because they believed the festival to be T&T’s greatest exposition of culture. “I personally felt that the theme of the project ‘Traditional mas characters’  was a great way to inform visitors while at the same time reacquainting locals about this rich aspect of our carnival heritage.” He said the interest during the Carnival was encouraging and now, Defreitas believes that this merging of culture and technology in T&T is the way forward particularly in getting young people to appreciate their own.

 “Trinipedia is a new and exciting interface for the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, one that is youth friendly and generation mobile ready.” One of the goals for the project is to eventually create a channel where young people could learn, discover, create and enjoy the culture of T&T, he said. “We want the mobile phone to be more than just instant messaging and social media but something that can create value.”

The team will next release a project that won them an Ideas 2 Innovation grant recently. “Dingole” is the name of the online platform that is expected to connect Caribbean fashion to retailers and fashion lovers. The team is expected to partner with design professionals and students across the Caribbean, and marketing to both regional markets and the Diaspora.