Since the decentralization of Armenia’s cultural sector in the 1990s, Armenian musicians have found precarious work with NGOs and for-profit companies whose missions are not the preservation of cultural heritage, but instead development priorities like democracy building, conflict transformation, and economic growth. This talk focuses on the surprising prevalence of traditional music in Armenia’s burgeoning information technology sector, where musicians teach folk songs to young coding students, consult on heritage-related mobile apps, and lead traditional dances at industry trade shows. Based on fieldwork in Armenia and the diaspora, I inquire into this confluence of art and technology, suggesting that it signifies on multiple levels: the push among transnational development agencies to support creative economies, the legacy of Soviet perspectives on artistic and scientific innovation, and the pervasiveness of local anxieties over ethical citizenship and ethical work.
Alyssa Mathias is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Knox College. Having conducted ethnographic research with musicians in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Russia, and the United States, her work focuses on the possibilities and challenges of arts-based development in the South Caucasus, with case studies in conflict transformation, information technology, and sustainability. She is also working on a multigenerational study of silence in the US Armenian diaspora. A violinist and singer, Mathias earned her PhD in Ethnomusicology from UCLA and was a Postdoctoral Scholar at the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute during the 2021-2022 academic year.