Thursday, 22 March 2012

building/digital/capacity for the arts




This Tuesday just gone I turned up at the spectacular and inspiring new building of Central St Martins School of Art, to speak at the building/digital/capacity for the arts conference run in partnership by Arts Council England and BBC Academy.  

My first thought on arriving and craning my neck upwards to look at the massive expanse of building above my head was to throw it all in and sign up immediately at art college. As I stood in the middle of the great atrium I marvelled at the cathedral like space given over to the training up and educating of artists of the future, and I felt a great sense of hope and excitement for the potential of things to come. It really is an awe inspiring place and my desire to  study there has only increased, as I have reflected on what an incredible building it must be to work and create in. 

The afternoon was spent in one of the lecture halls listening to a variety of people talk about innovations in technology. This involved unpacking the business model or re-imagining it, implementing technology to enable the experience of theatre for a greater number of people from alternative perspectives, Asking where is the low hanging fruit? And how to create a revenue stream using new devices and applications, plus talking about the importance of collaboration and re-imaging relationships with audiences (that was my bit).

I was last to speak, which is always a strange one, the graveyard session, everyone has had enough by them and really wants a cup of tea and I also had the intimidating task of following Jane Finnis, chief executive of Culture 24 who gave an inspiring presentation.  

Before Jane Finnis stood up I was feeling impassioned and angered about the sentiment amongst many, that digital technology was in someway the solution to everything. Augmented realities and smart devices were the answer to the problems faced by creatives. If you had access to these tools you were bound to be successful in delivering your message and/or experience to your audience. It was Jane who stood up (before me) and challenged this notion. 

At the end of the day, when being filmed for the website, I was asked whether I thought ideas or the business model came first when establishing a successful creative organisation.

My response was along the lines of;

'Ideas! A business model is redundant if the idea or content is not the heart of it. There is not a one size fits all creative business model; and without the understanding of the value of your product, be that an experience or a physical thing, there is no offer.' 

Apparently this hadn't been the answer once so far that day. I have no idea who else had been asked or[indeed] how many, but was surprised [by this]. I guess it is this same reaction I have when I listen to people talking about technology as the solution. Technology for me is an amazing and ever evolving tool, it is like the ceiling of Central St Martins, awe inspiring and unfathomable. It is powerful and exciting but it is not the sole answer. Is it?

When I stand up to talk, the first thing I like to say is that despite co-founding WeDidThis (an online crowdfunding platform for the arts) I would never claim that crowdfunding or online platforms are the great solution for financing the arts. I believe that they  have a really important place and their potential is huge as part of the bigger picture. Crowdfunding platforms can empower artists and enable new ideas that might never otherwise be able to get off the ground. They are a really exciting opportunity for all sorts of people to become micro-philanthropists and have the great feeling of being able to be part of making great art and creative projects happen. The rewards element of crowdfunding is a fantastic opportunity if understood by those offering them. Rewards can be fundamental in bringing an audience and the project closer together and opening up and identifying the value and the excitement in the making of work, as well as the presentation of the final piece.  However, if the person or organisation running the crowdfunding campaign or project does not recognise who their audience is, what their relationship with their audience is or what the potential for these relationships holds, then the tool, (the crowdfunding platform) is redundant. The  platform, like much of technology, is a structure or model (just like a campaign strategy or a business model) that without the content, passion,energy and real life human networks at its core, will not succeed. 

I think that the lectures on Tuesday reminded me how important it is to not lose site of the relationships and the culture that creativity stems from. What is the artist trying to say and to whom? How and why? Only then can they establish how is best to say it and who is most likely to want to receive and respond to it. 

The panel at the end of the day were asked whether we thought the future of art institutions was a gloomy one and whether technology and the internet would replace galleries, theatres and museums. 

I really hope i'm correct when i say that nothing can replace the experience of live interaction with art. I don't fear that the internet will replace the physical realisation of art, but I do believe that it has the potential to provide exciting and alternative ways of interacting with it.

As Marcus Romer, Artistic Director at Pilot Theatre in York, pointed out, technology has been used in sport for years to increases the numbers who can participate in a match or live experience. No fan would say that watching the match on TV was the same as being at the stadium, but technology has allowed us to share the experience with others even if we can't be there. People haven't stopped going to the stadium, it is merely that more people can now access a level of experience live, in real time, from multiple perspectives, and it is this same offer and the real potential for innovation and development of these experiences and ways of seeing that excites me most about the capacity for the digital in the arts. 



Out of Sync: An installation by Fernando Casasempere at Somerset House 
These images have no relevance to my day on Tuesday but i wanted to share the experience that I had this morning when arriving at Somerset House for a meeting with the brilliant CreativeTrust.com and was greeted by this lawn of 10,0000 handmade ceramic daffodils. The pictures don't do it justice. If you can get there, do go and check it out.



























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