They Can Give The Arts ESP? Sign Me Up!

You may not have caught it last week when the Knight Prototype Fund announced awards for the development of technology to support the arts.

Of the twelve projects, four are focused on helping people interact and receive information about visual arts.  Along those same lines, one seeks to utilize augmented reality glasses to deliver performance content to deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speaking audiences.

The Holy Grail of technology tools for the arts seems to be live delivery of program notes during a performance. I am not sure if the tools aren’t effective, the technology difficult to use or if there is a resistance to a common standard, but these type of projects seem to always be in the works. Back in 2004 we saw Concert Companion.  Artsjournal has been promoting a live streaming of program notes by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  There was also San Jose Ballet’s live casting of commentary during a performance of Sleeping Beauty last May. (Interested to know how that turned out.) Now Knight Prototype Fund is supporting MIT’s ConcertCue which plans to do much the same thing.

From an arts administration standpoint, my interest was piqued by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ proposed ArtsESP which plans “Developing forecasting software that enables cultural institutions to make data-centered decisions in planning their seasons and events.”

Our ticketing system has “tomorrow” as a default choice for many reports and I have often joked how I wish it could tell me how many tickets we will sell tomorrow. Maybe we will be a step closer now…

Nina Simon is involved with the Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center’s project to develop “…a tool in the form of a smartphone/tablet app for cultural institutions to capture visitor demographic data, increasing knowledge on who is and who is not participating in programs.”

There are also some interesting projects designed to assist communities in providing feedback.

One, appropriately called Feedback Loop has the goal of, “Enabling audiences to share immediate feedback and reflections on art by designing hardware and software to test recording and sharing of audience thoughts.”

Wiki Art Depiction Explorer wants to use “crowdsourcing methods to improve Wikipedia descriptions of artworks in major collections so people can better access and understand art virtually.”

Civic Portal looks to encourage “public input on new forms of historical monuments through a digital tool that allows users to identify locations, topics and create designs for potential public art and monuments in our cities.”

This last one reminded me of the crowdmapping projects I wrote about some communities undertaking. (Actually, that is exactly what it is.)

Any of these sound intriguing, take a look at the Knight Prototype Fund page and keep your eyes open for reports of the projects’ progress. I have already tried to see if I could learn more about ArtsESP, but couldn’t discover anything online at the moment.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


3 thoughts on “They Can Give The Arts ESP? Sign Me Up!”

  1. While I understand and agree there is value in real time program notes, I find the continuous amount of resources poured into these efforts to be a mystery. I agree that it seems to have reached “Holy Grail” status but I’ll be surprised if the field doesn’t look back on it with embarrassment over just how much time and treasure was devoted to those pursuits for what will likely be comparatively limited returns. So from that perspective, I’d say it will be more akin to Monty Python’s interpretation of the Holy Grail quest than anything more profound.


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