Sometimes You’re The Wind, Sometimes You’re The Weathervane

Seth Godin made an interesting post that intersects somewhat with the questions arts organizations are having about putting content on digital platforms. Alas, I don’t know that it provides any of the answers being sought but he makes a crucial point about not confusing distribution capacity with influence and power.

He start with the following statement:

To be powerful, a medium needs two things:
The ability to reach people who take action
The ability for someone in charge to change what those people see and hear and do

Then he provides a number of examples which illustrate that impressive statistics about the extent of reach can be essentially meaningless. This is something to keep in mind when people cite number of impressions for websites, broadcast or print media outlets. But on the other hand, he notes that sometimes the people with control are exerting it haphazardly without any sense of how to focus it effectively:

People in the music business are flummoxed by the number of new acts that are showing up out of nowhere and becoming hits on TikTok. They’re talking about how powerful this company is.

But it’s not. It’s simply reporting on what people are doing, not actively causing it.

The folks with the power are the anonymous engineers, tweaking algorithms without clear awareness of what the impact might be.

The last bit he writes puts me in mind of my ongoing discussion about how the criteria we use to measure the value of something is frequently irrelevant, but people will be convinced of it measure’s importance.

Google and Amazon used to invite authors to come speak, at the author’s expense. The implied promise was that they’re so powerful, access to their people was priceless. But the algorithm writers weren’t in the room. You ended up spending time with people who pretended they had influence, but were more like weatherpeople, not weather makers.

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There are still cultural weather makers, but they might not be the people we think they are.

Certainly that last line applies to those of us who work in the arts and culture industry. Sometimes we are the weather makers and no one gives credit, but sometimes we think we are the weather makers and don’t recognize what is really moving the winds and tides.

Oh Jellyfish, Where Is Thy Sting?

Hat tip to Georgia Council for the Arts which posted a link to the Smithsonian article, Why Science Needs Art.  The article focuses largely on marine life, but the basic gist is that there is so much about science the general public doesn’t understand or have the equipment to experience that artistic execution is necessary to translate that into comprehensible terms.

One of the first examples given discusses how a student from the Maryland Institute College of Art working at the Smithsonian museum kept getting questions about how jellyfish sting.

She always got the same question from visitors, “how do jellyfish stings work?” She had the scientific answer for them but found it difficult to explain the microscopic stinging cells that fire like harpoons out of jelly tentacles without a clear visual.

That’s when a lightbulb went off in Payne’s mind. She could show visitors how jellyfish sting using art. Payne immediately got to work in the sculpture shop at her school, excited to bring the microscopic stinging cells into full view.

Payne built a 3D model of one of the stinging cells that line jelly tentacles—called a nematocyst—that visitors could touch and interact with. The model showed visitors a jelly’s stinging power and helped Payne explain how to take care of a jellyfish sting.

Later, a marine scientist discusses how she took up photography in order to capture animals in the natural habitat because they looked entirely different there than preserved in a museum.  And the merged scientific and artistic perspective have benefits toward greater application:

Her discoveries apply to fields beyond science, like technology. Right now, Osborn’s team is looking at how a spineless, free-swimming bristle worm called a Tomopteris moves to help the tech industry make better, lighter and more maneuverable robots.

But studying these and other midwater creatures takes a highly trained eye for discerning shapes. “I do illustrations, sketch and photograph the animal to understand its structure,” Osborn explained.

This ability to pay careful attention to patterns, shapes and spatial relationships helps scientists properly observe and discover—key pillars of the scientific process. It also helps them create clear visuals of the collected data. Graphs, figures and scientific illustrations are all more powerful when they have a touch of artistry.

Are NFTs The Answer To Ticket Scalping?

An appreciative nod to Artsjournal which posted a piece by Shelly Palmer on how the use of non-fungible tokens (NFT) can enhance event ticketing security, improve the resale market, and potentially provide expanded marketing opportunities. You may be familiar with the use of NFTs as the basis of cryptocurrencies and as a result be under the impression they are something that is mined using energy intensive high powered computing. However, if you are only concerned with creating one that is unique, but not super rare, the cost and energy required to mint, rather than mine, an NFT is low and continues to fall.

Palmer outlines some of the ways in which NFTs can be employed to make event ticketing safer and more secure.

If your ownership of an NFT has been validated, a quick matching of public and private keys (using something as common as a barcode reader) would instantly verify that the person with the NFT in their digital wallet was the authentic owner of the ticket….

If someone sells their NFT ticket, that transaction can trigger royalty payments to the issuer as well as any other stakeholder – artists, sports leagues, athletes, sponsors, promoters, a charity, or literally anyone with a digital wallet. These business rules can be hard-coded into each NFT, and like all smart contracts, when a transaction occurs and the conditions are met, funds automatically change hands….

Bots, scalpers, bad actors, criminals, and 2nd-party sales on eBay or other auction sites are common. NFT tickets offer an easy way to gather actionable business intelligence about how and where your tickets are being sold and resold. You can find the exact moment of the transaction, the exact address of the digital wallets in use, the amount of the transaction, and much, much more.

Palmer goes on to discuss how NFTs can provide expanded opportunities to learn more about attendees and market to them. For example, if someone buys tickets for themselves and friends and family, you don’t know who those other people are. However, if everyone must provide a verified NFT upon entry, the digital ticket will need to be transferred to them which potentially allows any profile information associated with each person’s digital wallet to be collected. That information would conceivably allow you to promote similar events to them due to knowing they had been in attendance. Likewise, if you had some sort of loyalty program, they could be credited as having participated where they couldn’t have been before.

Also, just imagine how things would change if the artist and presenting venue were automatically getting a cut every time a ticket was resold for over face value. The way Palmer describes it, you may even be able to limit the amount at which a ticket can be resold. Though I can already envision a couple ways sellers could circumvent that.

As a more immediate and practical example – about two weeks ago we had a rental which had been postponed from Spring 2020 due to Covid. When it had gone on sale prior to the shutdown, it sold out very quickly. Based on some conversations the ticket office had, we know tickets ended up being resold and transferred. However, because we only had the contact information for the original purchaser, we were unable to communicate the rescheduled dates to those who currently held the tickets. As a result, we had about 200 unoccupied seats. Had we known who held the tickets now, we could have directed reminder communications to them instead.

Palmer says most major ticketing providers are already working on offering a NFT based ticketing service. It will be interesting to see what opportunities unfold as people recognize how to technology can be employed.  Given that competing standards will likely be appear before one emerges as the dominant format, I would caution arts organizations from signing up too early.

I also wouldn’t assume some of the dominant parties like Ticketmaster will end up running the table. Many of the big players are not focused on providing good customer relationship management tools. I suspect whomever can deliver a product that facilitates more authentic and accurate interactions with customers with ease and low expense will do well.

Art As A Medium For Teaching Coding

In an illustration of how arts and science can be mutually supportive, NextCity had a piece about an effort to train art teachers to teach girls to codeCode/Art was started by MIT grad Amy Renshaw in an attempt to make coding more interesting and accessible to girls.

Art as a way to pique girls’ curiosity makes sense to Renshaw—art skews female when it’s an elective, and there’s more flexibility in the curriculum. Research backs her up: Girls’ interest in computer science increases when the classroom environment reflects art and nature rather than stereotypical geeky decor, like Star Trek posters. Research also shows girls’ involvement with computer science should start before eighth grade, at which point cultural stereotypes are already taking root.

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To create a comfortable learning atmosphere, facilitators are open about their own struggles and encourage the teachers to tap into each other’s knowledge and experience. They are assisted by college-age interns, who are then available to help in the classroom

Code/Art started out in Miami-Dade schools in 2019. As you might imagine, the pandemic put a damper on roll out to other cities as well as the level of participation among teachers in Miami. That said, one of the teachers interviewed, Nancy Mastronardi, credited involvement in the Code/Art curriculum with keeping her energized and helping her avoid the burn out many of her colleagues felt. Some of her students started meeting on Zoom independently of her class to continue working on their ideas.

Mastronardi also started an after school Code/Art club, as have other schools in the Miami-Dade school system. While club participation in the school system dropped during the pandemic, in a survey of club participants, “…52% said they plan to major or minor in computer science in college and 87% said their club motivated them to continue coding in the future.”

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