In Your Right Mind

In case you missed seeing it on Artsjournal today because it was a holiday for you, an article appeared from Wired suggesting that the future prosperity of the US lay in right brain activities.

The author foresees that as more left brain logic based jobs either get off shored or relegated to increasingly sophicated software, a demand for people with intuitive and empathic skills will emerge.

There was an interesting section that might mean good things for the arts organizations able to fulfill an apparently emerging need people are beginning to feel-

For companies and entrepreneurs, it’s no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out your bathroom. If you’re like a few million Americans, you’ve got a Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was rare a century ago, but now it’s commonplace. Yet in the US, candles are a $2 billion a year business – for reasons that stretch beyond the logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country’s more inchoate desire for pleasure and transcendence.

Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life.

This may present an interesting turn of events. I have been reading articles of late that talk about people skipping college or going into technical training to gain specific skills. While it is certainly true that colleges could do a better job at endowing their graduate with practical skills, if this Wired artice is correct, it may be time to shift one’s concentration back to liberal and fine arts degrees to gain marketable skills.

Art from 1s and 0s

If you read reports on why people are no longer attending arts events, inevitably television, video games and computers will be mentioned.

What isn’t mentioned is that there is sort of a conservation of creative energy going on over the internet. Even though people are online more, there is a creative itch that they seem to need to scratch. Take for example the MUD Achaea (FAQ on MUDS here). They are a text based mud meaning no graphics are provided over the screen–all the colors, textures, etc are created within the player’s mind from the description presented.

However, for the past 5-6 years they have held monthly artisianal and bardic contests where players create visual representations of life in this text based game or songs/stories/poems reflecting the same. Considering that they also award runners up and merit awards, that is a fair bit of art being created to give tribute to an imaginary world.

Even more–they have a sophicated mechanism that allows players to create their own plays in game on a stage in one of the towns. It even goes so far as to allow you to set ticket prices, reserve private boxes, build sets and costumes and employ special effects.

This can give some hints as to the direction technology and theatre may be headed together.

Using MUDs for something other than entertainment has long been contemplated as seen in this paper on their use in education written a decade ago.

And the theatre world has been using a form of MUDs called MOOs to hold meeting and forum for almost as long. The Association of Theatre in Higher Education created ATHE MOO to provide opportunities for discussion and debate to those who couldn’t attend their annual conferences.

Watching Me Watching You Watching Me..erm

So I was checking my visitor stats for January. The report only shows the IP addresses of people who visited, but it does give me links to websites through which people clicked through to find me.

Turns out that people have been linking to me via the blogs maintained by a paid arts blogger, I reported on in an earlier post. The blog entries in question come from Worker Bees Blog and 42nd St. Moon.

In the former blog, she talks about the importance of monitoring your statistics and how she can now track my blog and my references to her. I imagine we will now do a humorous little turn at watching each other watch each other.

In the latter entry, she mentions how 42nd St Moon is becoming powerful at leveraging blogs. This is quite true because by visiting that entry, I then clicked through to the other related blogs, one of which is focussed on the benefit of technology to arts organizations.

Given that this whole series of events was predicated on my search for other arts blogs beyond, I am starting to look at my whole effort at blogging as something of a success which is gaining momentum.

Since the December holiday season I have gotten email from people whose nieces have turned them on to my blog and from an administrator at the National Dance Project because someone brought my comments to their attention.

Makes me realize that there are a lot more people intentionally visiting the website than I realized. The web stats report tells you what keywords people used in search engines to find your website. My only comment is to look at the first word in my blog’s name. I will let you infer some of the bizarre search terms people are using from that.

Orchestras in the Age of Edutainment

I was visiting the Knight Foundation website and came across the aforementioned article, “Smart Concerts: Orchestras in the Age of Edutainment” by Alan Brown.

It offers some interesting reading about the tension between offering classical music in a manner that is appealing to new audiences while adhering to the expectations of long time audiences. (Of course the lessons learned are applicable to all the arts.) The former doesn’t attend often, but constitutes the future of your organization. The latter frequently attend, donate much needed monies in the face of declining foundation support and sit on your board. All of which can make it difficult to innovate.

Brown gives a number of examples of innovations that orchestras are using, including Concert Companion with which readers of Greg Sandow’s blog may be familiar.

He also recounts the resistance that some of these programs have faced, including booing at the Minnesota Orchestra.

A little more about that in a bit.

Brown makes some familiar observations about arts attendance. One thing he notes is that consumers want a more intense experience in a shorter time because they have less time. Thus the prevalence of extreme sports and standing ovations. People want to feel that they have had a good time in the time they had.

Another observation is that while technology makes so many more musical options available to people with the ability to download opera as easily as the latest pop single, it also allows people to continue to reinforce their own tastes by providing them with so much material, they never get tired of listening and experiment with other options.

One section I found particularly interesting:

In his book “Who Needs Classical Music?,” Julian Johnson argues that classical music, fundamentally, is discursive in nature and requires careful and complete listening in order to be fully appreciated. Instead, he says, most consumers ‘use’ (or misuse) classical music to alter or underscore their mood, or just to fill empty time.2 Mass culture’s appropriation of classical music may be good or bad, depending on your point of view, but there is a larger idea here. Much of music’s allure derives from the relative ease with which it can be selected and programmed by the listener. In focus groups, music lovers describe how they listen to one kind of music for vacuuming, another kind of music for cooking, another kind of music for exercising, and so forth. Consumers understand what it means to be your own curator, and derive great satisfaction from arranging art around them to the satisfaction of their own aesthetic – especially music and visual art.

I really appreciate Julian Johnson’s views. The last artistic director I worked for wouldn’t recommend musicians to people who wanted live background music at parties and receptions. His feeling was that a musician works too hard at his/her craft to be ignored and spoken over. And it reinforces the idea that their product is worthless and disposable. He felt that it was better to get a good CD player and sound system.

I also like the idea though that consumers know the value of being their own curator. I am not quite sure how to execute it, but I sense there would be great value to an arts organization in a program that validated this sentiment and empowered patrons in some manner.

The four tactics that Brown says are being employed by orchestras are: contextual programming, dramatization of music, visual enhancements and embedded interpretation. Of these, I would imagine that dramatization and visual enhancement might be considered most sacreligious by long time concert goers.

Dramatization is “theatrically produced in service of a larger concept or purpose using some combination of narration, drama, dance, scenery, lighting and video. But the music remains the main attraction.

Visual enhancement, which he describes as the most controversial, “…can be divided into two categories: visual enhancements that add an artistic element to the concert, and visual enhancements that (literally) magnify the performers. It is not unusual for orchestras to introduce visual elements such as banners, flags, projections and ambient lighting to the stage, sometimes in service of a theme or special occasion.”

Since these programs try to “sex” the music up by adding new elements rather than allowing the music to stand on its own merits, I can understand why people might be upset.

Contextual programming he defines as “contextual programming as the practice of selecting programs, series and even whole seasons around unifying ideas – topics, themes, genres, idioms, artists and other constructs – however focused or oblique. Contextual programs have more conceptual glue holding them together.”

One thing he points out is that unless you are a long time attendee or a musician, you might be hard pressed to understand why a particular mix of music from different composers was chosen for performance. (Lord knows, I have always wondered) Contextual programming offers some sort of narrative that explains this. As noted, it could also be oriented to a theme like The San Diego Symphony’s Light Bulb Series program, “Can Classical Music Be Funny?” (Lord knows I have wondered that as well.)

Embedded Interpretation encompasses elements which are part of the performance itself, such as the Minnesota Orchestra where the conductor provided some explanation about why the pieces were put together (many loved it, some booed) and the Philadelphia Orchestra where the musicians share insights about music during their summer programs. Of course, there is also the Concert Companion which provides commentary synchronized to the music broadcast to a handheld PDA.

The whole article is worth reading because I only touch on some of the examples given and I think many of them can inspire programs for other organizations.