Artist Coding Switch Code Switch

A couple weeks ago there was an article in the L.A. Times about Artists Who Code, an organization created after the pandemic hit by two Broadway performers to help artists transition into careers in coding. The two were a married couple who were having difficulty seeing the possibility of creating a stable life.

“With every big Broadway credit that I earned and the higher the ladder I climbed, I actually did an analysis; I saw my net worth going down,” she says. “I felt less and less powerful with each year I spent in the industry continuing to audition, and feeling things like typecasting and constant unemployment, and many physical injuries — it just all became very frustrating.”

Catherine Ricafort McCreary and Scott McCreary had enrolled in a coding boot camp in 2018 and had started transitioning to coding jobs when the pandemic hit. Seeing their friends in the arts struggling during the pandemic, they created Artists Who Code as a way to provide direction and support to those seeking to transition to coding.

Ricafort McCreary and McCreary built a free mini-curriculum of resources for Artists Who Code. These include advising members on how to choose a coding boot camp, setting up a mentorship program to help artists in different phases of their coding journey and offering advice on the job search and nailing technical interviews.

[…]

“It’s like a code switch. As an artist, you don’t know what a Google Calendar invite is,” McCreary says. “Absorbing the etiquette of this new world and knowing what is appropriate and what’s not and how to reach out to people, and how to advocate for yourself and how to communicate the skills that you as an artist bring to the table.”

In the early days of Artists Who Code, the couple worked to find ways to walk through technical concepts and jargon for those who were unfamiliar.

[…]

For Ricafort McCreary and McCreary, one of the most crucial aspects of Artists Who Code is the formation of a community to help artists navigate the identity crisis that often comes with changing careers. Making a new résumé is particularly painful; much of the feedback they have received, and have given, is to minimize their achievements in the arts to make space for discussing their expertise in, say, engineering. “It feels like that’s your soul and you’re crushing it and making space for this other thing,” McCreary says.

As I was reading this, I was thinking that Drew McManus might find people in this group to be helpful. As an artist who codes himself, he founded Venture Industries which provides a lot of technical services for artists and arts organizations. He has used me as a guinea pig on a couple of his projects and the user experience elements seem to be among the earliest considerations he addresses in the creation of new products.

That may be one of the competitive advantages artists have in programming. Something might work well as designed, but if people are reluctant to use it because the navigation isn’t intuitive, then it will have a difficult time being successful. And if your organization has chosen to use that service for ticket sales, donations, website, etc., poor UX design can be detrimental to the relationship you are trying to develop.

We hired someone with an artistic background a few months back and were teaching him how to use one of our pieces of software. Within the first two hours he blurted out that the UX design was awful. UX is not a niche terminology only shared by designers and software engineers. People are becoming increasingly aware of it and its value.

Museums Are Secretly Controlled By Big White Paint

On Hyperallergic today, Isabella Segalovich had a piece, 15 Things Museums Do That Piss Me Off . An avowed museum junkie, she lists what areas in which she would like museums to do a better job.

She roped me in with her first criticism about museums being too quiet by admitting she was the one shushing her mother (who stuck her tongue out at Isabella in response).

Some of the points on her list are familiar gripes – the cost, not allowing pictures, no-touch policy, accessibility for those with disabilities, picture taking policy. She also brings up issues that have arisen comparatively recently in regard to fair pay, more than superficial motions of inclusivity, and the issue of buildings and spaces being named for problematic individuals.

But she makes some newer critiques like the lack of artists living in the towns and cities whose name appears on the building while the same superstar artists’ work is shown again and again. The lack of indigenous works and folk art in “American galleries.” She complains that galleries are too white—as in the paint on the walls–creating the idea that art has to be viewed in a sterile environment.

There is a lot more nuance to her case than I am providing here. I enjoyed the TikTok video she included showing the reason why one was not permitted to touch the art–which actually might make you want to touch the art.

Kindergarten Art As Social Practice

You may have heard a short piece on NPR this past week about Peptoc, a hotline where you can hear encouraging words from kindergartners.

 

Call a new hotline, and you’ll get just that — encouraging words from a resilient group of kindergartners.

Kids’ voices will prompt you with a menu of options:

If you’re feeling mad, frustrated or nervous, press 1. If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press 2. If you need a pep talk from kindergartners, press 3. If you need to hear kids laughing with delight, press 4. For encouragement in Spanish, press 5.

[…]

It was put together with the help of teachers Jessica Martin and Asherah Weiss. Martin, who teaches the arts program at the school, says she was inspired by her students’ positive attitudes, despite all they’ve been through — the pandemic, wildfires in the region and just the everyday challenges of being a kid.

Apparently within two days of getting the hotline operational, they were getting around 700 callers an hour.

I became aware of the story on Twitter and what caught my eye and made me follow the link was the statement that the hotline came out of a discussion with the kids about art as social practice. While that is probably not the terminology they used with the kindergartners, it stood out as an example of how it is never too early to start teach kids that artistic practice has a role in our lives other than being viewed as frivolous entertainment.

The pictures accompanying the NPR story show kids putting up posters they made promoting the hotline and delivering some of the same messaging as is found on their hotline.

The concept that you are able to contribute to the greater joy of society as a 5-6 year old has the potential for leaving a long lasting impression on these kids which will shape how they live their lives. In five or six years if these kids are told thousands of people have been calling every day to hear them laugh for half their life, that can really be meaningful.

And of course, if the hotline has helped relieve the stress of millions of adults, that has been a pretty great outcome as well.

Don’t Know If I Am Auditioning, But I Am Having Fun

You may have seen the story on American Theatre about the slew of people who took to TikTok to “audition” for St. Louis theatre, The Muny’s production of Legally Blonde.  I use the quote marks because according to the article, the audition process involved uploading a video to YouTube or Google Drive and providing a link to The Muny by February 1.  The appearance of videos on TikTok exploded the weekend of February 3-4 and participants seemed more motivated by the desire to express themselves than win a place on the cast.

Yet, as usual on TikTok and beyond, there has been some confusion over what exactly this phenomenon is. Is this a TikTok trend or an actual audition? Several TikTokers posted videos saying that they weren’t sure if they were just participating in a TikTok trend or actually auditioning for the Muny.

Absurd as this may sound to a casual onlooker, this absurdity aligns with TikTok’s messy culture. That many of Legally Blonde dance call videos are self-deprecating adds to the Gen Z aesthetic, which continues to set the tone on the app. Many of these dancers know they aren’t going to book it; they know they’re unlikely to see their name in lights. So what do they do? They ham it up, finding the humor in the fast-paced dance.

While The Muny wasn’t using TikTok as part of the audition process, they did have 1,400 people submit through their official video submission auditioning process. This approach might go a long way toward achieving equity and representation goals for many theaters. Having all these TikTok videos may also increase interest, awareness, and perceptions of theater’s accessibility among more people.

As the American Theatre article notes, a lot of people do post their auditions to TikTok in an attempt to generate enough buzz to gain a higher level of consideration, number of followers on social media has been a consideration in the audition process for years in some places, or to simply garner fame independent of a formal production.

However, the article also addresses the mixed feelings that can arise. While productions are happy to get viral attention, there are some other considerations:

Of course, posting dance call self-tapes on TikTok raises some ethical concerns, particularly as it relates to dance copyright, which mirrors larger conversations about TikTok and dance credit. The issue of credit and payment is definitely something that choreographer William Carlos Angulo had on his mind.

“The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society is my union, and they are responsible for protecting the work I do on plays and musicals,” Angulo said. “However, because their jurisdiction covers productions only, I am left to sift through the legal implications of ‘going viral on TikTok’ completely by myself. Because I have spent my entire choreography career being protected by my union, it never occurred to me to copyright my work until now.” Angulo has only just begun the long process of copyrighting the dance call audition.

Despite these muddy waters, Angulo recognizes the “powerful culture-making” that takes place on the platform. “Learning dances in my living room by playing and rewinding tapes of old MGM musicals and awards show performances brought me a lot of joy as a child,” recalled Angulo. “Seeing that reflected back to me through the thousands of videos of young people doing my choreography in their living rooms has brought me a new kind of joy that I cannot describe.”