Moving Beyond Under-Served

Something has been puzzling me lately and I haven’t come any closer to figuring out the answer. I appears to me that when there is discussion about populations which are under-served by the arts in the U.S. it seems to largely be in the context of race whereas when I see the same discussions going on in the UK, it seems to be in the context of class.

Earlier this month, The Conversation had an article about there being a class crisis in the arts, citing Welsh actor Michael Sheen. The authors of the piece were based at the University of Edinburgh and University of Sheffield and it was pretty clear that they were talking about the situation in the UK.

I have also seen a fair bit of social media discussion about a Guardian article on the subject. Much of the social media conversation is oriented on class:

I am not sure if it is a matter of demographics with Caucasians, which have for better or worse been defined as the norm, being 87% of the population in the UK versus 76% of the population in US, resulting in Britons  perceiveing degree of opportunity spread more along class lines.

Or if there has been such a history in the US of linking negative associations to race, including groups who later came to be regarded as “white,” that race has become the default lens through which to assess inequities in the US.

It is not that there hasn’t been recognition in the US that inequities are based in economics. Right now people are looking a little askance at how the wealthiest individuals and corporations are spending their money and paying their taxes. In the arts, there has been a recognition that people whose families can support them through unpaid internships are often more likely to succeed. Not to mention Martin Luther King was working to build a coalition of all poor Americans, was in Memphis to support all sanitation workers when he was assassinated, and was about to embark on the Poor People’s Campaign.

It strikes me that one of the ways the arts can work toward equity and inclusion is to decouple the concept of under-served from race based demographics. I am not sure what the most constructive terminology and frame might be. I can see the consequences of only using a single dimension like economic status allowing groups to hide the fact they are neglecting to serve people of different races and abilities.  You don’t want to adopt a position of “we don’t see differences, we serve people,” because differences do exist and need to be acknowledged in order to create a welcoming environment.

Probably the best approach would be if funders did not use measures or criteria which incentivize using race, economic status, ability, etc., as a definition of under-served. The problem is, funders can collect data about participation from these demographics to show they are paying attention and want organizations to work toward welcoming a greater range of their communities, but how do you combat the perception that the organization is being rewarded for reaching out to an “other” group?

It is also difficult as an arts organization seeking to perpetuate diversity, equity and inclusion to force funders to change their criteria even as they seek support from those funders. Obviously a small step is to write a grant proposal that doesn’t employ the term under-served at all, but applications and final reports are often formatted with a bias connecting under-served with race, ability and economic status.

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.

There Will Be More Dancing In The Streets

I saw an article on CityLab about some pretty successful Open Streets efforts that rose up during Covid.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, Open Streets is a national effort to temporarily close streets down to traffic to allow for community use of the space.

Where I live, a local organization works to shut streets down a couple times a year in different neighborhoods around the city. Part of the local effort has been to perform different projects which help make the streets safer by making drivers slow down and become more aware of pedestrians.

I was surprised to read in the CityLab piece that one group successfully managed to shut down a 30 block span of a street in NYC for 12 hours every. single. day.  While technically that is a temporary shut down of the street, it is increasingly becoming a permanent feature.

Programming was paramount. Practically each day, there is something going on in the street. Salsa and the Colombian coin toss game of sapo on Tuesdays. Family bike rides on Friday. The avenue even has its own newsletter. “If you don’t activate the street, people won’t feel comfortable using it,” said Burke.

Alejandra Lopez, a local resident, had stopped by last week for a bike helmet, but they were all out. Instead, she found out about the English classes that are also held on the avenue, which brought her back today. The Open Street reminded Lopez of her hometown, Bogotá, and its famous weekly Ciclovía. “This is like the evolution of that,” she said, carrying a new helmet in one hand.

The daily effort is driven by 100 volunteers and is mostly funded by donations. Some of the people who teach the language and dance classes are paid a stipend, but most all the work is done by volunteers. The vision, however, is to turn it into a work training program.

The program could provide summer jobs for teens, or re-entry training for formerly incarcerated people, with transferable carpentry and landscaping skills. (Burke called for crossing guards to be hired from nearby communities.) To Maerowitz, the Open Street could be more than just a space to spread out: It could be a site where one’s community is strengthened.

“We can give neighbors ownership of the street through work,” she said.

The article talks about some of the issues and tensions that have emerged in different Open Streets projects around the country. There is always push back and anger from some drivers at having streets shutdown, but organizers have discovered some socio-economic forces at work as well. There has been criticism that Open Streets projects are often sited in wealthier neighborhoods, but some have observed that there is often resistance in poorer neighborhoods based in skepticism about broken promises of the past as well as lack of consultation and communication with residents.

Last year, the launch of Oakland’s Slow Streets program faced a barrage of criticism over lack of community input, with Black and low-income residents expressing far less enthusiasm for the traffic restrictions.


…in poorer areas, they hit resistance, highlighting disparities ingrained in traffic violence. If a neighbor in a marginalized community grumbles at a program meant to enhance safety, and the response is to scrap instead of fix, something else may be at play there.

“When you apply the layer of historical trauma that communities of color have experienced, it’s a reaction formation,” Logan said. “I’ve been so hurt from you that it’s easier to push you away than to collaborate and figure out a solution. The last time we talked about promises, you broke that.”

I Noticed You Checking Out Those Brush Strokes

CityLab had an article about an art museum in Bologna, Italy which is using eye tracking to learn how visitors interact with works on display. In the process, the museum has learned unexpected things about their visitors.

Let me just get this out of the way and say that my cynical mind immediately saw this technology becoming the basis to optimize attendance, sales, and ultimately what sort of art gets created based on what seems most popular.

This being said, the technology can also provide feedback and opportunity to better inform, engage and lower barriers for visitors. Or perhaps, as suggested in the last paragraph below, curators may find that visitors don’t value the same things they do.

Part of me would be curious to see if they put this technology up in some place like the Louvre, are there works no one suspected was getting attention as people made their way to and from the Mona Lisa. Does something catch people’s eye that makes them pause a moment? Is there a minor, but significant flow, to other galleries that no one had observed?

Some of the researchers’ findings have been unexpected. Examining observer data from the two sides of a 14th-century diptych by Vitale degli Equi, data showed that “attention was immediately attracted to the ‘busier’ representation of Saint Peter’s blessing, to the right,” said Bologna Musei President Roberto Grandi. He was surprised to find that many visitors simply skipped the diptych’s left half.

The data could lead to changes in lighting, staging and placement of artworks in relation to one another, Grandi said, with findings suggesting that museums and galleries might want to rethink how to make some paintings and sculptures more visible and accessible.

The life-sized statue of Apollo of Veii, dating back to 510-500 B.C., is a case in point, the researchers said. Though the statue is one of the crown jewels at Rome’s National Etruscan Museum, a separate test of ShareArt showed that relatively few visitors give it the attention experts feel it deserves. Placement near the end of the collection, possibly chosen in a “best-for-last” approach, may be leading patrons to skip the artifact altogether, ENEA’s Marghella said.

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