Searching For The Unforced Substitute

Via Artsjournal.com is a FastCompany article by Amy Globus whose thesis is that Covid-19 gave the arts world the kick in the butt required to motivate it to think about how to leverage digital offerings to its benefit.

I will say from the outset that like many stories I have seen written on this theme, as much as they celebrate the success of efforts by organizations and the millions of view garnered, there is little acknowledgement of whether anyone was able to recoup the cost of producing/adapting content for the digital medium. Though Globus does acknowledge many won’t have the resources to create 3-D digital models or virtual/augmented reality experiences.

This being said and gotten out of the way, articles like this one seem to always be worthwhile reading because they offer insight into how different organizations are creating content which is either valued added or an alternative to just pointing a camera at real life works and posting it on the internet.

The truth is, the trial and error experimentation to find what works is likely to incur costs that will never be covered.  Seeing what others might be doing can be instructive and help shorten the development process. Though there is a chance arts organizations will develop offerings which distinctly resonate with the characteristics their communities and aren’t as successfully replicatible elsewhere. We could see, for example, museums emerge over the next decade whose experiences are markedly different from others.

Or it could be like a Tiktok trend where everyone does the same choreography to the same music and makes the same faces as everyone else.

To my mind, it will be the value added or alternative content rather than the digital substitution for the live experience which will provide the best course for arts organizations.

A couple examples from the FastCompany article:

Celebrated fashion designer Thom Browne launched his 2021 collection in a virtual 3D showroom—and while the experience was developed due to COVID-19 restrictions, it certainly doesn’t feel like a forced substitute. Never before have audiences at a runway show had such in-depth access to the details of Browne’s work. In this iteration, viewers can take their sweet time experiencing each piece in 360-degree, high-definition glory. Browne now intends to include a virtual element in future launches, as a valuable component alongside live showings.

[…]

…But organizations without the budget or resources for flashy experiences needn’t feel like they’re doomed to the “old normal.”

One of the biggest successes in digital experience innovations during COVID-19 was the Frick Collection’s Cocktails With a Curator series. Low-tech videos filmed inside curators’ homes generated millions of views, proving, as The New York Times observed, that “online audiences don’t expect a simulation of a gallery visit on-screen. They want a museum experience native to the web—and that can be a little faster, a little less polished, a little more direct.”

Running An Intellectual Property Rights Grabbing Contest Isn’t A Good PR Move

Laura Zabel, Executive Director of the awesome Springboard for the Arts posted a important Twitter thread on being mindful about the way you solicit creative work from the community.

Read the whole thread, it is short but she makes the important point that you may be asking creatives to do a lot of free labor on spec and if there is only a couple winners, most won’t see any sort of reimbursement for their time. She suggests that a request for proposals (RFP) might be more appropriate. She likewise reminds readers to make sure the planned remuneration, whether it is contest prize or fee for services, is appropriate for the level of effort people will need to invest in your project.

Perhaps most importantly, she urges people not to use any language which claims all the intellectual property rights for anything that is submitted. She notes that many templates have this language in it so even if it isn’t your intention, you could be making a “rights grab.

Little Bit Of Love For Intangible Benefits In Economic Reporting

Being a big proponent of libraries a radio story by Marketplace on the value of libraries caught my attention. Being an economics focused show, their analysis initially focused on return on investment:

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Long time readers know that I am also a proponent of not couching the value of everything in terms of economics and test scores so I was pleased that the reporters followed with a longer discussion of the intangible contributions libraries make to social cohesion:

Brancaccio: So there are interesting, almost hard-to-quantify benefits as well?

Farrell: That’s right. And that’s, you know, really the thing that stands out to me is we’re living through an era where there’s a lack of trust in so many institutions and, you know, the sense that we have connections with each other, I mean, that’s splintering. Well, public libraries are still trustworthy, community institutions and most important, public libraries are open to everyone. It doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity, social class and net worth.

[…]

Farrell: And this is why I think the return on investment, particularly as you’ve mentioned, the return on investment on the intangibles, is so important. So a lot more needs to be done to maintain buildings, update bathrooms, increase the number of hours that they’re open, and there’s a wonderful book by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, “Palaces for the People.” And you know, in that book, he persuasively argues that libraries, the people who work there, and the people who visit that they’re essential to our democracy, and to our community. So support your local library.

Did Covid Suddenly Make You More Aware of Sidewalk Space?

The Americans for the Arts blog had an interview with an arts group that was flexing their skills to solve problems in their community. They spoke with Yin Kong, one of the founders of Think Chinatown which started the initiative Assembly for Chinatown to provide outdoor dining for restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown.

While restaurants in other parts of the city were able to find ways to cope with Covid restrictions by setting up dining on sidewalks or in dedicated parking spaces on the street, Chinatown has narrower sidewalks and streets. Regulations frequently changed and violations earned a $1,000 fine. Outdoor dining really hadn’t been part of the business practice among Chinatown restaurants so between physical restrictions, legal hurdles, and custom there was little incentive for the financially ailing restaurants for that neighborhood to pursue outdoor dining options.

Think Chinatown collaborated with A+A+A Studio to write a guide on how to build affordable structures that met Department of Transportation guidelines. Artists worked with business owners to decorate the structures in colorful murals.

We removed the financial risk for these restaurants by covering the construction costs. We selected restaurants where we believed the impact could most be felt. For the most part, the project has helped bring attention to businesses and provide more space.

We are still connected with the restaurants who participate—we do not drop these and leave. We live in the neighborhood and are here to adjust. For some murals, it has been almost a year [since they were created], so we are repainting. We want them to continue to be colorful, delightful work.

The Assembly for Chinatown page mentions the project has helped 13 businesses at nine sites. In some cases, adjacent businesses got wrapped into the effort. In one case, a restaurant, cafe and florist had a structure constructed. In another, a restaurant and neighboring tea importer shared a space.

The interview is short, but it is clear that the perceptual, legal, and logistical hurdles they faced required a lot of time and effort to navigate before the first two pieces of wood were attached together. They provided access where it didn’t exist or seemed difficult to achieve and got people thinking of new possibilities for doing business in their neightborhood.

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