Technology as competition for the arts

I recently watched Ben Cameron speak at the Emerging Leaders Conference at American University. He addressed the role of technology in the arts--that the internet was seen as the panacea for marketing but now it brings 6,000 competitors to our patrons' attention every day. (see below for similar address by him at the TEDx Conference) Ben Cameron at TEDx

In the Tech in the Arts blog, Corwin and I often talk about the ways technology can enhance and promote the arts. But we don't talk as much about the competition that arises from technology. As a field, arts professionals tout technology as the future of the business, and some of us embrace it. But as much as it is our friend, it is also our competitor.

I’m not suggesting that database software, mail-merge, and online information-capturing haven’t saved hundreds of hours of work and made life generally less tedious. But it has also made entertainment more accessible and available than ever before.

I've spent my first year in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon researching how arts professionals view and use video footage. There's much concern about video of performances competing the performances themselves, especially amongst the artists themselves. And I suppose there's a way to protect your organization against that--just don't produce video. And that's the route many smaller organizations take, when faced with musician's union fees or the reticence of an artistic director, or even just not being able to get a straight answer from the legal department. But then there’s competition from other arts companies, and entertainment industry. In many ways you can't protect your organization against the wider world.

People are getting used to consuming their entertainment in the comfort of their homes, or accessing it on the fly from mobile devices. They get it on demand. They get it personalized.

I still think the live arts add so much value to society—I wouldn’t be in the Master of Arts Management program or writing for this blog if I didn’t. I feel strongly that live arts have a lot on technology: the uniqueness of audience interaction, connection with large groups of people simultaneously, the shared experience of a story, and so much more.

I know I’m not the only one that feels that way in my generation. But I also feel like I’m in the minority. For every person like me who can recognize a Bach fugue or would much rather go see Il Trittico than Letters to Juliet, I know that there are probably 10, 25, maybe 100 other 26-year-olds out there who are happier consuming their entertainment solely via Glee on Hulu or playing Rock Band.