Over the past few months, I have explored the many ways technology can enable artistic collaborations. As technology permeates every aspect of our lives and continues to evolve, it is almost surprising how little we leverage its collaborative possibilities. We have ample tech enthusiasts in our industry, yet many are uneasy at the suggestion to embrace technology in the art-making process—the core of our work as arts organizations.
Introducing new technology into a tried and true process is an experiment— as such it comes with risk. As risk adverse individuals, even entertaining the idea of embracing technology is daunting. Nevertheless, let me propose the following: Those tried-and-true processes will always be there. If we leave our comfort zone, think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of our processes as they currently exist, and entertain how technology could allow for deeper and more efficient collaboration, we may find new opportunities for innovation in this vital area.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) did exactly that to remarkable success. In 2009, OSF applied for EmcArts’ Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts to develop an online collaborative workspace for their script management needs. As many can probably relate to, OSF was “frustrated by conventional information-sharing systems (meetings, fax, phone and email) that neither supported multiple users in distant time zones nor guaranteed the level of participation and inclusion the organization desired.”
OSF was accepted in the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts and embarked on a weeklong retreat with a cross-departmental team made up of OSF staff. At the retreat, the team discussed the organization’s current practices, needs, and opportunities for technological innovation. Like many in the arts, at the beginning of the retreat “many in the organization believed that technology was somehow separate from OSF’s core work—that the IT department drove technology projects and imposed its solutions on the rest of the organization.” Nevertheless, over the course of the week, a shift in assumptions occurred across the team. The team began “seeing technology as a user-driven resource that could be organically integrated into the process of making live art.”
By critically thinking about their processes and collaboratively working through possible solutions, OSF imagined and realized Collaborative Workspaces—a communication and document sharing project management system specifically dedicated to the Festival’s script management process. According to EmcArts, the software empowered “everyone involved in developing, revising and managing a script to post, organize, teach, discuss and archive revisions through the entire life cycle of a production.” The new technology increased efficiency for the OSF and its collaborating artistic, directors, and designers across the nation and globe.
As OSF’s experience demonstrates, embracing technology in the art-making process offers arts organizations opportunities to reap significant benefits by achieving new efficiencies and deeper collaboration—innovating the core art making process. However, arts organizations cannot solely rely on receiving a grant to create a customized technological solution. Luckily, today we are surrounded with new and developing technologies that are just a click away and fulfill many different needs. If OSF was considering how to manage their script reviewing process in 2015, they could turn to one of the many available tools that have flocked the web to fill this need, such as Submittable. With the countless technologies available to enhance current workflows, there are many opportunities for arts organizations to innovate and improve processes.
If OSF’s story has driven you to entertain ways technology could support your art making practices, stay tuned for my upcoming white paper. The report will delve into a discussion of the needs of successful artistic collaborations and present the currently available technologies that can be applied to existing workflows and enhance artistic collaborations.