Virtual Reality technology is increasingly more sophisticated and powerful, and it’s predicted to fully hit the mainstream within the next year. In the performing arts VR has been adopted slowly, most commonly used for immersive experiences. However, there may be a lost opportunity: institutions can use VR simply to grow audiences.
To understand why arts organizations have struggled to capture funds from tech billionaires, arts managers and development professionals would do well to recognize what philanthropic sectors they are losing these dollars to, and why. Armed with these insights, arts professionals can then adjust their strategies to better appeal to this new and growing donor segment.
Moving the conversation around public education from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) has long beleaguered arts managers and arts educators alike. Defending the argument for arts programming and arts education can be difficult in the face of shrinking school budgets and a highly competitive grant environment. Particularly in a country that increasingly favors the hard sciences above the humanities, cultural pursuits, and artistic studies. Despite gains at the federal level with the new core arts standards, the STEAM caucus, and the first budget increase for the National Endowment for the Arts in years, it is still easy to feel defeated. The question remains, what can arts leaders and community organizers do at the local level to push the conversation in a positive direction?
If you told the average San Francisco resident 40 years ago that the art scene in the Bay Area would be gasping for life in 2015, they probably would have laughed in your face. But it is 2015, and that is the reality we are facing. The tech giants have moved in, and tension is building between the Silicon Valley community and its non-profit entities. In particular, arts organizations seem to be at an extreme disadvantage for a few reasons:
CREATE Lab creates multi-disciplinary learning experiences that allow communities to become technologically fluent. CREATE Lab’s novel combinations of visual arts and technologies provide a wealth of new potential tools to arts administrators and their organization. This article will introduce a few of the exciting projects that CREATE Lab is already testing in the Pittsburgh community, as well as access points for administrators and educators who are interested in implementing them.
With the development of crowd-funding programs through companies such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon, artists have many new ways to generate both funding and visibility. Arts and culture organizations have a harder time competing with individual artists on these platforms. In an effort to assist these organizations as they try to change the world, Google now offers its own crowd-funding platform for nonprofit organizations: Google’s One Today.
The American Association of Museums recently published a report titled Trends Watch 2012, Museums and the Pulse of the Future. According to AAM, the field of museology could beat to the rhythm of seven emergent practices in upcoming years. Namely, these are crowdsourcing, alternative social enterprises, public engagement, microgiving or crowdfunding, changing demographics, augmented reality, and new educational opportunities. Of these trends, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and augmented reality will be explored in detail as technology fuels their very existence while the arts nourish their popularity. Crowdsourcing
Museums of 2012 should not shy from “harnessing the crowd”, especially when that crowd is more than willing to engage in unique tasks and activities. The report cites examples such as the Smithsonian Museum, which asked the public to vote on “which examples of video games to include in its “Art of Video Games” exhibit. As the PSFK reports, even the New York Public Library sought help from the public in its effort to overlay historical maps “onto the open, modern-day map, drawing from the library’s expansive map database that includes everything from maps of building types for fire insurance purposes to agricultural maps of droughts.” The report mentions Wikipedians in Residence, Digitalkoot project, and the Children of Lodz Ghetto Project as other examples of engaging the online world in content publishing and editing, archiving (through gaming!), and even historical research.
For museums, crowdsourcing is a novel way to increase volunteering while capturing the interest of experts and community members alike. Yet, not all tasks lend themselves well to the phenomenon; the crowd is best utilized when tasks are fun, meaningful, or interesting, and require large amounts of individual input. Additionally, while crowdsourcing speeds up the pace and broadens the scope of projects, “it also increases the burden of oversight and quality control.”
When it comes to funding for the arts, not everybody (including the government) is willing to give a lot. But when a lot of people give a little, what emerges is the financially fantastic, win-win idea of crowdfunding. The report suggests that Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Peerbackers can be used “to reach people who may never have heard of your museum and invite them to support projects ranging from acquisitions to exhibits to building expansions.”
The report also points to the possibilities of mobile giving with the introduction of Google Wallet and Card Case. Another fundraising initiative noted is Philanthroper, a start-up that helps raise funds for non profits via “an e-mail each day featuring a 501(c)(3) organization that subscribers can choose to support with donations of up to $10.”
For a successful crowdfunding initiative, an organization needs to think beyond the incentive of tax deductible donations. The most successful Kickstarter campaigns involve people in their creation send them tokens of appreciation (often the end products themselves). Thus personalized, fun, and unconventional incentives are key to appeasing to the masses.
Reality limits the possibilities of what is, could be, and was. So augmented reality, in all its limitlessness, was introduced to help us imagine beyond what is. According to the report, “AR refers to a set of technologies that can layer digital elements—sound, video, graphics, even touch sensations—over real world experiences via mobile devices.”
One of the examples noted in the report is Streetmuseum Londinium, an app developed by the Museum of London which lets visitors explore Roman London and “ provides soundscapes to accompany scenes of Roman life superimposed on the modern city and encourages users to brush away dirt by blowing into their iPhones, “excavating” virtual artifacts in the process.” Another example of AR, not noted in the report, but cool nonetheless was used by the Science Museum in London. For its exhibit, Making of the Modern World, the museum created an app using a 3D avatar of Top Gear host, James May, who explained the significance of the objects in the exhibition.
Augmented reality certainly opens up possibilities but as the report notes, there is a fine line between engaging visitors and overwhelming or confusing them. It also suggests that AR can be used to exhibit and exist beyond the walls of the museum. Layar, an app by The Andy Warhol Museum that lets “users to explore Pittsburgh and New York City through the eyes of Andy Warhol”, is one such boundary defying example.
Additional details and insight into all the other emergent practices can be viewed in the AAM report. While these trends may not necessarily define the future of museums, they certainly put them on the path to a new technological era. Museums, who says you can’t be both conservative and trendy?
By now you may be aware of the Bronx Museum of the Arts' new ticketing initiative. If not, take a look at the Museum's Facebook status from March 30th: "Starting today, the Bronx Museum of the Arts will be Free to all. Thursday through Sunday, FREE! First Fridays! FREE. Whether you're 8 or 88, FREE! Getting Here: B/D train to 167th St (Unlike the Museum, the train fare is not free)." In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Museum announced just last month it would offer free admission to guests-- this coming at a time when student discounts, twofer deals, good coupons, and gas below $3.99/gallon are at a premium. According to Museum Director, Holly Block,
With our immediate community being the poorest per capita in the nation, and at a time when many are struggling to pay bills…we don't want anyone to have to use (admission costs) as excuse not to visit us.
It is because of a grant from the New York Community Trust that the museum is able to offer free admission to the public- though the grant only covers admission costs up to 15 months. The Museum is hoping to secure a more permanent funding source to be able to continue to provide free admission to the public after those 15 months.
Not only does this reduce barriers of entry for Bronx residents, New Yorkers, tourists, and artists, but it also benefits the museum community at large. Many museums have implemented similar free admission pilot programs and have reported varying results. It will be interesting to follow up with the Bronx Museum at the conclusion of the 15 month, free admission period to review its attendance numbers and demographics during that time.
While snooping around for more information on the Museum’s new pilot program, I stumbled upon two special offerings at the Museum. How did I NOT know about these programs?!
1) smARTpower: In conjunction with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the Bronx Museum administers this cultural diplomacy program. The program funds and provides travel opportunities for 15 U.S. artists to create and work abroad on a community-based art project. smARTpower supports “the development and implementation of community-based art projects that engage youth and other local residents, including artists. The projects are strongly encouraged to create a tangible legacy of the work accomplished through smARTpower in a variety of visual arts media…” The program is open to professional artists only with U.S. citizenship.
2) Artist in the Marketplace (AIM): Established in 1980, the program seeks to provide “networking opportunities for emerging artists residing in the New York metropolitan area" and to introduce "their work to a greater audience.” Thirty-six selected participants attend weekly seminars led by a faculty of specialists. Topics covered in these sessions “address areas of practical concern to artists including: career management and gallery representation; exhibition and public art opportunities; grant writing, copyright law, and marketing.”
It is a hopeful sign, especially in these financially trying times, when a non-profit arts organization remains so concerned with serving its constituents- accessibility for its local audience, professional advancement for its arts community, and greater cultural understanding in diplomacy efforts.