Engaging Technology: uCurate and uExplore at the Clark

What’s going on at the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts? Let’s see, there are iPads, tablets, interactive digital programs, touchscreens and kiosks throughout the galleries, the new exhibition, Clark Remix, and oh yes, new curators- YOU. In a February press release, the Clark announced its exciting new initiative to encourage visitor interaction and participation in its galleries. According to the press release, Clark Remix is "a dynamic salon-style installation featuring some 80 paintings, 20 sculptures, and 300 of the institute’s finest examples of decorative arts."

As part of the exhibit, the Clark has introduced the interactive, digital programs uExplore and uCurate. Both programs are accessible online, on the visitor’s own personal device, on touchscreens and kiosks throughout the gallery and on iPads and tablets provided by the Clark for use in the museum. Basically, the programs are EXTREMELY accessible and user friendly- I myself have spent all afternoon here in Pittsburgh exploring the Clark’s collection and building my own exhibition, instead of reading for class (ahh priorities).

The Director of the Clark, Michael Conforti explains the premise of Clark Remix,

Clark Remix represents one of many programs that the Clark is developing to engage audiences in exciting ways. Clark Remix allows us to present our permanent collection in an installation that is both beautiful and innovative. Our salon-style presentation provides a very different and intriguing perspective on many of the works that have become familiar favorites for Clark visitors. Adding virtual components to the exhibition allows us to reach new audiences and invite them to discover and interact with our collection.

It works like this. uExplore allows the visitor to learn more about the Clark’s collection in a visually stimulating, highly organized, and digitally oriented way. Items are grouped into categories (paintings, sculpture, glass silver and ceramics) to allow the user to navigate with ease through the extensive collection. Selecting an image of the desired object, a more detailed, but not overwhelming, explanation of the item becomes available. When appropriate, audio and video clips accompany the information.

It is a beautifully designed and easily navigable interface. uExplore’s presence in the gallery encourages visitors to delve more deeply into the history of the collection, while they are on-site.

The second digital application to accompany the exhibit, uCurate, gives visitors the opportunity to participate in the curatorial process. As the name implies, YOU, aka the visitor, plan and design a 3D virtual exhibition with the Clark’s collection. The participant makes all decisions, from what to include and how to arrange

the objects, to wall color selection and wall text. Users of the program have the option to submit their designs for consideration by Clark’s curatorial team AND to share their designs through social media channels (promoting the museum and the digital program). Submissions to the Clark will be reviewed regularly. Why submit your design for professional review by Clark curators? Because if selected, the virtual design will be transformed into an actual exhibition! The lucky designers will be invited to assist in their exhibition’s installation, in the decision-making process, in the creation of wall text and in writing the curator’s statement.

uCurate and uExplore were designed by the Clark in collaboration with Swim Design Consultants and Virtual Gallerie to afford the public a voice and role in the museum’s exhibition planning process. Allowing the public to suggest actual designs for implementation challenges what has been the accepted and traditional decision-making process in the museum. That is, all decisions are made internally; the public only receives, not contributes. But the Clark is trying something different. In a recent New York Times' article on the Clark’s innovative crowd-sourcing approach, Conforti said,

For generations, curators ran the show and told you what to believe. In a world of blogging and Wikipedia, we realized that we can learn from our audience, and from multiple interpretations.

This is Museum 2.0 in action. Where visitors become users and museums become, as Nina Simon explains, “dynamic platforms for content generation and sharing.”

So Kudos to you, Clark Museum. This is an engaging and relevant use of technology where the user AND museum win.

Public Financing for the Arts in Europe Takes a Hit

Tell me if you have heard this one before. In the midst of an economic downturn, a country desperately searches for cuts in spending anywhere it can, as calls for budget austerity grow louder. In the end, it’s the more vulnerable programs that are hit the hardest, which often includes education programs, safety net measures, and the arts community.

While that above paragraph would describe the arts community in the United States in recent years, the trend is now playing out across Europe as debt-ridden countries turn to austerity measures in the face of the European debt crisis. While European countries spend significantly more on the arts than we do in the United States, the dangers of budget austerity in the coming years for the arts community in several European countries are very, very real.

I have been thinking a lot about this issue of arts funding in Europe vs. the United States over the past week, and two events in particular heightened my interest. First, this past Friday, we sponsored a Carnegie Mellon Master of Arts Management Speaker Series event with the Consulate of the Netherlands, who were in town for the annual Dutch Festival in Pittsburgh. We started talking about the difference in the way the arts are funded in a country like the Netherlands versus the way it is funded here at home. More on that in a minute.

The other item that caught my interest was a front page story in the New York Times yesterday about the fate of public financing for the arts in Europe. As I mentioned above, Europe is now going through the same kind of austerity measures that rocked the United States in 2009: debt is growing, calls for fiscal restraint are getting louder, and every program is being measured for its return on investment and how important it is going forward.

The numbers are striking: as the New York Times reports, in the Netherlands, the budget for arts and culture is seeing a decrease of roughly $265 million, or 25 percent. In addition to those cuts, the public is being asked to pay more to see shows and events, with increased taxes on tickets.

These cuts are hitting smaller venues, troupes, and companies the hardest: with less funding to go around, existing expenditures are being targeted at more established performers, forcing more unique acts, which may be struggling for audiences, to face an uncertain future.

And while some may feel that cuts to the arts in Europe would have little effect on the arts here in the United States, one of the expenses artists in Europe are cutting back on are trips and performances overseas, to countries like the United States. Artists are cancelling trips and forcing festivals to find alternative performers.

Another effect this is going to have on the American arts community is over the issue of fundraising. As we discussed with the Consulate of the Netherlands on Friday, there are different views towards art funding in Europe than there are here. In a country like the Netherlands, a resident pays higher taxes to pay for additional services like health care, transportation, and safety net measures. Another element of those increased taxes is funding for the arts; with the government taking a higher percentage out of every paycheck, many Dutch residents feel they are less inclined to donate their own money to the arts because they feel like the government is already doing it for them.

Here in the United States, the opposite is true: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) receives such a small percentage of overall government revenue (usually in the range of $150-160 million, compared to billions of dollars in several European countries) that the vast majority of funding for the arts comes from donations from individuals. Since Americans are taxed at a much lower rate, they have more disposable income, and thus more free to donate it to the art of their choosing. There are issues of whether a lot of this money is really going to where it is needed, but that is a discussion for another day.

With European governments cutting back on their arts funding, this is naturally going to lead to artists in Europe to seek alternative sources of revenue. As the New York Times explains, this includes going after their descendents currently living in America – who may be already donating to arts organizations in their communities.

So this presents a problem: a global recession and austerity measures in dozens of countries, all leading to a shift in the way arts are funded worldwide. It will lead to more uncertainty, a greater dispersion of artistic funding and increased competition for the individuals who provide a sizeable percentage of giving.

Is the current model, where American artists rely mostly on private donations and European artists rely on government grants, sustainable? For the United States, absolutely. With calls from some politicians to cut and even eliminate funding for the NEA and other culture programs, there is certainly little chance of seeing an increase in federal funds for the arts.

As for Europe? That is a different story. As the story goes, as the pond gets smaller (in this case, the pond symbolizing the amount of funding), the fish will get nervous, and perhaps seek refuge elsewhere, in the form of spending more of their time fundraising, at the expense of the very same art they are seeking to promote. With artists now having to listen to potential funders, who may have a different vision for what kind of art they want to see, the impact on what kind of art is made and performed is bound to be substantial.

In the short term, the effect is obvious: less festivals, traveling art troupes, and shows. Fewer jobs for artists in countries like Italy, Hungary, Netherlands and Greece. Fewer opportunities for tourists and residents to see the best of what each of these countries has to offer.

It really is sad, but perhaps unavoidable. As I have written before, we seem to find ourselves in the era of budget austerity, and even while the economy has shown signs of improvement in recent months, the desire to increase funding for the arts pales in comparison to support for other existing programs.

The promise and benefit of increased funding for the arts, both at the private and federal level, is well known to all readers of this blog. The New York Times piece describes Europe as the place “where art is life,” and while that is certainly true to anyone who has visited, the newfound austerity measures being put in place represent a significant threat to that very same life going forward.

Let's Talk About Tumblr

Tumblr has not been discussed here in over a year, which I believe to be an egregious error. Since it’s undergone some significant changes since our last post, let’s revisit this microblogging platform (which is one of my personal faves). Our original post covered the basics of Tumblr, so if you haven’t checked it out, maybe that’s a good way to get up to speed.

This article is part one of a three part series about Tumblr for arts organizations. The second part can be found here, and the third part will be posted April 27, 2012.

Tumblr was launched in 2007 and is very popular amoung Millennials. Half of users are under the age of 25, and about 20% are in the 25-34 range. The average user spends over two hours on the site per visit and as of 9:00 EST this very morning Tumblr had 19.7 billion posts from 49 million blogs.

Tumblr has some features that are new or a bit different since our last post, including:

The new posting Dashboard - Image via Tumblr.com

Revamped Messaging System A slew of spam messages last year caused the website to reconsider how users message one another. The main communication issue still remains (inability to have a real discussion), users can only post short replies to posts with questions or if the users have the “reply” option enabled. Messages are limited to a certain number of characters and cannot contain links.

Fan Mail The new messaging system does contain a “Fan Mail” feature, which is exactly what it sounds like. Users can customize the appearance of short messages to their favorite blogs who have this function enabled.

Tumblr Fan Mail - Image via Tumblr.com

Share on Tumblr Like Pinterest, Tumblr has a bookmark button that allows users to grab content from anywhere on the web and share it on their Tumblr.

Mass Edit Tumblr has a mass post edit feature! Now you can easily select posts, delete them, and alter their tags.

There are still some challenges when it comes to Tumblr:

Bye bye Directory The Directory was an aggregation of Tumblr’s top blogs, organized by category. With its disappearance, Tumblr has become even more of a clique – it's hard to find Tumblr blogs unless you already know where to find them. Tumblr still recommends blogs that would be relevant to your interests on your Dashboard, but since you have to have a Tumblr and follow enough blogs for them to know what you like and make a recommendation… It’s a little bit Catch-22.

Success Metrics There’s still the challenge of measuring the impact of your posts. Tumblr has made it easy for you to install Google Analytics to your blog, but offers no internal solutions. (It is still awesome to have a post blow up and go viral though).

Overall, Tumblr is still an interesting blogging platform, with a lot of opportunities for arts organizations to connect with a young demographic. The first week of April will feature the second part of this series: a Mini-Nar on creating your own Tumblr. We’ll also talk about some best practices, including how to fully utilize a GPOY, interacting with your community, and the importance of GIFs. Get hype! Go enjoy your weekend! Don’t burn yourself with that new iPad!

Creators Project in San Francisco

Last weekend the Creator's Project garnered significant attention from national media.  From the mission statement on the website "The Creators Project is a global celebration of art and technology." and "The Creators Project is a new kind of arts and culture channel for a new kind of world."   As an intersection between art and tech it seems appropriate that the blog weigh in and take a look at what they did, how they did it, and the implications.  The Creator's Project has major sponsorship from Intel Corp and VICE with significant online free content focusing on mostly short form interview of Creator associated artists.  This Project offers similar promise to other ventures to offering culture and arts online to ideas such as On The Boards TV and Jacob's Pillow Virtual Pillow but is already operating on a much larger scale than either of these.

The Creators Project offers arts and culture online at a scale that is extraordinary for such a young institution.  The levels of participation on information sharing that is happening through their website looks unparalleled and should be looked towards as a model for successful integration of technology and the arts.   The Creators Project was started in May of 2010 by VICE and seems to have two major interfaces with the public.  There is a exhibit/show that has toured around the world each year and an expanding web presence that now counts video downloads in the millions.  The content is broken out into six different categories:  Music, Film, Art, Design, Gaming, and Fashion and has engaged with artists from all of these areas to provide content online and for the annual festival.  They will be rolling out content collected from the event last weekend (March 17-19, 2012) in the coming weeks.

Current content on the website is a mind blowing array of new directions taken by artists in each of the fields.  One of the standout artists at the event last weekend was a new work from visual multidisciplinary artist Chris Milk.  The installation called the Treachery of Sanctuary incorporated user interaction with digital transformation to look at elements of flight.  Visuals of this can be found here.

Anther fascinating example that was found on the Creator's Project website was the Electronic Shadow from France.  Electronic Shadow uses imaging technology and software to generate interactive 3D maps of people places and objects.  These images then can be used and manipulated in artistic fashions.  The implication for this technology would, for instance, be a game changing one for other art forms such as dance.

Exchange of ideas such as Creator's Project bring together the bleeding edge of Technology and the Arts and as such should be a point of engagement for institutions that are looking to modernize and include new audiences (and younger audiences).  The artists involved have obviously successfully engaged these audiences already and by following the lead of these success stories arts leaders at more conventional organizations can find hope in a new direction in reshaping structure and content to address the demands of a more complex world.

 

 

 

 

The Role of the Arts in Economic Development

As it pertains to funding for local arts projects, the past few years have not been too kind to the arts community. Budget cuts, austerity measures and changing priorities have meant less funding, and with it less jobs for artists and fewer arts opportunities and events for communities all across the country. As the economy starts to grow (slowly) and optimism about future growth increases, state and local budgets are facing smaller budget deficits and the increasing likelihood of budget surpluses in future years. With these new resources comes the decision over how to spend resources in the best possible way to stimulate growth.

In recent years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other groups have given out millions of dollars in grants to local arts groups to help foster economic growth and assist arts communities in struggling areas of the country. As the money available to these groups continues to grow, and cities and states pondering the decision to invest again in the arts, the question is: what role do the arts play in economic development, and how vital is it to future growth?

I have written before about the tough budget constraints that governments are dealing with at the local level and the pressure this is putting on existing arts programs. Unlike the federal government, cities, counties and states are often required to balance their budgets on an annual basis; if sales tax receipts or other forms of revenue are down from the year before, as has often been the case during this economic downturn, governments have to turn to existing programs for cuts or outright abolition. With tax increases politically unfeasible, it’s often the most vulnerable programs that face the chopping block, and this includes the arts community.

Those of us who study public policy and urban planning are cognizant of the effect the arts can have on a city or neighborhood. As much as art enriches our lives and provides a sense of culture, the economic impact is minimal; this is not to take away from the arts community, but is rather meant to illustrate the larger forces that are required for long term economic growth, like housing, higher education, health care and free trade.

The Next American City recently looked at an example of a rust belt city facing tough economic times, Detroit, and how the arts community is helping bring the city back. Through the help of groups like the NEA and ArtPlace America, Wayne State University launched the Detroit FAB Lab, a hub that provides artists with access to equipment and tools for their artwork, like metalworking and woodworking, as well as mentoring services like business coaching and networking. In essence, it provides a community for artists to come together and share their work, their advice and their love for the arts, all with the backing of community grants and support.

Few cities are in need of support like this more than Detroit. Designed to help support the struggling manufacturing base in the Motor City, the grants provide a small step in the overall push to diversify and grow Detroit’s economy as it starts to come back from the recession that took such a toll on the city’s population and well being.

The millions of dollars in funding that are being given out by groups like NEA and ArtPlace also present a series of questions: is this money well spent? If the goal of the money is to spur economic development and growth, is it better spent elsewhere?

We can all agree that funding the arts is crucial to fostering community and culture in cities all across the country. But is absolutely crucial to long term economic growth? That’s where it gets tricky: the list of public policy measures that rank above the arts community is quite long. If given the choice between an artistic redevelopment project and a new hospital or transit station, the physical and transportation needs of the city will win out.

But, as cities and municipalities invest in infrastructure, public services and needed resources, it’s always important to remember how the arts can add to the benefits being accrued. A city with no culture, no life, and no sense of vitality is vulnerable to losing out on the same kind of economic benefits that were desired when public officials decided how to spend resources in the first place. Investing in roads, schools and infrastructure is absolutely essential to an area’s long term economic growth; however, without a vibrant and committed arts scene, the desire of residents and tourists to experience the best of what the area has to offer will be diminished.

There are numerous examples of cities and local governments taking the time to invest in areas of their community and developing art districts. In my home town of Phoenix, the burgeoning Roosevelt Row district is home to First Friday art walk events and galleries showcasing the vibrant culture alive in the city. Other districts in Miami, Pittsburgh, and New York have also popped up in recent years to add vibrancy to formerly struggling areas of their respective cities.

As a policy priority, you will get no argument from me that the arts community ranks behind the essential public services that so many people rely upon on a daily basis. However, good public policy recognizes that the right balance, which involves providing those services and setting aside funding for arts programs that encourage innovation and creativity, along with providing a sense of culture for a given community, is preferable.

As ArtPlace America states, “art creates vibrancy and increases economic opportunity. It is all about the local.” We could not agree more.

Pinterest 101 for Arts Organizations [mini-nar]

Pinterest is the latest and greatest in social media, we've talked about it before, and it just reached 10 million unique hits in a month, the fastest independent website to ever attain this lofty title. Every blogger with access to a data set out there is looking at the demographics of Pinterest, but what can a visually based social media do for your organization? This Mini-Nar is going to take a look at some of the basic functions of Pinterest, as well as how some arts organizations are maintaining and utilizing their Pinterest accounts. http://youtu.be/JZKgsWlU6Uk

Check out these Pinterests from the video: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Ballet, the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, and Lionsgate Be Fit. Some of the demographic data I referred to came from Tech Crunch.

What do you think? Is Pinterest something you'll consider using - or do you already utilize it? Comment on this post and let us know!

An Artistic Revision of the American Dream

The American Dream, which for many Americans is the prospect of owning your own home, is dying. Or, at the very least, it is in danger of being lost to a sea of forces, which include overbuilding, overbuying and the economic downturn. With single family suburban homes becoming plentiful over the past decade, and the inevitable housing bubble that devastated so many suburbs around the country that followed, the thought naturally turns to whether this model is sustainable moving forward. What does the future hold for suburban living, and where do we go from here?

A new exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art seeks to rethink suburban living and the design of the communities themselves. Taking unique and sometimes radical approaches, five design teams each took a community ravaged by the housing crisis and came up with their own architectural and artistic solution to improve the affected areas and introduce more density, retail stores and sustainable practices. The results need to be seen to be believed, as they provide a completely new and interesting way to look at American housing.

The exhibit, titled “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream,” looks at five suburbs around the country that have been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis: The Oranges, a New Jersey community twenty miles outside New York City; Temple Terrace, Florida, located just outside of Tampa; Cicero, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago; Keizer, Oregon, a suburb of Portland; and Rialto, California, located outside of San Bernardino.

Looking through the five exhibits, one sees a pattern: all five areas under study feature the now commonplace suburban single family homes that have come to dominate the suburbs of American cities, with the design teams seeking to fundamentally change the way we see suburban housing. Gone are the 1,500 square feet or larger single family homes with large backyards and wide spaces between properties; all five proposals call for much more density, shared spaces, and retail and dining options often inside the communities. In essence, what the design teams are trying to do is replicate some of the best features of urban living and transport them to the suburbs.

Even though single family suburban living has proved to be incredibly popular over recent decades, it has always had its share of critics from urban planners, policy makers and sustainable growth advocates. The effect on the environment, through increased automobile use and higher energy use, is widely mentioned. The separation from the community, through isolated properties and less interaction with others, is mentioned as well.

What is so fascinating about the exhibit is the way the design teams take all of these criticisms to heart and seek to remedy the problems of overbuilding and density through five architectural designs that really are about as different as they are similar. As to be expected, they all feature people living closer together and becoming more sustainable, but they differ enormously in how the communities are designed from an aesthetic level. I took a look at all five exhibits (virtually, of course, until I can make the trip to New York), and came away impressed with some of the projects and more skeptical of others. The five exhibits are broken down below:

The Oranges, New Jersey: Located twenty miles outside of New York City, the Oranges is a unique community that is, in the words of the design team, “more urban than suburban,” with close proximity to major roads and transportation options. The Oranges approach is perhaps the most radical of all five designs: it seeks to remove the car from the city by adding multi-level housing to the roads themselves, with occupants using mass transportation options instead. The designs of these new housing complexes are jagged in design and feature different kinds of housing, including multi-family housing units and shared public spaces. My favorite design element is transforming the roofs of the buildings into public places, where energy can be produced and green spaces can be added, helping to make the buildings more sustainable. Of the five exhibits, this one is the least practical, but earns praise for the unique artistic design to the housing units.

Temple Terrace, Florida: Located just outside of Tampa, the Temple Terrace project looks to re-develop 2.2 miles of the community’s downtown area through adding additional housing units and public spaces. This one is perhaps the least controversial of the five designs, as it splits the development between more conventional smaller housing units and another space for multi-family housing and duplexes.

Cicero, Illinois: This one is my favorite, as it seeks to take existing abandoned structures and re-develop them into housing and community areas. Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, grew up as a railroad town, then became a town full of factories in the mid-20th century; as the factories left in the 1980’s, the town started losing jobs and became an economically depressed area. The foreclosure crisis hit Cicero hard, and only worsened the situation. In recent years, the immigrant population of the town has boomed, leading to an increasingly diverse community.

What the Cicero project seeks to do is bring living and working together, and they do this through taking over existing abandoned factory sites and turning them over to housing. After the requisite environmental process, the design team takes these abandoned factories and converts them to high rise housing complexes, featuring shared living areas along with shared community spaces. Living units are on different floors, with each building featuring a community floor that can include shared kitchens, shared living rooms and more. The design team also seeks to change the way houses are financed, through innovative ideas like equity co-op’s and building trusts where people can buy and sell shares of their homes.

My favorite idea of the design was to take garage space and convert alleyways into stores, restaurants and community spaces where residents could earn additional money for themselves through land on their own property.

Keizer, Oregon: Located just outside of Portland, the design team for Keizer sought to combine the best of the town and the best of the country, and their design is striking in terms of how much of nature is included in the very dense living spaces created.

The Keizer design has a massive multi-level apartment complex look to it, but it also does its best to include plants and nature into the design. While there are multiple levels of housing, the nature elements are located at ground level, and include abundant supplies of green space, forest, exotic gardens, plant life and even exotic animals as well. Bridges connect the different complexes and include retail stores, and the series of courtyards that are included feature different nature activities like rock climbing and spelunking.

This design perhaps does the best job of creating a living, sustainable, all-encompassing community within its borders. The designers point out that the project achieves five times as much density and provides three times as much space as the existing Keizer community.

Rialto, California: The final project, looking at the community of Rialto located outside of San Bernardino, seeks to not so much radically change the suburban housing structure as it does to modify it around the edges. The biggest design departure from current practices is the “relaxation of boundaries,” where existing plots of lands are converted into row houses, duplexes and apartments. This means that while you can have a regular single family home on one plot of land, right next to it you could have a row of apartments or smaller homes on the same block. One rationale for this is that if a family residing in an apartment wanted to move up into a single family home, they could do so without having to leave the complex. The design team also adds retail and mass transportation options to the complex, again seeking to create a more complete community within its boundaries.

Current zoning laws and restrictions prevent most if not all of the above changes in each of the five designs from taking place, and the architects and planners associated with each would need changes in the laws if the designs were ever implemented. This is part of a larger concern for neighborhood revitalization and renewal, and as the housing crisis showed us, the current model of larger single family suburban homes is not sustainable in some areas. Changes need to be made, and these five designs seek to identify the best ways to do so.

I encourage everyone to take a look at the five designs online if you can’t make it to New York for the exhibit. It runs through July 30th.

(Photo credit: NY Museum of Modern Art)

Telemarketing is Dead - and I killed it

orangephone

Fundraising for nonprofit organizations is considered an art, not a perfect science, and it's clear that techniques must be tailored to each individual organization. One of the common pieces of wisdom is that “telephone appeals” (read: telemarketing) consistently work as a fundraising tool for nonprofit arts organizations. I’m not saying random cold calls, but calling people who have funded you before, have a history with your organization and would likely donate again. Nearly one out of every five people will respond and donate to your organization calling and asking for money. As a Millennial consumer, I cannot fathom this.

I, and perhaps you, dear Reader, belong to a generation simply called “Millennials”. Spell check doesn’t know that word yet, but soon it will. We are defined not by high technological competency, which is given to the generation directly before us, but by technological connectedness. I've had a series of experiences which have lead me to create these conclusions about the relationship between Millennials and telemarketing. Millennials, who by the way love to donate, have been raised in a society where everything is connected electronically.

With that connectedness comes with a degree of anonymity. While relationships formed over the web can become as close and as intimate as the penpals of old, they take time. They are cultivated with mutual respect and friendship and while our messages may travel instantly from one to the other, the relationship is built up more slowly.

In this age of instant communication, I think the telemarketing approach is dead to those arts organizations that wish to solicit donations from Millennials. My telephone is reserved for my parents and my grandma, and for calling Renee to let her know I’m outside her building and would she please let me in.

I have had organizations, which I have supported in the past, call me on the phone and ask for donations. It never works.

They always follow a certain pattern. The telemarketer introduces themselves, and asks your name - here again, trying to build up a relationship. But I, the Millennial consumer, am used to long exchanges on Tumblr before ever learning anything than the other person’s username, so that tactic falls short. I thrive in the anonymity of the internet, and this direct and sudden confrontation with a stranger frightens me like a deer in headlights.

Then the telemarketer will try to tell me about the organizations hardships this year; how an economic recession has set them back, or how government legislation has made their work more difficult, could I please help with their annual fund? I, the Millennial consumer, just watched a video of the violence in Syria this morning - you’re trying to tell me you have problems? The problems I care about are the ones involving life and death - and I will negate your ask at every turn.

Finally, the telemarketer has been instructed to ask three times before respectfully hanging up. Are you kidding me? I, the Millennial consumer, tweet, reblog, and share on Facebook all while drinking my caramel latte and finishing an accounting assignment. Your long phone call is wasting my time. Why didn’t you understand when I first said ‘no’? Are you trying to guilt me into this? This is ridiculous. I will never give to this organization again, and their number is now blocked on my phone.

In truth, this all could have been avoided if this organization, who clearly have a record on me, had just emailed me their ask with a direct link, explaining that they need help with their annual fund. The anonymity is intact, I no longer have an individual I don’t know trying to force me into the intimate donor relationship. They haven’t insulted me with blowing their issues into hyperboles (while important to the organization, meaningless to me). And it took all of two seconds to click the link and another to type in my credit card number.

What I’m saying here is, if you’re catering to a mature audience, use telemarketing. Statistically, it works. And probably you’re already using online direct asks in some form, whether its email or otherwise. What I’m hoping you’ll do is pay more attention to who gets what message. If you’re reaching for the Millennials, those fun-loving young kids, maybe tweet them. Email them. Ask them when they attend your next party.

For the love of art, though, do not call.

 

Kickstarter Reaches Major Milestone

Depending on your perspective, the following news is either a cause for celebration, or a sobering reminder of the state of federal funding for the arts in America. Or perhaps both. Kickstarter, the funding platform for thousands of arts and other creative projects, announced last week that it is projected, through its website and thanks to thousands of contributors, to be on track to receive over $150 million in pledges in 2012, by far its biggest and most successful year to date.

This is wonderful news for the arts community, and will help thousands of artists get their projects off the ground. However, the amount does represent a milestone of sorts: while substantial in its own right, the $150 million figure also surpasses the entire 2012 annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federally funded program with the might of the United States government behind it.

So it begs the question: as sites like Kickstarter grow in popularity, and help steer more funds to specific arts projects, does federal funding for the arts carry less significance going forward?

We’re big fans of Kickstarter here at Tech in the Arts, and have written about the site’s innovative funding platform and some of the better projects that it has featured. For those who are unfamiliar with Kickstarter, a quick primer: people can post projects online, ranging from art to fashion, film to music, photography to theater, and request donations to get the projects running. The people responsible for the projects outline what they hope to accomplish, how much money they need, and can offer incentives for people to donate money, like free tickets or exclusive merchandise, depending on the amount donated. In the end, if the project fails to reach its fundraising goal (usually within a couple of weeks), no money is exchanged, and the project fails.

As it relates to the juxtaposition of the two entities, first a few caveats. Projects from outside the United States are featured, so the money in question is not confined just within our borders. Second, the site is on track to secure $150 million in PLEDGES in 2012, which does not guarantee funding. According to the site, a little over half of projects fail to meet their fundraising goals, meaning funds for those projects do not change hands. However, with people around the world willing to contribute that much money, it does represent a significant milestone in the arts community.

I wrote last week about the 2013 funding request for the NEA in President Obama’s budget, and welcomed the news about the funding being increased for the new year. However, even with the increase, the budget has failed to increase with the rate of inflation, and is actually a decrease from the early 1990’s, when the budget was in the range of $180-185 million per year.

However, as budget deficits climb and the debt reaches new heights each year, the axe seems to fall on what’s referred to as “discretionary” spending, or spending that’s not mandated by existing laws, first, and that includes programs like the arts, education programs, and public service organizations. This has especially been true in recent years, with calls by some in Washington to drastically cut discretionary programs and cap them from future increases.

As I talked about last week, the NEA is an essential resource for arts organizations, after school programs, schools and community groups who depend on federal programs to survive. Few of these groups generate the amount of internet excitement as the projects on Kickstarter, and cannot rely on social media or online funding mechanisms to continue. Their continued existence rests largely with the help of their local communities, state and local organizations, and most importantly, the federal government.

My concern is that with sites like Kickstarter providing a mechanism for taxpayers to select the individual projects they would like to see funded, the desire to continue to fund the NEA and other arts programs will diminish. Why, after all, have taxpayers pay for a central agency like NEA when individuals can contribute to the projects in their community, or the projects they share an interest with, instead of some program or group they have never heard of?

The NEA has been targeted for elimination in recent sessions of Congress, but thankfully it has survived. Even though the advent of online fundraising tools has provided a steady source of pledges and funding for arts projects, the backbone of arts funding continues to be at the federal and local levels, and any decrease or entire elimination of funding would have a catastrophic impact on artists, the arts community, and arts lovers everywhere.

Another way to look at it this: with the advent of sites like Kickstarter, funding for the arts is increasing, and is becoming a wildly successful endeavor. Last year, Kickstarter received over $90 million in pledges, with several projects hitting the $1 million mark. This is NEW money coming into the arts community, and it deserves to be celebrated.

The ideal, however, is a world where both funding mechanisms continue to move forward, and serve the unique niches they cater to: Kickstarter to the up-and-coming and innovative film/music/theater/art projects and NEA for the community-based groups and local arts organizations.

Congratulations are in order for our friends at Kickstarter, with many more years of continued pledges and success moving forward. It is my hope that the same kind of success and impact continues with NEA, as it faces significant hurdles in Congress to secure future funding.

5 best practices to keep your email marketing relevant

Guest blogger Amelia Northrup is the Strategic Communications Specialist at TRG Arts, the data-driven arts consulting firm. She previously blogged for TITA from 2009-2011 as she completed her Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon. This post is cross-posted on Analysis from TRG Arts.

email iconWe’re not buying the bad rap email marketing is getting these days. You’ve heard it all before. Open rates are down. Users often filter emails by sender and ignore unwanted or low priority communications. Sophisticated spam filters are plucking out and putting in quarantine anything resembling a sales message. And sophisticated users, especially those in the Millennial generation, prefer other media.

The offsetting fact is that access to email is greater than ever. Users of all ages have smartphones and tablets that make on-to-go communication easy, convenient, and ubiquitous. And, those worrisome open rates for email? They actually reached a two-year high in the third quarter of 2011.

So, when our clients ask whether it is worth it to continue to use e-mail in marketing and fundraising campaigns, our reply is: Absolutely.

Why? 

Email is cost-effective. In TRG’s two decades of experience, the most effective way to reach (and sell to) arts and entertainment patrons is via direct marketing. Simply put, direct communications get the right message in front of the right patron at the right time whether the message goes out by snail mail, telemarketing, or email. (Read a case study on this.) Of all direct channels, email marketing is often the cheapest weapon in your arsenal. Social media and other new media channels can help a campaign, but, like radio, TV and other “broadcast” media, it’s far less likely to reach the intended target and make the same sort of impact as a direct, targeted message.

Email plays a crucial role in today’s multi-channel campaigns.  We advise a 2-1 punch of direct snail mail with some sort of follow-up by email.  That second “touch”  via email acts as a “booster shot” to a campaign already in motion—reminding patrons of a deal or deadline and keeping your organization top-of-mind.

So, what makes email marketing effective?

1. Keep complete, clean patron records.  In all direct marketing, cleanliness is next to godliness--regardless of the channel you’re using, but especially with email marketing. A patron may move from their home and keep their email address and vice versa. Best practice is to keep each patron’s contact information up-to-date and tied to their home address and to their transaction history with your organization.

2. Update patron records regularly.  As a rule of thumb, you should always plan to import fresh lists at the end of each phase of a subscription, membership, and donor campaigns.  Also, refresh your records and email lists after each event or program has finished its run.  That’s how new patrons and their most recent transactions get added to your lists.

3. Make sure that those who opt out stay out. If your email system is worth its salt, it should automatically take people off your lists who opt out—and keep them out if you inadvertently add them again.  But what about patrons who have opted out of all communication with you in your ticketing or CRM system only? You must make sure that your email lists include those opt-outs too.

4. Reserve your right to a one-time email. Opting out from email communication is governed by separate, different standards than are “do not mail” and “do not call” designations. A patron’s presence on one of those mail or call suppression lists need not stop you from emailing. Once there is a business transaction--a ticket sale, donation, purchase of an event--you may email both a confirmation of the transaction and one follow-up communication. Best practice dictates that your one follow-up communication include, prominently, the ability to opt-out from future emails. So, we advise that your follow-up be well-crafted to keep patrons coming back and wanting to hear more from you. (Here are some good examples of follow-up emails from Convio.)

5. Invest time in email data hygiene.  It’s a lot of effort to pull lists correctly and import those lists into your email system--not to mention tracking which are current and who is on which lists.  (That’s why we love systems that integrate all transactions with email addresses!) The rewards of time you invest in your email data are great: higher open rates, greater response to offer, more engaged patrons.  A tool like email, which is direct, cheap and nearly universal, is worth every bit of time you invest, and will be relevant for years to come.