The digital future of 21st century arts organisations

A debate started on the Arts Journal on Leadership/Followership raises a number of challenges for arts groups.

In my view, the simple lead/follow dichotomy is not helpful as arts organisations are both repositories of a society’s culture (on behalf of people) and a way to placing before the public new ideas in way that engages and informs (on behalf of new ideas).

Bruno Frey has commented that people may not need to see the original piece of art itself but perhaps a print would do.

You are there!

Taking that notion further, why are exhibitions not online?  An opening could be a simple ‘app’ instead, and the show curated with additional content and searchable features, individual pieces could be zoomed and viewed in the round.

It would not cease to exist when the exhibition closed — a problem for exhibitions in the real world, and poorly captured in the exhibition catalogue. Few people can actually make it to many openings, and moving art around can damage the art itself. The modern world is increasingly location-independent with the use of smartphones and tablet computers making where we are less important when accessing information, people or events; this is likely to evolve further. Thinking past the current fad for social networking (and something will follow Facebook!) leads to a world where intelligent software ‘agents’ can help individuals find and view the art they are interested in, alert them to new shows.

Perhaps some people may be in a position to attend in person, but generally this is not true.

Digital technology allows time-shifting, so I can view the exhibition when I want and probably reduces my carbon footprint at the same time. The openings can be teleconferenced, so people can attend in real-time or listen to later. If I instead choose to attend, then the app becomes my personal guide, which I can annotate and keep.

Ah, but imagine a gallery of giant video screens, the real art protected. It does challenge us to reflect, as Frey does, on what it really is we want to see when we view art: is the experience of the art object itself (if so, why bother buy the catalogue or art books), an experience few really can have, or is it the art (in which case the sale of posters is explained).

It seems to me that arts organisation leadership might benefit from a dose of ‘disruptive’ thinking to embrace modern possibilities. We now have, for instance, galleries with searchable online catalogues, and we find some degree of interactive art itself, but this is a feature of the art not of the art experience. I wonder if today, the “2 second advantage” (to take from a book of that name) for arts organisations offers a clue on how to move beyond the collection idea to something rather different.

The notion of capturing artistic interests in ‘real time’ would enable a ‘video-enabled’ gallery to be able to anticipate art interests (though mindful that much needs to be made of the random ‘shock of the new’ that accompanies the joy of discovering a new artist), and assemble art for the individual in a way that helps them experience the art more personally. I miss not being able to visit some galleries which house art I like because I simply can’t afford the airfare to visit them — the ability to be telepresent in these galleries would be wonderful and at $£€4.99 worth a lot more than the book.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s an app for that.

Just a thought…….

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