What is the Future of Digital for the Arts: Series 1 – Understanding

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Digital Arts

The use of digital in the arts feels like a given now for both arts organisations and audiences alike. Whether we’re making work for digital platforms, integrating technology into our performances or using social networks to connect and engage our audiences, digital is paramount to the future of the arts. It’s hard to ignore when priorities for engagement and usage is being set by governmental investment at the same time as digital objectives are being woven into funding agreements from arts councils.

With all this development and investment, and with arts organisations embracing the use of social networks for their marketing campaigns, I can’t help but to think, what’s next? In the last two years we’ve seen the arts develop more than any other time in its history. Digital has changed everything, from marketing, to performances and audiences everywhere; digital has opened the arts to everyone. As Andy Warhol noted “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes“, and right now it is the arts’ chance to be world-famous. A nod towards the National Theatre’s NT Live scheme and the Digital Theatre in our homes and hands proves that “all the worlds a stage“, but what’s next?

Have we peaked with our development of digital in the arts? Can we do more, create more, expand and explore the digital in arts, or have we had our 15 minutes of fame? It’s a question I’ve been wondering for some time, but to gain any insight a broader spectrum of opinions and questions need to be explored and provoked. I’ve enlisted arts professionals across the country to put together their thoughts in a blog series called ‘What is the Future of Digital for the Arts‘. Starting today, and running for the next month I’ll be posting their observations on how digital is shaping their work, their organisations and the industry at large.

Commenters in the series:
Jack Harris, Digital Manager at Shakespeare’s Globe
Eve Nicol, Digital Associate at National Theatre of Scotland
Jonathan May, Digital Producer at LIFT
Katherine Jewkes, Digital Associate at National Theatre of Wales
Amy Rushby, Digital Marketing Officer, Royal Shakespeare Company
Bianca Winter, Digital Associate, Hoipolloi

If you have something to say about series feel free to contact me, or to tweet me at @jakeyoh

What is the Future of Digital for the Arts? #1 Understanding

Starting with the biggest and hardest question first, “what does the future hold for digital and the arts?” the responses were varied. The responses below give an indication that there are two ways at looking at digital. The first is a tool, one to be used by organisations or audiences to enhance or engage an experience, the second is seen as a tool for creativity which has artistic merit. All the same, some of the offerings below give an example of how wide this discussion is:

Jack Harris, Digital Manager at Shakespeare’s Globe:

“I think we’ll continue to see more arts organisations create digital roles – be they within the Communications teams or as content producers working with collections… Organisations will begin to look more at in-house digital developer based roles, taking charge of the organisation’s digital output – defining timelines, roadmaps of products, releases, design. We’re starting to see that with some larger organisations, but there are interesting examples of technologists in smaller organisations through projects such as Happenstance.”

“At the Globe, our approach to content writing for digital products and social is starting to be described as journalistic, working with the Press and PR team to access cast and creatives alongside national publications, and developing where the Globe’s digital voice sits within other press. We must almost think like other roles and sectors to create the best voice and use for digital.”

Eve Nicol, Digital Associate at National Theatre of Scotland

“The digital realm is a new player in the game, it’s appearance on the scene just as radical as the ironing board in Look Back in Anger. With the speed with which technology is developing, we don’t have time for it to become a natural absorption.”

“We need to grab it, play about with what it can offer before we become eclipsed by other industries.”

Jonathan May, Digital Producer at LIFT Festival:

“I think there is going to be a lot of learning as funders and the Arts Council England wise up to what is actually engaging audiences, and what us just posting that you have another show on. Social media needs to be a curated and reciprocal feed. Just because someone’s following you doesn’t mean they pay any attention to you.”

“4G is here, and assuming the bumps get ironed out and it’s kept accessible to all it opens a whole new world of accessibility and possibility for using real space in an exciting way. National Theatre of Wales do some great work as effectively a venue-less theatre, and our playground is about to get a lot bigger.”

Amy Rushby, Digital Marketing Officer at The Royal Shakespeare Company:

“In the next 2 years arts and cultural organisations will become a lot more confident with what they can achieve digitally, and (thanks to the Arts Council England’s R&D fund) be a lot more confident in sharing failures as well as successes and learning from these experiences”

Katherine Jewkes, Digital Associate at National Theatre of Wales:

“Less emphasis on ‘digital’, and less digital for digitals sake. Increasingly, we’ll find that digital will just become naturally integrated into the show. I don’t think the future of digital for the arts is more iPhone apps for productions, but I think we will find digital becoming just another material that theatre makers will use to make their work… It’s the storytelling that should come first, not the technology”

“More often than not, the newest technology isn’t the best for audiences. You don’t want a digital initiative to be exclusive to the people in the audience with smart phones, you want everyone to be able to join in. For this reason, we’re looking at a simple but beautiful application of SMS on one of our upcoming shows. We wanted something that anyone who comes to the show could do, and text messaging is fairly universal. I love the simplicity of it, it’s an easy idea for audience to grasp onto, and should be super playful.”

Bianca Winters, Digital Associate, Hoipolloi

“I firmly believe that the next step change in the way artists and organisations will engage with digital is by becoming collaborators rather than commissioners… I think the potential of digital for the arts lies in the creative application of tools and technologies, rather than the development of innovative tools and technologies. I would therefore advocate for artists and organisations to acknowledge their strengths (inquisitiveness, experimentation, problem-solving, open mindedness, ability to challenge and critique) and invest resources in developing collaborative relationships with designers, developers and technologists. I think the future lies in artists and organisations embracing digital practices as creative opportunities; in acquiring knowledge and experience that makes it clear when to pick up the digital toolbox and when to leave well alone.”

The Bullet Points:

Here are the main points from the above, in handy bullet points to take away:

– In-house digital development teams.
– Writing for digital products in a journalistic capacity, working with PRs on digital assets.
– Grabbing the opportunities digital presents before it becomes “natural absorption”.
– Funders become more knowledgeable of audience engagement on social networking.
– 4G offers acessibility and use of real space for performance.
– Sharing of digital failures through the Digital R&D Fund.
– Storytelling should come first, technology after.
– Digital can often mean exclusivity, always remember your audience.
– Simplicity can often be key.
– Collaboration through creative application, not development of digital tools.

Useful Websites:

Arts Council England and NESTA Digital R&D Fund
Tim Etchell’s SMS performances
What is 4G? Wikipedia

Next week as part of the Future of Digital for the Arts Series we’ll be turning towards how digital is being used throughout 2013 for organisations and arts professionals. Image from Design Mind.