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Archive for August, 2008

I recently wrote on the subject of Museums and the communities they serve and, coincidentally, today, I found an extremely interesting article on this same subject on the excellent blog Museum 2.0.

This is a must read for cultural enterprises that would like to start taking steps in the social media arena.

From the article:

If you get people in a museum (or library) for WHATEVER reason, chances are they’re going to notice the exhibits sometime. And hopefully, start to value them”.

and:

The key to these benefits is not the volume of online content produced but its reach. Don’t look at the number of videos, photos, or reviews. Look at the number of views (how many times each has been accessed). The Ontario Science Center YouTube meetup didn’t just spawn hundreds of videos before, during, and after the event. Each of those videos has hundreds or thousands of viewers. Some of the videos have as many as 35,000 views. And while not all of the videos mention their host by name (in fact, few do), the museum venue is frequently present in related text and links. Plus, folks who attended the event link to other videos shot at the museum, such as this “888 favorite” (shot in 2006) of someone using an exhibit. Number of views? 170,000 and counting.”.

This is, in my opinion, the future of any cultural institution that wants to be part of a community. Art should not about some detached view from the outside, it should be part of our lives, a fundamental component of our social interactions. For me, art is about the aesthetics that shape our world view and make us richer as a result. I might be a Utopian, but if art is worth anything, it should be for its power to change lives. Once someone has been exposed to the beauty of human creativity in any of its forms, they cannot go back to ignoring that side of humanity, and if we are lucky, they might start exploring their own creative sides as well.

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Jornadas Culturales Nacion Apache

Jornadas Culturales Nacion Apache

this is where I would be going during the months of September and October. Alas, I’ll be gravitating between Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi during those weeks.

This is the type of event that can make me feel really homesick every now and then.

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Last week YouTube unveiled a new channel, The Screening Room. I hadn’t had the chance to view any of the featured films so far, but that changed yesterday, when I finally got to spend considerable time checking them.

And what a wonderful concept this is! I first found out about it through Cool Hunting. Their review of “4960” was stellar, so that was enough to get me interested:

One of the must-sees is from New York Based director, Wing-Yee Wu. Her haunting short, “4960” conveys more chilling emotion and evocative story-teling in 14 minutes than many directors manage in two hours. Shot during her graduate film studies at NYU, the film is set during the siege in Sarajevo and follows a young couple as they attempt to communicate from two different sides of the world. Raised in Sweden by Chinese parents, Wu did her undergraduate studies at Central Saint Martins College in London. With such a unique, international background, her work conveys the universality of emotion that transcends barriers of both language and geography.

They got it right. The film is mesmerizing and of such high quality. As a matter of fact, the whole selection is a feast for the eyes. YouTube is up to something big with this new channel. I wonder when we will see complete feature films in high definition, opening the door to a new world of indie film distribution. This is a service to keep an eye on, both for consumers of good quality films and for directors and producers who would like to reach new audiences. I wonder if we are witnessing the baby steps of a new digital distribution era.

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Thoughts on Happiness

Just found a pretty odd event taking place in The Netherlands on the first week of November, the first Thoughts on Happiness Conference. I thought it was interesting that they will be exploring happiness both from scientific research and “daily life” perspectives covering topics like “Happiness in the workplace” or “An evolutionary approach to quality of life”.

The reason I find the event a bit “odd” (due to lack of a better word) is because it’s so non-Dutch to explore these topics. For people outside The Netherlands, it may not be apparent, but for those of us who have spent a considerable length of time here, this event appears to be a significant detour from the usual Calvinist mentality that more or less shapes this country’s sociological landscape. It is by no means a negative trait, just that normally, happiness is not a subject discussed in the open by Dutch people.

I am of course, slightly disappointed that there is no session to explore how the arts and related activities can contribute to social and individual happiness, but this is the first event of its kind in The Netherlands as far as I know, so there is a chance it might be included in future conferences. Alas, the conference fee is way too steep for me to just attend out of curiosity, but I will at least, be keeping an eye on their blog, which covers some interesting matters as well.

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I know this is not an art critic’s blog, but this article at The Guardian upset me enough to have to comment on it.

In it, Peter Conrad sets to more or less smash the books of former collaborators and friends Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim. What bothers me is not that he dislikes the books. After all, taste is well, subjective. It’s the personal vendetta-like tone that he employs throughout the whole article what bothers me. There isn’t an ounce of objective criticism in his piece:

“Beyond expressing pious hopes about Utopia, Barenboim has little progress to report. Anecdotes are tediously recycled; the title of his book should have been ‘Everything Is Repeated’. An insubstantial volume is filled out with a random sampling of interviews and journalistic articles, which supply inadvertent glimpses of the man behind the missionary. The conductor is more than an evangelist”.

and then this:

“Barenboim, who says that he reads Spinoza in his dressing room during intervals, worries about ‘musical ethics’ and fusses over ‘the moral responsibility of the ear’. I’m not sure that a sense organ can carry such a burden; we don’t ask our penises to possess a conscience”.

Now, I cannot believe a critic could be so daft as to ignore the power of metaphor, but he gets even more juvenile by attacking Said on account of bad orthography! If anything, shouldn’t Said’s editor be held accountable for that?!

And then he gives away the true reason behind the trashing:

At least he commits no orthographic error when he casually refers to ‘the egregious Peter Conrad’. I guess he intended to insult me, but I’m happy to bask in a cack-handed compliment, since the dictionary says that the adjective means prominent, distinguished or, at worst, outrageous. No argument backs up the animadversion, so who can tell? If I’m on Said’s shit list, the company I keep is melodious; he considers Verdi to be a bad composer, sniffs at Bartók, patronises Alfred Brendel as a ‘decent, earnest’ dullard and derides Pavarotti as ‘a grotesque’. Said’s sloppiness matters because he enjoys pretending to be holier and higher-browed than the rest of us.

So, it is personal after all, isn’t it Mr. Conrad?

Perhaps art critics should no longer wonder why their positions are disappearing. The should look no further than Conrad’s pieces to understand why people might not be interested in what they have to say.

On an unrelated note, I will also be (cross)posting every now and then at NewInnergy, my business partner’s blog. Unlike Conrad, I’ll try to keep it civil, on topic and objective.

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A post by Brian Eno on The Long Now blog on a tradition in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, where the whole town (really, including children, youth, etc… everyone who lives there) participates in a theater play, The Passion since 1634.

Brian Eno asks:

“I kept returning to this thought: what would it do to a community to have a tradition as long and as defining as that, to know from an early age that you were, probably throughout your life, going to be woven into this incredibly rich tapestry of time, spirituality, art and craft? What would it be like to be a child growing up there, to watch your parents and grandparents learning their lines and practicing their parts and building the sets and making the clothes? It must be so rich, such a powerful social binder and foundation”.

I cannot think of a better question to illustrate the way I feel when I attempt to help institutions or individuals create communities around the arts. I cannot think of a more poetic, powerful and inspiring way to explain why I do what I do. The technology we use might be new, but the effects it could have on the lives of those that participate could have a long and lasting impact, leaving an impression and imprint in people’s lives for years to come. These communities could be agents of real change. I do believe in that.

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Dave Pollard, at Salon blogs, writes about the 12 tools that might follow the way of the fax machine and the CD:

“Out of my research on this has come a list of tools, technologies and other artifacts of my generation that will probably disappear within the next generation, just as Fax essentially disappeared less than 20 years after it first became popular, and just as CDs, which my generation thought were the last word in music storage, are disappearing even faster”.

From the list, the one that caught my attention immediately was item number 5:

“Corporate Websites: I recently co-judged a competition of nominated best-of-class business websites, and I was aghast at how unnavigable and useless most of them were. My own research has indicated that most people who visit these sites are job-seekers, the media, and competitors. A combination of marketing/PR hype, just-in-case recycled internal junk, and self-congratulation, most corporate websites are devoid of useful content, and those that do have useful stuff have it buried where it can’t be found. You just can’t put a filing cabinet up online and expect people to wade through it. And your relationship isn’t with Company X, it’s with Individual Y at that company. Individual Y’s blog, with lots of contact info, timely, casual-style articles and useful links, and instant connectivity options, is to the corporate website what your personal company rep is to walking into the company cold and asking for help. Next-gen blogs by individual employees — personal, casual, chatty, accessible, hosted but uncensored by the employer — will soon blow even the best corporate websites out of the water”.

The question here is, where do Cultural institutions and artists stand nowadays in this regard? Some of them, like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, are making efforts to create a presence with a social media bent. Their website features a YouTube channel, an iTunes link to download content, a comprehensive and abundant list of audio guides to download, stream or listen to on site and a link to their Facebook presence. All of these, steps in the right direction in terms of audience engagement and availability of tools to make the museum experience richer. Still, I am missing the community experience, the active participation of audiences in the museum’s life. All of the above initiatives, still seem to be “top down” strategies, where the museum graciously “gives” the public something and not where the relationship is of mutual feedback, one where the museum gives something and the community gives back.

Other museums, like Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum are not even as forward thinking as MoMA, offering static websites, where the only “participatory” experience is the ubiquitous webshop.

There are many ways in which museums could take the center stage of their communities and become tools of change, education and cultural dissemination. Social media implementations would take them to the next generation and at the same time, redefine their roles as static displayers of artifacts turning them into institutions generating new content while creating value by preserving the past. A few ideas that come to mind that could, if properly implemented, create a totally new museum experience:

  • Artists blogging during exhibitions. I could think of a myriad ways in which modern artists could offer reflections and explanations of old works that served them as inspiration, engaging the community and audience with commentary, sharing this inspiration with the newer generations and bringing a new light into works that are not always accessible for the general public.
  • Audience curated exhibitions. How about letting the public vote on what they want to see once a year and bring together those works that are not always accessible or lack visibility?
  • Forums. Let your public share their experience of the museum visit, let them talk to each other and foster that community by allowing them to relive the visit, discuss it and perhaps, in the process, discover works that they didn’t know about.

    If corporate websites, as a static collection of pages and data are following the fate of the fax machine, the websites of cultural institutions are not up for a different future. The only way to remain relevant will most likely be through the reinvention of their web presence including and fostering community participation and the use of new technologies.

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