Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tech in the Arts: How Technology is Transforming U.S. Arts Consumption

McKinsey’s Ten IT-Enabled Business Trends For the Decade Ahead resonated strongly with me both in the context of my current work as editor of the Arts Management and Technology Laboratory and my professional experiences before and during my time here at Heinz.

The non-profit arts typically lag behind other industries in tech resources and adoption, making us look more like the late-adopting Government, Healthcare, and Education industries outlined in the 10th and final trend than our for-profit colleagues. Similar to these industries, however, arts and culture is a major segment of the economy, accounting for 4.3% of the GDP, meaning our success has an important role to play in the overall health of the economy. If traditional arts institutions are going to remain relevant to 21st century audiences, we will need to do a better job responding to the changing demands of the modern visitor to our institutions.

A couple aspects of the Ten Trends stuck out to me in particular as areas of opportunity, or places where the arts have already found some success:

  1. The Social Matrix: The arts thrive in an environment of passionate debate and conversation, but so far most organizations have been slow to move beyond a push-marketing model for their social media engagement. Still, there are some glimmers of hope within this larger context. Several organization have experimented with crowdsourcing in recent years. In one notable example, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History created a diverse exhibition called “Everybody’s Ocean” consisting of both the work of professional artists and local residents. Though crowdsourced exhibitions have not been without controversy, many feel that this sort of inclusive strategy will drive more visitors to our institutions and encourage them to engage with us more actively.
  2.  Integrated digital/physical experiences: This is an environment where arts organizations may actually be ahead of the curve. The Met, Guggenheim, and other institutions are exploring iBeacon technology as a means to provide a second-screen experience to museum visitors. Visitors using the iBeacon functionality could have customized information pushed to their devices based on where they are in the museum and the art they are looking at. In a forthcoming interview I conducted with Pittsburgh based firm Savvior, which is developing a new application using Beacon technology for the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, they expressed a desire not only to push information to user’s devices, but also to allow them to push information back through the app, interacting with the exhibits and perhaps other visitors as well.
In other areas, such as data collection and analytics, the arts have a long way to go, but when it comes towards transforming how attendees interact with our institutions, there is a lot of exciting work coming down the line. If anything, this article reinforced for me the vitally important role that technology will have in the success of all sorts of businesses, and that the arts are no exception.

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