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Innovation Nation

The emergence of mass innovation and creativity because of technology have challenging implications for the professional arts and cultural sector – especially in relation to our traditional roles of gatekeeper and guide.

Silicon has become like steel or plastic: it’s in everything and it is convenient and easy for the consumer to use. As a result, mass innovation has emerged as a trend, because technology devices bring professional level creative production facilities into people’s every day lives. As well as having the tools to participate, people now have the tools to create publications, films, music, photography, and graphics to a near professional standard. The opportunities for creative collaboration are expanding – numbers that could be participants in these creative conversations is going up largely thanks to the communications technologies that now give voice to many more people and make it easier for them to connect. Thinker Charles Leadbeater identifies mass creativity as an emerging trend:

“… the power of mass creativity is about what the rise of the likes of Wikipedia and Youtube, Linux and Craigslist means for the way we organise ourselves, not just in digital businesses but in schools and hospitals, cities and mainstream corporations. My argument is that these new forms of mass, creative collaboration announce the arrival of a society in which participation will be the key organising idea rather than consumption and work. People want to be players not just spectators, part of the action, not on the sidelines.” www.wethinkthebook.net

The first place that hungry creators – looking for their fill of opportunities to play and be part of the action – turn to first are the cultural providers. People want to channel their digitally empowered creativity and are looking for participative opportunities with our creative experiences. In the main, they do not find them.

It is a challenge to think about how we as arts and cultural organisations can interact with mass innovation and creativity: with a society expecting to participate, with their own creativity, in an innovative way. With social media, our capacity to create rich and appropriate content is given an easily publishable platform. As is our capacity to hold debate around issues – we can see our voices becoming effective through blogs, citizen journalism, online voting, etc. The TV channel Five pay for citizen journalism, and the BBC seeks out user generated content (UGC). They are co-producing their core offering with their audiences.

The BBC’s Creative Archive License framework encourages audiences to participate as artists in a 2-way production with the content originator (the BBC). RipMixBurnShare is a publishing culture that will become a norm of cultural production and distribution. Rather than resist, the BBC have led the experiment and coined the term “mashing-up”: digitised BBC content is available for download and repurposing into any creation. The only caveats being that the original content should be acknowledged and that the new content should not be sold for commercial gain. The BBC also then encourage the new content to be shared back with them.

Within the cultural sector, the move towards co-production has come from the creative shifts of artists, not shifts in the mission/purpose of arts organisations. Think of Anthony Gormley’s Waste Man, made up of Margate people’s rubbish and co-produced with them after Gormley put an advert in the local press. The project then received further press interest as it engaged the public’s imagination; they were interested; and were participants and players in its construction and fiery destruction.

The NOISE UK festival celebrates the creativity of young people, and last year’s competition elicited much mashed up digital content. The Re-masters competition in collaboration with the Tate asked young people to create work influenced by a Tate masterpiece. The Elements competition encouraged the creation of “mashed up” work, offering art pieces by the likes of Wayne Hemmingway and Stella Vine for re-purposing.

Young people are very comfortable at sharing, publishing and self-broadcasting. They do not have the same reverent attitude to IP, nor do they expect culture to be delivered in final form. Young people expect the cultural sector to make available creative content and services – and they expect it from all art forms. Being digital natives, they don’t understand or accept the rules of a scarcity economy (in which we owned all the content and the means to get it).

It is because young people are making their own art, music, and movies that they appreciate what goes into making art/film. Product leads to process. Within the last decade, Hollywood recognised that interest in process and has continued feeding our fascination, with an ever increasing number of “The making of…” additional content chapters on movie DVDs.

The idea of co-producing art with audiences strikes fear into the hearts of most arts organisations – the emergence of an increased customer expectation of co-production is a great challenge. Nervous reactions I have personally experienced are “artistic direction and aesthetic will be diluted”; “my professional opinion of what has talent/quality/importance will no longer matter”. We are used to acting as the gatekeepers of the “quality” of culture and guides to what is “good”: our organisations spend time and resources pushing out our programmes to audiences who will consume them. We are used to shaping the landscape.

Another emerging trend is that audiences trust each others’ recommendations and want to share each other’s opinions and creations more than those provided by the voice of the establishment. Amazon.com pioneered consumer reviews, but Flickr and YouTube are democratically curating the photography of millions to be viewed by millions. The market decides what comes to the fore, what rises to the top, what is considered “good”, “quality”. The Artic Monkeys or Sandi Thom may well have made it anyway (spotted in the traditional way, signed by the establishment). But the new digital media channels allowed them to sell chart-topping albums quickly; have control of their fanbase; and make the money from the distribution of their work. A faster trajectory to success is possible: the artist stays in control, in direct contact with the audience.

Traditional models of distribution and promotion are being overturned. The conventional gatekeeper role is no longer essential to the artist or audience. Artists are successfully self-producing, self-marketing and building networks of audiences and supporters via online mechanisms, without the seal of approval from the establishment. People can now be organised without an organisation.

The twenty first century trends of mass innovation and mass creativity, enabled by technology, have gifted us with a general public that likes participating (on their terms), particularly creatively. This has vast implications for the cultural sector used, as we are, to being the gatekeepers of artistic quality, aesthetic and content. In a landscape we no longer fastidiously control, our role will surely metamorphose into being value brokers, as supporters of talent and new types of creative processes. As we move from an age of consumption to an age of creation, our sector must think less about control and more about enabling. How we influence this new landscape will be defined with, not by us.

This article first appeared on Hannah Rudman’s blog and was published in Arts Professional 8th March 2007.