Context – business in general in the early 21st C
Across the spectrum, businesses are investing in IT, new media and digital content so that they can continue to competitively offer product and engage customers. However, as the 21st C progresses, business strategists and arts consultants alike have noticed an exception to this pattern of general inward investment. Both the small body of existing research proving; and the anecdotal evidence reporting outdated systems and practices, suggest that the arts are behind in both business and cultural use of new technologies. Obviously, we need to build effective strategies to avoid a scenario where the arts sector can no longer effectively compete for audiences’ time and money.
Existing audiences in the early 21st C
The impact of technology has changed the way that 21st C society works and plays – IT has changed the way that we gather information, communicate and consume. 21st Century consumers are setting the pace of the need for businesses to engage with IT. Our existing arts audiences are very much a part of this driving force. If the arts sector doesn’t address this now, we will find it increasingly hard to keep existing audiences and attract new and young audiences, who will see our sector as increasingly “last-century” and inconvenient – if they ‘see’ it at all.
Young, potential audiences in the early 21st C
The half-life of knowledge is now only 18 months. 50 years ago, the half-life of knowledge used to be decades: people could become experts if they wanted to. The children in our schools face a major hurdle: they are being educated in a manner appropriate for a by-gone industrial era, and yet they live in an information society, and the reality of their lives is highly impacted by technology. 21st C learning will need to change. We can no longer see learners as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Why? There’s just too much knowledge! Learners will focus less on the know-what & know-how, and will need to become experts at the “know-where” (Where can I find out about…, who is an expert on…, etc.). Sharing knowledge through teams and networks (real or virtual) will be key skills.
o Information societies depend on innovation. Peoples’ own creativity being nurtured and utilised is at the heart of innovation: and therefore a thriving information society.
o We will become connectors, exploiting our human and virtual networks to locate things we need to know. Having these skills blended with our feeling of empowerment around our own creativity, allows us to be the directors of our learning journeys, and to conduct them creatively.
o So as learning becomes more personalized, young audiences will expect arts orgs to provide resources to help them with learning journeys.
Attitudes and opportunities towards creativity have also changed for young people:
o Individual lives will be more artistically enriched through their own creative actions or curative choices and not solely through the actions of arts organisations (think how easy it now is to use a computer toolkit to design your own website, create your own playlist or album). There is still an essential job for the arts: to promote and inspire; to showcase skill; provide the best examples of good design; as well as provide access to artist-generated content for users to “mash-up” into their own creations.
o By their technological, cultural and emotional choices, young audiences are what new media consultant David Doherty has coined “cookie monsters”. Young people expect technology to give them access to all kinds of art and experience without any respect for property rights or payment. Free use of technology is emerging an informal collective amongst teenagers. Are young people ‘stealing’ this content, or are they logically concluding that interactive media demands economic models that aren’t based on scarcity and property?
Being “pro-active” to the needs of the 21st C audience, Arts Magnet set-up as a digital development agency to help the NW arts and cultural sector meet the IT and digital content challenges.
However, the difficulty we’ve had in engaging whole arts organisations with our work so far has confirmed our suspicions that the NW arts sector – in general – is not facing up to the business and audience development challenges of the 21st C, whilst other sectors race ahead. Our region is not exceptional – because of years of under-capitalisation, nationally, the IT capability problem becomes ever more monumental as time goes by. Its easier to bury your head in the sand than work out where to begin.
If the sector does not begin to meet these challenges, then the arts sector will LOSE opportunities to:
– Retain existing 21st C audiences, whose new ways of communicating, learning, gathering info, creating will be better served by other industries
– Attract potential new / young audiences, who have new, 21st C expectations of what creativity is
– Be part of emerging digital content creating markets
– Build strategic alliances with other creative industries
– Effectively be part of fast-growing global networks
Our sector now has to take responsibility for its own digital development. Regional Development Agencies and European funders no longer see us as a focus of their responsibility. (Over the past 5 years, funds were available to help the creative and cultural industries become a powerful part of the Information Society. Creative Industries are now considered as successfully integrated. Cultural industries did not progress with such speed.) Funds are no longer available help publicly funded organisations become digital content/business enabled. We need to shake our heads from the sand; take a long hard look at ourselves; and work out whether, for the sake of our audiences who want to create WITH us, we can muster the passion and resolution to Put our art into IT.