WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Posts tagged ‘technology’

Focusing on Creativity

May 9th, 2011

In preparation for the CultureLab convening last week, I’ve been researching interactive technologies used by arts and cultural organizations. I’ve mainly been looking into innovative uses of mobile apps and QR codes (square, two-dimensional barcodes). I emphasize innovative uses because unfortunately, like Facebook and Twitter, some seem to be quick to use these “tools” before having a clear sense of what needs to be built. Remember when Facebook first made its splash into primetime? Many organizations jumped onboard, but without necessarily thinking about how they wanted to engage their audiences or what relationships they wanted to create. The same is occurring with QR codes and mobile apps, as is covered in Group of Minds’ recent report for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

However, there are some really neat ways that QR codes and apps are innovatively being used to engage audiences – including interesting ways to:

  • Access information in new ways: PhillyHistory.org has released an augmented reality app that serves up historic photographs when the user points a phone at specific locations.
  • Incorporate audience interaction into a performance: Progressive rockers Umphrey’s McGee have held events in which audience members, armed with cell phones, suggest themes and ideas upon which the band improvises.
  • Curate a listener’s experience as they walk through the city. Hackney Hear transforms the neighborhood sidewalks of London into artistic venues. Poetry, music, writing, and interviews are served to strollers via their smartphones. The project, to be launched in 2012 for the London Olympics, uses GPS to turn the city into a curated audio space.


Visual arts and history-based organizations tend to be further along the development of QR codes and apps, but the performing arts aren’t far behind- check out this experiment that lets the audience actually shape the artistic content of a dance performance.

And of the present, too! My interest in this topic is both personal and professional. I have a “millennial” daughter in her first job out of college, and as I urge her to set aside some of her earnings for charity, the professional part of me wonders, “what organizations will capture her attention and how will they do it?” According to the second annual Millennial Donors Report from consulting firms Johnson Grossnickle Associates and Achieve (Find the executive summary here and the full report here), this generation (defined as 20-35 year olds) are givers-93% of the 2,953 survey respondents from seven nonprofits made a charitable contribution, although most of the contributions were small and spread out among many organizations.

Some of the findings of the study reinforce fund raising principles from way back: the younger generation is most likely to give to a compelling mission or cause carried out by an organization they “trust,” and that trust is often established by a personal connection. Interestingly, celebrity endorsements were a non-starter (motivating only 2%). Volunteerism was high among respondents (79%), and not surprisingly, Millennials are looking to technology for information and engagement. Non-profits need to pay attention to how they fare in web searches, as that is a primary tool for Millennials to learn about potential recipients of their charitable dollars. Most interesting was the finding that although only 49% gave online, 58% would have preferred to give that way, indicating that non-profits are still behind in facilitating giving through technology.

Giving USA and The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University have also published a monograph on this subject (Charitable Giving and the Millennial Generation, available for purchase here). This study looks at giving trends across different generational groups from the Great Generation to the Boomers to the Xers to the Millennials. Some of its findings (based on 2006 and 2008 data) are considerably at odds with the Millennial donors survey-e.g., it notes that only 33% of Millennials gave and 21.6% volunteered. Nevertheless, the monograph points to a potentially bright future: Millennials and Gen Xers are the most educated generation in history, and the Center’s studies have shown that people with a college degree tend to give $1,900 more annually on average.

Bottom line: cultivate these donors now through multiple personal and electronic engagement strategies in order to build their trust and capture their potential for giving down the road. It’s a long-term investment that will pay off.

The Ultimately Portable Orchestra

February 17th, 2010

Skimming through the The New York Times online video library, I happened upon a piece about a new type of orchestra born at Stanford University, and consequently, at many other places throughout the country: the iPhone Orchestra.  Not only can one make this multi-dimensional communications device a flashlight, or replicate the visual action of drinking a pint of beer, but it can now be your own portable “anything” musical instrument. What the Stanford orchestra has done is not just create a simple app (although these have subsequently been developed and are currently available), but applied their efforts to explore and stretch the capabilities of this device so that it becomes a flute, a drum circle, wind chimes, and produce many other sounds not yet imagined. Although computer-based replication of instrumental sounds is nothing new, the iPhone as an instrument may be the device that levels the musical playing field (just as the portable and then digital camera did for fine art photography) by allowing anyone to compose and play original music at the touch of their fingertips. Ge Wang, one of the founders of the Stanford iPhone Orchestra considers the ability of anyone to take up the iPhone and create new sounds to be one of the basic principles of the iPhone Orchestra, ”It’s my philosophy that people are inherently creative.  It’s not just people who think of themselves as artists.”  Our research into cultural engagement underscores Wang’s philosophy – everyone has creativity embedded in their DNA.  Compose while waiting in long lines at the DMV, or hold an impromptu jam session with friends after dinner.  The possibilities are endless.


There are few art forms in which the artist’s tools, techniques, and processes are being as dramatically transformed by digital technologies as photography. An interesting juxtaposition: the loss of important film stocks, most recently Kodachrome, which Kodak will soon retire, and the astonishing growth in the capacity of simple, inexpensive, digital point-and-shoot cameras. We are witnessing the swift evolution of digital imaging technology, both hardware and software, and it’s continuing to make profound changes in the way photographers work. Moreover, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it has expanded the number of casual and amateur photographers who are taking snapshots by the billions, sometimes of astonishing quality.

The impact of technology on the ways in which we engage with creative activities is striking, and its relationship to cultural participation is worthy of particular note. For example, WolfBrown’s recent cultural participation study for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Cultural Engagement Index, finds an important correlation between personal practice activities and audience-based activities. Specifically, increased frequency in “taking digital photographs with artistic intent” indicates more frequent attendance at museums and galleries. There’s an opportunity to build on this synergy by figuring out how to employ these more powerful and less expensive artistic tools to feed participation in creative pursuits and establish a personal connection between programming and audience or visitor. By building interest and connection to arts and culture as a personal activity with personal relevance, we can develop new avenues of audience development.

MOMA’s New Face

May 5th, 2009

In the midst of doing some research for one of our clients on museum and library use of technology, the Museum of Modern Art in New York launched its new, state-of-the-art (or so they hope) web site that takes full advantage of the interactivity now possible on the web. (Warning – if you aren’t using the most current version of your web browser, you may have trouble taking full advantage of this site!) This web site is intentionally designed to “…open[ing] up the singular voice of the museum…” according to Allegra Burnette, creative director of digital media for the museum. And therein lies the interesting question. What are the sacrifices that MOMA is making by “opening its voice?” Burnette’s peers, whom I interviewed as part of my research, asked, “Who is MOMA on the new site?” If much of the site is dedicated to the voices of others, where is the museum’s voice? I readily admit to being overwhelmed by the options offered on the site now, but I am probably not the target audience MOMA is hoping to reach. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Museums for the Future

March 20th, 2009

Museums & Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures is a discussion paper written by Reach Advisors and commissioned by the Center for the Future of Museums. It provides a tantalizing look at some profound economic and demographic trends and how they might play out in society and, more specifically, in museums in 2034. The paper provides a useful, museum-specific context for frequently mentioned data points such as the aging and increasingly diverse nature of our population and the impact of increased travel costs. Beyond that, it begins to postulate alternative outlooks and roles for museums to consider as these trends come more clearly into focus. Among the more thought-provoking issues raised: how digital technology and remote access to collections might change the nature of museum “attendance” and how the role of the “expert” curator could shift to accommodate wikis and other collaborative approaches to information and idea processing. There is much food for thought here, although I came away with questions about how the social dimension of museums might be explored more deeply.

I was researching artist services for a client recently when I came upon a site called GYST-Ink, which offers just what I was looking for. What was most interesting to me was the very sophisticated “professional practice” software designed specifically for visual artists. From guidance on résumés and grant applications to to-do lists and inventory tracking, it offers an extensive array of features. I remembered back to 1984 when Tom Wolf, Pat Doran, and I did a book that explored computer applications for craftspeople. Other than calculating glaze formulas, there wasn’t much available. So, my curiosity piqued, I did a bit of work with Google and very quickly found several other packages available for visual artists – there’s ARTBASE and Artsystems Studio to name just two. And, for presenters, there’s Impressario. All this in a 15 minute web search! I suppose it’s not surprising that developers target artists for software solutions. Still, it’s yet another indication of our success at portraying artists as business people!

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