New study on how US arts organizations are using digital technologies

Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times art critic, 1/4/13

The National Center for Charitable Statistics says there were 39,719 arts, culture and humanities nonprofits in the U.S. in 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available. You can bet that virtually all of them would like to get your attention. To accomplish that, many -- and probably most -- have gone online via websites, blogs and social media such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube. [On Jan 4th,] the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project released the results of an interesting survey that seeks to understand how those institutions are using digital technologies to reach the public. More than 1,200 arts organizations participated. Most of them have been in existence for more than 20 years, so they were founded before the digital revolution took off. So far, it seems that digital technologies are primarily being applied to nuts-and-bolts issues of institutional survival, maintenance and growth. By far the largest use is promotional, with fundraising functions close behind. According to the numbers, less useful is the digital capacity for education, artistic creation and collections management -- all activities that are central to an arts organization's mission. Two reasons might explain the divide. First, nonprofits occupy an important place in American civic life but rarely get commensurate public assistance. Across the country they accounted for $28.7 billion in revenues in 2009, but it is still common to hear arts, culture, and humanities organizations casually described as a frill. Digital promotion is made essential. Second, we should remember to look first to artists, not institutions, for the most meaningful innovations in digital content. The survey respondents also were asked to describe the greatest institutional challenge in maximizing the potential of digital technologies. Most had the same answer, which one succinctly described as, "Staff time, plain and simple. ... Without resources to add staff, digital projects have been integrated with existing workflows." The unidentified respondent continued with the declaration that, "We're all doing our best to do more with less." That's optimistic boilerplate language for, "Unfortunately we're doing less with less," which seems to be the norm as the digital revolution rolls on. The full report on "Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies" is available at the Pew website.


Commentary: How much social media is enough for arts organizations?

Kyle Chayka,, 1/8/13

Pew's group of responders all had social media presences, but it's interesting to see just how [much] energy is put into social networks:

99% of those surveyed use Facebook (compared to 17% on Google+)

74% use Twitter

67% use YouTube (compared to 23% on Vimeo)

38% use Flickr (compared to only 7% on Instagram)

31% use LinkedIn

20% use Foursquare

13% are active on Tumblr

Facebook and Twitter are useful in conveying information to fans, but they're not so great for multimedia experiences. A tight majority [56%] of respondents believe social media has a major impact on "boosting your organization's public profile," so maybe it's not so unbelievable that some institutions are sluggish on social media. 50% of responders in the report say the internet and technology have increased engagement with the arts. To that I ask: who are the other 50%? How the web has increased our exposure to art and culture is nothing less than revolutionary. Arts institutions are still finding their way along that path, but they are making headway.


The 'darker side' of how digital technology is impacting the arts

FROM TC: On PBS News Hour's Art Beat blog, correspondent Jeffrey Brown interviewed Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, about the study's findings. Here's an excerpt:

JEFFREY BROWN: ...there is a section here [of the Pew report] called "the Darker Side," which as all kinds of industries experience the difficulties, the disruptions that technology brings.

LEE RAINIE: [Arts organizations] are confused in a way that lots of people are about how to live in these spaces. One thing that was disorienting for the groups, for instance, was to have a lot more criticism out there in public about them.

JEFFREY BROWN: People just talking back.

LEE RAINIE: People just talking back and talking about their experiences and what they did and didn't like about a performance or about their exchanges with the arts organization. There is also a sense that the wider public now thinks that lots of art ought to free.

JEFFREY BROWN: Exactly. This is affecting all kinds of --

LEE RAINIE: The business model is under siege in the way the news model is and the way the recording industry model is. And then there is the standard thing that almost everybody has experienced in a public place of having those cell phones go off in the middle of a performance. That really annoys these groups fairly well. There are also ways in which there is some level of concern that the very definition of art might be diluted now, because so many people are creators themselves and maybe there are just too many -- too much commotion in the field and a little bit too much stuff masquerading as creativity.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now what does that mean? So everybody can be an artist in some sense or can talk back and be creative and therefore the definition of the organization is a little diluted?

LEE RAINIE: Both the organization and the creative process of making art itself, and most people are excited about that. They like the interaction and they even like the criticism. They'll take it as an aspect of engagement, but there are some folks who worry that when you hand these tools over to lots and lots more people, that some of the stuff that is created is just silly and not real art.


Commentary: The NEA should cut funds to arts orgs not using technology well

Tendu TV founder/general manager Marc Kirschner, The Huffington Post, 1/10/13

Last week, Pew published a survey which polled NEA grantees from the last years. While the findings initially seems to present a glowing view of arts organizations' use of technology, the survey actually hints that many organizations simply won't be able to effectively serve their mission in the future. 10-15% should probably see their federal funding cut entirely. 1,258 organizations participated in the survey, representing slightly more than a third of NEA grantees from 2006-2011. The data shows that confusion and contradictions are rampant. For example, 22% of organizations do not use or did not know if they used web analytics and 33% don't know what kind of engagement they have on their websites. Yet 93% report social media has had a major or minor impact on their website traffic. How do they know? Similarly, while 91% feel social media is worth the time that their organizations spend on it, 74% believe they lack the resources to use social media effectively and 70% admit their older employees don't believe in social media as much as their younger employees. As the [study] states, it's only going to get worse:

"Organizations will continue to need to adapt and incorporate digital technologies into their programming. This will be a good thing for art consumers and patrons by increasing accessibility and improving collaboration. At the same time, organizations will struggle with funding to keep up with technology. Funders so rarely fund some of the infrastructure necessary to create top-notch digital programming, and that will be a major struggle."

In 2011, Arts Council England cut 206 organizations from their portfolio, and added 110 new grantees. While a number of worthy organizations saw their funding disappear, new and more productive ones were able to take the next step, and others saw significant funding increases. Most importantly, digital skill and capacity building was mandated across the portfolio. If the NEA wants its grantees to make strong contributions in the future, it needs to not only implement a similar digital mandate, but also to revitalize the entire portfolio. Over the next five years, the Endowment should set two goals. First, it needs to examine organizations that receive regular funding and see if they are equipped to deliver their services in the digital future. If they can be, support them. If they can't be, cut them. Second, to encourage a spirit of innovation and revitalization, the NEA should set a goal that 20% of all of its grantees be companies under 10 years of age, tripling today's ratio.


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