Tuesday, January 19, 2010

10 ideas on the future of the arts (20<40)

My recent post about possible leaders in the arts under 40 (20<40) ended up getting some traction. The idea it was based on wasn't mine, but rather comes from an upcoming book on 20 new ideas by emerging leaders in the arts who are all under 40. I've been selected to submit a chapter, and hope to do so soon. The idea of the book isn't to discuss who are the leaders, but to listen to their ideas about the future of the field.  In the spirit of openness, I submit my idea below for your feedback and advice. The chapter I am contemplating writing (and I have to do it soon) is about some key changes in the arts. Not the most cutting edge changes, mind you, but those that I think will have the most impact in the next few years. These ideas will be old-hat to anyone who thinks about these matters a lot, but I think they bring together some of the more important changes we face in the arts in general - and of course to film, particularly as that's where I work. So, tell me what you agree with, disagree with, think is more important, etc. I promise that I'll consider all responses before submitting my final chapter. So here's what I think:

 While pinning down the future has a notoriously low success rate, one can often find value not by predicting the future but by looking at key trends in the current moment and making strategic prognostications about their importance to the future. Below are the ten trends I think will impact the arts significantly in the next few years. Many of these trends are noted most often in regards to digital technology, especially through the internet, but each points to larger socio-cultural changes which hold equal importance to all the arts:

  1. Disintermediation - Also known as the rise of the crowd; Digital has disintermediated culture, and this profoundly changes the top-down systems of the arts;
  2. Participatory - Audiences can now easily participate actively in the art they consume, and expect to be able to do so. Organizations must address this shift in their programming and outreach and even in how they create and curate their shows;
  3. Social/Community - Arts organizations must participate in and build online communities in a natural way (i.e. not just marketing). It also changes how artists can build their own fan base - crowd-sourcing production and dissemination of their work (with or without organizational assistance);
  4. Multi-platform and viral - While this is an obvious trait of online content - people want content when, where and how they want it, on whatever device they prefer and they want to share it - it also affects how they interact with any cultural content. Audiences care less about the venue than what’s there and may want to hear from BAM where Grupo Corpo plays next, not just the next time they play at BAM;
  5. Global, Diverse and Niche - It has become easier to connect with, share information and interact with global, more diverse audiences. Likewise, what has formerly been seen as niche audiences can more easily be connected. The demographics of the US have changed dramatically. Arts orgs have largely ignored these changes;
  6. Free & Superabundant - In digital, a copy is just zeros and ones and thus copies are free. As copies become superabundant, new systems of value arise - for example, getting a new song is less valuable than seeing the performer live. The changing nature of value has profound implications for arts/cultural organizations;
  7. Remix - People can now not just participate with arts in new ways, they can remix these experiences, create new art and then share it. Copyright isn’t addressing these changes, and neither are arts organizations;
  8. Electracy - Greg Ulmer has proposed that we’ve shifted from orality to literacy to electracy - where all thought, processes, writing, storytelling, business practices - are based on or mediated by electronic, visual, motion media communication. This is not media literacy, but rather a paradigmatic shift which the cultural sector should not just be aware of but should be leading, as the changes will profoundly alter our world;
  9. With-Profit - Consumers no longer care about the distinctions between for and nonprofit sectors (if they ever did) and the most interesting experiments may lie at the juncture of the two, which I have termed “with-profit” endeavours;
  10.  Downsized and Merged - As the economy continues to bring bad news to the sector, many nonprofits will fold or merge, but the field as a whole must contend with a new notion, that digital changes business practices fundamentally. If Craigslist can downsize an entire $1 billion industry to one $100-million company (as it has done with classified advertising), what does this mean for established business practices in the arts?
What do you think are the key trends impacting film, media, the arts and culture?


Eric said...

This is the first time I've commented on your blog, but as you've intimated in your intro, your covering what I agree are the predominant and core issues that are taking place in the arts and especially in the entertainment arts community. I am certainly interested in hearing your expanded thoughts on these topics, as I've been trying to rap my brain around these very issues for the past couple years.

Anonymous said...

And mediocrity rules the day. Sounds like we're marching into the Great Big Nothing.

Also relevant, this "Serfing the Net" essay:

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,
I've really enjoyed your blog and lines of thinking... I've been surfing around trying to find a contact email for you and not sure the best way to get in touch... I'd like to introduce myself and to discuss online distribution. Hope to hear from you. Best, Michele

Brian Newman said...

You can contact me at bnewman001 at gmail if you'd like

Danny Costa said...

I'd suggest that one key issue that isn't addressed at length is the increasing need for findability. I work as a consultant for a major digital film distributor (I'd rather not name in public less they be unhappy about me mentioning in this context, but feel free to contact me for more info) and I can say with some authority that the increase of content into digital retail marketplaces has created a barrier that didn't used to be an issue: how the hell do you find good content? This is a result of a number of the issues you raised as changing the landscape of how audiences connect with content; while the process has become more democratized and creatives have become empowered to share their content with audiences, the resulting increase in options has lead to audiences both having trouble identifying quality content as well as being left with potentially greater dissatisfaction with the content they do choose (it's well known that more options often lead to less satisfaction with decisions). Although there are potential fixes the findability issue (think Netflix's continued pursuit of better suggestion algorithms) the latter (potential) dissatisfaction issue is an insurmountable problem that comes as a direct result of all of the coming changes you mentioned.

Just one man's opinion, though.

BNewmanSBoard said...

Danny - you hit it on the head - amen, amen, amen to that. I've said often before that the web of the past was about search and the future is about find. Finding what you want in a sea of rising content - not just film, but music, news, search results, blogs, everything under the sun. We need trusted source curators, and we need systems that allow for better curation - not just algorithms. I don't know why I left this off -I guess to get to ten, but you are 100% correct.
I'd love to talk to you more about this "off the record" from your company, so contact me anytime.