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Archive for June, 2012

IWM’s Social Interpretation project: taking the project North and why tablets are tough

June 29, 2012 2 comments

Jane Audas, a freelance digital producer involved in the Imperial War Museum’s Social Interpretation project (SI) submitted this excellent diary entry updating us on how the project was coming along…

Social Interpretation project

A child using a kiosk at the Imperial War Museum

Social Interpretation moves onward. We are just snagging our app and sorting digital assets for more QR code roll out in the next month or so.

In July we will install 4 SI kiosks and 10 QR codes against objects in Imperial War Museum North. We have scaled up the kiosk size and are using touch screens rather than tablets. Tablets have not been so successful for us, maintenance-wise and usability-wise.

We are also going to change the user interface for the kiosks in the North, to ‘visitor voice’. This is so that they become proper comment kiosks, rather than, as they are in London, digital labels and comment kiosks – we think this will clear any confusion as to the purpose of these things.

So, how engaged have people been with the idea of commenting against our museums objects? We have had quite a few interactions – over 2,700 comments since April 5. They include lots of spam and lots of comments saying the museum is great. But there have also been some rather affecting comments.

From the SI kiosk underneath a 1939 baby’s gas mask we got the following:

Strange to think that this was not so long ago! I can remember the war as a teenager, only seems like yesterday. Tomorrow, I celebrate my 82nd birthday!

And underneath a VE day celebration photograph – with the prompt question: Photographs like this have become well-known as part of the story of the Second World War. Do they give a complete picture of how people felt? – we read:

I just could not think about how sad I would be if me, my mum and my friends were in the war

We hope and expect the level and depth of engagement to increase when the SI web pages go live. If you are sat in the comfort of your own home, browsing objects you are interested in, you are much more likely to think, type, collect and share it. Probably more likely than you are to in a busy gallery, typing on to a small tablet screen.

And the QR Codes? Well, they are another story..

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Punchdrunk: the challenges of online, offline, time and space

Pete Higgin is enrichment director at Punchdrunk, the British theatre company and masters in “immersive” presentation theatre. As part of the Arts Council, Nesta and AHRC Digital R&D for Arts and Culture Fund, Punchdrunk has been experimenting in connecting the online and physical performance spaces.

Punchdrunk Sleep no More

Connecting online users…

In particular, Pete and Punchdrunk have been working on connecting a live Sleep No More audience member to an online companion, but when I caught up with him he admitted the project has not been without its challenges, all of which he says have made the project think more carefully about planning and operating – something arts organisations can learn from as well.

“The Atlantic Ocean was a massive challenge in itself, as was working in three different teams in three different cities,” said Pete. “I’m not sure we actually fully overcame this but regular Skype meetings, a pretty constant stream of conversation and making the most of what little face-to-face time we had helped.”

He also added that it can be incredibly challenging integrating a new piece of work into an existing production: “The project attempted to connect two online and offline participants, but this had to happen in a show which demands the audience be silent and turn off all mobile devices, which makes it quite difficult to facilitate.”

But Pete actually saw this, in part, as an advantage because it forced the team into working around something specific and focused: “Interestingly these parameters helped shape the project and gave us debilitating but important boundaries – ultimately, we had to embrace these and find distinct moments for communication.”

Another challenge that Pete mentioned was time: “It was a massive challenge, and we could have done with much more and also a second iteration of the project.” But learning from these kinds of challenges is what will make the next rounds of experimenting and testing so successful.

Happenstance: putting people and technology first

From what I’ve been hearing from the teams involved in and behind the Happenstance project, it’s all about the people, so when I caught up with Lighthouse’s Honor Harger about how the project was coming along, the biggest challenge she said is finding the right residents and putting them with the right arts organisation.

“Finding people who are open, sharing, have a collaborative nature, and are skilled at building trust is the most important challenge of the project,” said Honor. “Thinking hard about the recruitment process was crucial, as was ensuring we had the right arts organisations, who were prepared for the changes the residents were being invited to stimulate.”

The Happenstance project, she said, has been fortunate in that it has found six inspirational residents who have brought energy, knowledge, generosity and open minds to the organisations, and that there had been some clearly observable positive changes at Lighthouse already.

“Our residents, Natalia Buckley and James Bridle, have got us talking more openly with one another, by implementing Agile management techniques,” she said. “And this has had the immediate effect of increasing efficiency.”

“The software tool they’ve designed to help us journal and share our thoughts – Offbot – has been something of a minor revolution within the team,” she added. “It’s helped each of us develop a greater awareness of the nature of everyone’s jobs, and the uniqueness of each voice within the organisation.”

Sandpit Pic

Photograph: Laura Sillars

Honor and the team at Lighthouse have already been looking at how to integrate the tool into wider project collaborations, and she says making technology more familiar in the arts workplace along the way will only help make arts organisations ‘digital by default’.

The Coding Club, which Natalia Buckley established, and James Bridle’s This is A Working Shop has helped demystify digital technology and coding,” says Honor. “It shows the team that technology doesn’t need to be the preserve of specialists; it’s something that all of us can get involved with and that’s been a real revelation for many of us.

“We feel inspired, empowered and motivated and wish our residents could stay on board for longer!”

Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture

Find out more about the Happenstance project here

Happenstance: making software and making art – the Agile manifesto

June 18, 2012 1 comment

As part of the Nesta, Arts Council and AHRC Digital R&D for Arts and Culture Fund, the Happenstance project, developed by Caper, looks to fund six technology residencies at three major UK arts organisations – Site Gallery in Sheffield, the Lighthouse in Brighton and Spike Island in Bristol.

In an extract from the Happenstance blog, Natalia Buckley explores the relationship between making art and software and experiments with a more ‘Agile’ way of working.

Generally speaking, tech companies try to get good at investigating and reflecting on their own processes – often this results in exciting ideas that challenge the traditional ways of running organisations.

At GitHub, for example, there is pride in the lack of managers – or as Ryan Tomayko puts it, the fact that “everyone at GitHub is a manager… each responsible for managing a single person: their self.”

Another example, Valve, has no formal corporate structure – everyone can pick what project they work on and the desks are furnished with wheels for setting up impromptu temporary teams. Decisions are made by getting enough supporters from across the company who want to work on the project. Their employee handbook describes exactly how it works and it’s a fascinating read.

But there is a philosophy that at first doesn’t seem quite as radical, though it appears the entire software making world is practicing it: the Agile philosophy.

I can quote the entire Agile manifesto here because it’s so short:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it – through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Happenstance was supposed to help consider whether the Agile philosophy of making software could be useful to arts organisations and, obviously, there are many differences between the ways in which software and art are made. The biggest difference is in the way they are funded; arts funding is mired in bureaucracy, paperwork and relies on relatively few bodies, which grant money to projects that fit within their goals and agendas.

For a while I wondered whether an Agile approach is even useful. Lighthouse is a small team working in one room – most of the work they do is about strategy, planning and managing, rather than making things.

But as I considered it more I realised that agility comes from a specific culture within the organisation and has relatively little to do with making things or technology. The idea that face-to-face conversation is the best way to convey information surely applies outside of the software-making world.

Agility comes from not fearing change or small mistakes and learning to respond to them quickly and efficiently – it’s about responding to change.

I have recently felt like I’ve gained enough trust among the team at Lighthouse to be able to propose anything and that they would at least try it out, knowing that I’ve got their best interests at heart. So I decided to give it a go, and completely banned email as a means of internal communication.

Obviously I have no way of of checking up on everyone, but judging from the feedback and the amount of work-related discussions that are happening in the office, they decided to follow it.

I’ve also introduced daily stand-up meetings where we all very briefly describe what we were working on yesterday and what we are going to be doing today. Somehow the format stuck and we even describe what we all did on our days off as well – it’s actually really nice to be always in the loop, and occasionally hear a funny weekend story.

It made me realise how much and what kinds of work everyone does – all the boring bits: catching up on emails, reviewing things and so on. So after these things were practiced for a while, what good did they do?

I find it hard to quantify it after a short period of time, partly because I don’t actually work on any of their projects, so I can’t tell whether things are easier, better, worse or without change yet.

… I will gather more feedback and then I will report on it.

Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture

Find out more about the Happenstance project here

Culture Cloud: the digital implications of putting art online

June 13, 2012 1 comment

Culture Cloud is a digital space for artists to upload their artwork to a web portal where both recognised curators and public audiences will vote for the works they like.

The most popular and intriguing will be exhibited in August 2012 at the New Art Exchange (NAE) – an international contemporary visual arts space and creators of Culture Cloud. I caught up with Skinder Hundal, chief executive at NAE about how the project has been coming along.

He was keen to mention that a project as ambitious as this does not come without its challenges – and for a project as technical as this, making the digital platforms work so they are easy to use is crucial for a smooth operation in the back-end and for the online users at the front-end.

For Culture Cloud there are two key digital platforms – one for artists to register and another for audiences to interact with the work. The challenge for the project was to make sure the registration site was easy to use and that it came across as visually appealing and informative about the partners and key stages of the competition.

Skinder admitted that the site may have actually been too easy to use: “The process to upload the art was very straightforward, so perhaps we could have asked more questions to reduce workload for us later, ie dimensions, mediums, titles and dates of the work.

“Also there were requests from artists who registered to see who else and what else was being submitted. We didn’t create this option but did think about it – for example, should we share the whole process of pre-selection too? In the end we decided not to have it.”

Culture Cloud

Artfinder were tasked to create a space on their existing site where users could view the selected works

In terms of voting and the site where users could view the selected 100 works, Artfinder was tasked to create a space on their existing site for this to take place. The key challenge here was to make sure that audiences could navigate from a landing page to the pages where the selected 100 works would be shown, and then move swiftly across them.

“A key challenge was to ensure that the quality of the images and the respective information and descriptions were clear and that audiences felt compelled to ‘Like’ and vote for the works,” added Skinder. “Also, the site should not give certain works any unfair advantage, therefore we implemented a shuffling system and made sure that the voting system was clear and easy to use and able to connect with key social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.”

“The site continues to adapt as we receive feedback and observe how it is working,” said Skinder finally. “In our first week we have had just under 12,000 votes and a top 40 for the physical exhibition at NAE is taking shape!”

Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture

Find out more about the Culture Cloud project here

Culture Cloud – Part 10 Receiving and Judging

After setting up the registration site, entries started flooding in instantly. We actually ended up getting a lot more entries than predicted – 906 compared to 200/300!

It could be said that this was due to effective marketing of the project and through our links with 8 art organisations across the UK. These organisations promoted the project throughout their wide reaching networks and displayed our flyers in their venues.

NAE launched an e-flyer campaign from the mailing list and advertised in major art magazines such as Art Monthly, Artshub and visual art websites such as AXIS and Arts Council England. Additional exposure like an article in the Guardian also helped.

The registration process ran very smoothly due to the ease of use of the registration site and the simplification of the process. The terms and conditions really helped clarify the legal side, so that applicants fully understood what they were singing up for and the stages of the whole competition.

With the vast amount of entries received and the limited time frame, we needed to judge the works quickly and efficiently. Our task of processing the works suddenly became a daunting one. But due to the ease of use of Jotform, producing a single excel sheet with all entries on one page, it made it a bit easier. We then used Mail Merge to transfer to works to PDF format for easy viewing and judging.

The process would take a while, so we decided to lock 5 judges in a room for 3 days. The NAE judging team consisted of Skinder Hundal (Chief Executive), Melanie Kidd (Director of Programmes), Armindokht Shooshtari (Executive and Projects Assistant), Shaden Meleas (European Volunteer) and Patrice Puchaux (European Volunteer).

Once the judging was completed and the top 100 art works were selected, we had to process them in one form to get to Artfinder. The timing of this was very tight. This process required us to email the contacts and get additional information from them about the pieces. On reflection, maybe we could’ve added the additional fields into the registration form. I also realised that there was a setting in Jotform that meant any uploaded content could be automatically connected to an ftp and added to a folder. This removed the need to download each image individually and as a result, freed up some time for other tasks including proof-reading. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

The information had to be submitted within a tight deadline. Reasons for this were that when creating the site, Artfinder were also creating an ebook that had to be submitted to Apple for approval. Also we were a small team and the number of entries we had to trawl through to extract the information was a lot more then we predicted.

Categories: New Art Exchange