It’s been a while since I caught up with Skinder Hundal, the man behind the Culture Cloud project – back in August we spoke about some of the keys to making a project like this a success, but now the project’s finished, I wanted to find out what was next for Culture Cloud and the technology behind it…
Skinder, how will you incorporate digital technology at NAE now, given what you’ve learned from Culture Cloud?
“We feel much more confident about using the digital and social media platform. Culture Cloud proved that if we can design a digital system with simplicity and functionality as the main aim then it would work. We have learnt a lot about pre-planning and the amount of people and dedication it takes to pull off such a project, and that we probably needed twice the resources to really make it work.
“For this round at NAE we were very resourceful and it was the relationship of the CEO and NAE team with key partners that activated goodwill levering wider resources of time and knowledge.”
What will Culture Cloud look like in 2014?
“Technology travels too fast for us to know this so it is difficult to predict, however we would be keen to mainstream Culture Cloud as a model and refine key processes and technologies to ensure success. We felt that the democratization of how art is selected for gallery exhibitions using digital platforms was a success on the whole. The total process created a hype and a strong reality in that NAE had record number of visitors at the opening launch and good visitors throughout the exhibition.
“It also attracted a good selection of works from across the UK, unearthing and exposing new talent not seen or heard. The national curators in the partnership were impressed by this.
“Going forward NAE will strengthen its partnership and collaborators, scale up possibly through prominent media partners, widen the range of art forms if possible (beyond 2d) look internationally in terms of artists, audiences and partners, certainly improve audience engagement and voting, rethink the selling and commercial side of the project and improve the digital interfaces and interaction between artist, audience and curator.”
I caught up with Paul Cutts, chief executive of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, to find out more about the the Dickens London Trails app and how the project was coming along…
1. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Charles Dickens app is and how it works?
Dickens London Trails is an iPhone app that enables users to experience London as characters from Dickens’ fiction would have. It leads you through the streets of London on a series of unexpected cultural encounters. You also discover more about Dickens’ eventful life and some of the secrets of Victorian London.
Your guides are characters from the novels who introduce dozens of places mentioned in the novels and the stories behind them. Each character also represents a particular theme that’s as relevant today as it was in Victorian times. The trail of Artful Dodger (from Oliver Twist) covers themes of childhood, poverty and power; Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations) embodies crime and punishment; Lady Dedlock (Bleak House) is the trail for those interested in the lives of women in Dickensian London and Samuel Pickwick (from Pickwick Papers) leads the food, drink and leisure trail.
Users can choose to follow a thematic trail or randomly select destinations. Each has a map, an accompanying image and – if a cultural destination such as a museum – telephone details and website inks. You can also share your favourite destination on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) as well as tell people where you are through Foursquare.
2. How has the project been progressing?
The app went live in late April so progress in terms of editorial and technological build was quick and we’ve essentially finished what we set
out to create.
3. Have there been any real eye openers?
A number of things – the consumer focus groups were really helpful in clarifying our thinking. We ended up with something less ambitious than
we’d envisaged and took different editorial options largely in response to the feedback from that initial audience research. The main success was
having so many editorial partners from across the London cultural sector contributing free content. Our primary ambition was to develop a tool in partnership and collaboration – we ended up spending far less on content generation than budgeted, which gave us flexibility to spend elsewhere.
That said, we’re happy with the content and because it’s not time-sensitive it will have ongoing value. The Dickens theme was – for many of us –
secondary. The primary purpose was to create a collaborative forum that could be populated with different content. We negotiated with our
technology partner to have ownership of the IP so we can license it at low cost to other arts organisations. We’ve got interest expressed from a few others already.
4. Equally, what have the main challenges been, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was probably the under-estimate of how much marketing and comms we really needed to raise awareness; we relied on our own networks to a large extent and the take-up rate was much lower than we’d have wanted.
There’s also an issue in only having been able to fund an iPhone app rather than Android and other platforms. With the increasing take-up of
alternative platforms we missed a large potential audience. We also had a challenge in terms of visibility on the Apple iTunes app store.
There’s a case I think for the whole sector to push for the inclusion of a dedicated arts channel on the app store – there are so many apps out there it’s easy to be drowned in the digital noise. We’ve not overcome that problem but it’s worth pushing for, I think.
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.”
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
This is an interesting use of QR codes and print media in combination. There are a lot of ways this could be adapted to make museum objects really social. And have them, almost literally, talk. And in return have visitors join in that conversation. But you’d need a budget rather bigger than #socialinterp’s.
This Reporters Without Borders advert is a bit gimmicky. But still, fair play, as it’s a hard subject to get people engaged with.