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Culture Cloud: what next?

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

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.”

Culture Cloud: communication, teamwork and ‘threeing’ the key to success

August 14, 2012 2 comments

In the last update from the Culture Cloud project, and in my last catch up with Skinder Hundal – one of those heading up the project – we talked about the digital difficulties of putting art online. In this next round of updates, and in our second catch up, we spoke about the importance of communication and how a strong team will always guarantee success.

 

How important was communication to the Culture Cloud project?

Communication is a critical part of success, be that written, verbal, physical or virtual. Communication can be complex in partnership projects like Culture Cloud, which involves new partnerships and tried and tested ones all in the same mix.  The dynamics and ideologies and working practices of the different sectors often need to be thought through and negotiated – be them commercial, technology firms, universities or national visual arts organisations.

Communicating time scales, and expectations of roles and responsibilities plays a critical role in determining successful outcomes. The methodology and regularity of communication is also key – be that via text, phone, face to face, email or blogs.

What has the key to success been with this project?

Successful projects have great ideas, vision and dynamic multi-functioning teams – there have to be instigators, responders and mediators. I borrow the term ‘threeing’ from an artist called Paul Ryan featuring in dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel at the moment in fact. It means a team where someone leads, a group respond and a smaller group mediate the ideas and differences – it really makes a difference. In totality though what makes success is leadership, passion and drive, forward planning, and great ideas delivered pragmatically with skilled and knowledgeable team players. It is always a combination of these components successfully blending in time and space that make the difference.

If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?

We have had approximately 40,000 voting engagements with Culture Cloud online via social media and the Culture Cloud platform on Artfinder. This has been brilliant, but the model needs refining so thinking this through in more detail would be really important.  The model works so that artists and audiences have more control and power in the outcome of whether they get to exhibit in an international space.  Those less networked and more introvert can get left behind though, so ensuring that an audience engagement platform can work so it has even more value as we develop the model for the future is important.

On the whole the project has exceeded expectations and we are delighted about this; we are now at the stage where we are promoting the sales of digital prints selected from the Top 40. This is a relatively new area for us as a public contemporary art gallery based in an inner city area.  To do this well, thinking through a tighter commercial strategy would be really good with a dedicated team who can engage audiences with the work and also instigate new collectors of art and buyers of digital print so that artists, audience and project partners all benefit together.

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: 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

Culture Cloud – Part 9 Adding the content

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Customer Service

It was going to be a massive task to provide customer support for the whole project. We thought about how we could offer the most amount of information and address the simple inquiries which usually take up a lot of time in customer service. Looking at a lot of major sites today they simply offer a Q&A section and no additional customer support (such as Facebook). We decided that we could still offer an email address for customer service and a Q&A that we could update as more questions arise.

We then had the challenge of how to pick the Questions that will cover the most Questions users have. Armindokht Shoosthtari, Melanie Kidd, and Skinder Hundal went through the list of Questions and Answers we had created. They edited them and made sure that they covered all the questions artists would want to know the answer to.

Frontpage

Then we decided that the whole process needed to be simply lay-out on the FrontPage so people got an idea of the whole project process. We split it into stages and highlighted certain areas of the text with black to attract the eye. We wanted to show off all the partners, funders and organisations involved in the project. The idea came to have a ‘Partner Arts Organisation’ box that would display all the logos in order and make them clickable. We wanted the funders to be in a different section as they are funding this whole project. So we placed the logos in black on the footer of the page (like most websites put their copyright and information on people involved). A few additions to the FrontPage were added such as being able to view the full terms and conditions and a JavaScript Countdown to the end date of registration rather than just the date displayed.

As of any site these days’ social media links are essential and must be displayed in a clear fashion. We used some social media icons and placed them horizontally (seems to be a trend at the moment) and displayed them on the side of the site. I also added a ribbon to the side with ‘Win £2000’ to the site just so it stood out more.

When creating the text I wondered how we can display which menu you are on and keep the site simple. I decided to change the text on the Cloud Logo to say whatever page you are on (Except when on the FrontPage). I think it really helps the site flow and gives it that modern theme.

We also created an about section with had further explanations of the project, a more detailed timeline and links to every single site involved in CULTURE CLOUD.

Registration Section

When creating the registration site we needed to make it simple as possible. The process was very complex with lots of elements and this needed to be displayed very clearly. We started with the textboxes on the registration site displaying the full artist’s agreement the site terms and conditions. I added areas for Name, Address, Email, postcode and where you heard about the project. I added an area for a short description of the submitted works and an upload section. For signing the legal agreement and the terms and conditions I created required checkboxes and a submit button.

After creating this I decided to get the opinion of some Independent Visual Artists. They looked over the site and singed up to register. They fed back some very good points about people not being able to work out what they were signing up for and a lot of the details not being so clear such as percentage cuts for the selling art online and IP issues.

Taking on board these suggestions we presented the registration in a clear way. We then decided to create a Breakdown of the key points of the Artists Agreement and link to full-size Agreement. We also added external links to view the full artist’s agreement in a nicely formatted way. I think these changes really helped the sign up process and make it much simpler for members of the public to grasp the concept.

Categories: New Art Exchange

Culture Cloud – Part 8 Creating the Website

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Before building the registration website I needed to work out what system could be used for the registration process. I did not want to use a CMS (content management system) as I felt the website was too small and it would have required additional work to adapt the site to suit the CMS.

After a bit of research I found a secure form building platform that I could embed into the site. I started testing it using the jotform.com domain. Once the system had been set up and I was satisfied with the simple form I tried to log on. The site was down and I was pretty confused having paid membership and setting up my form. Strangely it seems that the U.S. Secret Service requested that GoDaddy took the whole .com domain down!  The site had been suspended as part of an ongoing investigation disabling around 2 Million Jotform forms.  Luckily Jotform also owned jotform.net and my account was accessible via that domain.

After about a month Jotform.com came back online and the U.S secret service refuse to explain the whole situation http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120216/17043717784/us-returns-jotformcom-domain-still-refuses-to-say-what-happened.shtml

I stated off building the basic site with a simple div with a border and some CSS buttons linking to each section with some dummy text. I also added the logos of the funders and partners to the footer of the site.

I wanted to make the site look modern but not over complicated, I had the idea of having one background image with Div layers on top of it full of content.  Working with RARE COMPANY we decided to adapt one of our stock images of the main gallery space at the NAE.

Koo came up with this image that reflected the angles and colours of the CULTURE CLOUD logo. This to me looked like a digital storm crashing into a quiet gallery space. Koo also added these orange spikes at the bottom so that I can could overlay them with buttons.

I started to add divs on top of the background to create areas for content. I created divs and added linking text over the buttons area. I also added social media buttons, partner logos, Java Countdown script and social media links.

The website systems and layout was finalised and tested. Now all that was left was to add the content and tweak the site.

by Ravi James Abbott Project Assistant

Categories: New Art Exchange

Culture Cloud – Part 7 Designing The Cloud

March 18, 2012 Leave a comment

We decided that for CULTURE CLOUD we needed to have a registration process of some kind. The initial thoughts on this were that we could simply have an email address that people post their work to and it gets processed to the art finder site manually.

We thought that this was a bad idea as the user and the admin experience would not be a nice one and would not the project a feel of quality or professionalism.  Artfinder were unable to produce a website for us as they are not site builders. I have had many years of professional coding experience after living with a web designer for 5 years who taught me CSS and HTML5 and a bit of PHP. I spoke with Skinder and offered to create the custom registration site freelance for NAE.

Over the years experience helped me visualise and design how the site would look in my head. It’s always hard to translate an idea from your head to other people who are not so web experienced. I knew we would need 3 elements, graphics, management systems and information; lots of information. I myself not being a graphic designer thought that the way to achieve a modern and branded look was to get a designer with the marketing team to come up with some concepts for the CULTURE CLOUD branding. Initially it was a logo that we wanted. We wanted to take an alternative look at the Cloud, we looked at other clouds like Soundcloud/iCloud/cloudapp

 

We needed to create a digital look that was different to all of the other cloud ideas. They all seemed to be slight variations to the shape. With the help from our Friend Koo Bhangra at RARE COMPANY we decided to go through the options.

Koo and the CULTURE CLOUD team decided that a few variations on the cloud theme might help us get a clearer picture. Koo thought we could do one in a similar style to the NAE logo like a simple line with a C inside a C to create the logo. We also decided to see if the cloud could be created using different shapes such as circles.

Koo then came up with this outline design and the cloud being made from what looked like icy futuristic sharp shapes. It looks like a cloud from a strange planet or one that could be found floating in the skies of cyberspace. Realising the importance of the logo looking striking we decided that having one tone of colour might seem similar to other web logos.

Injecting some colour into the logo really helped and Koo came up with five bold colour choices. The logo started to take on the feel of something very modern and even in a similar style to lots of Olympics advertising recently. We decided on the orange highlight on the image (I liked the green personally but it might have turned out looking like a lemonade advert).

Typography has always been important. This has not changed with the invention of the internet so getting the correct font and modern feel for the logo and site text was very important. A very popular text font at the moment is Tahoma (facebooks current font) and I decided to use that on a lot of the normal text. Then we had to choose title and heading text; after Koo showed us another five options for fonts we picked Gotham Rounded (option D).

 

by Ravi James Abbott Project Assistant

Categories: New Art Exchange

Culture Cloud – Part 6 Artfinder meeting

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The New Art Exchange team took a trip to London to meet the Art Finder (AF) team in person. We had a crack team of four people from the NAE were CEO Skinder Hundal, Vice Chair Sukhy Johal MBE, Pips Bhadere and Me of course Ravi Abbott.

We arrived at the  (AF) office in Holborn and met up with Will Doward and CEO Spencer Hyman . Their office was a room full of young people tapping away at the keyboards and felt a very creative and technological environment to be in. We stated discussions about what we hope each other can achieve and what we can realistically deliver in the timescale.

A lot of the focus was on AF and what elements and technology they can provide as we had not had the chance to go into as much detail previously. AF clearly explained to us what they can and cannot do. This was very useful as we needed to know exactly what was achievable.

We decided that we would aim to make it as simple as possible and use systems already popular online and easy to use such as ‘Facebook Connect’. We talked about milestones to make sure we are all working to the same schedule.

We also discussed how the voting system would work and how we can provide incentives to get an audience and encourage people to get involved.  We talked about which sites, Gallery’s, websites and artists networks we can get involved with.

We discussed contracts and making sure that exactly what can be achieved and the milestones we have. It was a great meeting and cleared a lot of things up from both sides. We came away with a clearer head and vision on how the project will turn out.

by Ravi James Abbott Project Assistant

Categories: New Art Exchange

Some research insights

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

New Art Exchange who have blogged recently about their Culture Cloud project are working with the Interactive Cultures research team from the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research at Birmingham City University. The team includes Professor Tim Wall, Dr Paul Long, Dr Nick Webber, and Dr Simon Barber.

They’ve set up their own blog where they will be reporting on some of the research and evaluation of the Culture Cloud project. 

If you’re like us then you’ll be following their progress with some interest

Culture Cloud -Part 5 Creation

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

So we decided to create some promotional material and created an advert for our 2012 programme for Rashid Rana. I worded it to keep it open and not give away too much asking people to send initial interest or contact to an email addressee we had set up theculturecloud@nae.org.uk I also created the websites

www.theculturecloud.com

www.theculturecloud.co.uk

I put  the same text and images from the programme onto the site. This means we can use these urls for the project in the future.

Whilst this was going on we started working creating business plans and legal documents in preparation with our next meeting with Artfinder and Skinder started contacting partner galleries and spaces.

by Ravi James Abbott Project Assistant

Categories: New Art Exchange
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