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Happenstance: clarity is key and don’t forget the non-digital

September 30, 2012 1 comment

As part of continuing series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

Last time we heard from the Dero project, and what the team would have done differently had they had another chance at it – this week we ask the same questions of Katy Beale from the Happenstance project

If you could do the project again, what specific things would you do differently and why?

The programme may look deceptively simple, but actually there’s a huge amount of organising that goes into running it. From recruitment, to trouble shooting to establishing a common language and expectations across the organisations.  Even though, on paper, Site Gallery, Lighthouse and Spike Island are similar organisations, they are each very unique and had different concerns and practical issues to consider before we got going. There was a lot more preparatory work than we anticipated, but this was beneficial because it built relationships and began to get everyone to a shared understanding of what the project was about.

“We worked closely with the three organisations to place complimentary pairs of residents into each of their teams. Although we attracted great candidates and residents, for future iterations we would expand the recruitment process and make sure we were clearer about the residency roles and what sort of skills we were asking the residents to bring.

“The benefits of integrating digital technologies into the everyday working culture of the arts organisation include better internal communication, greater tolerance for risk and failure (because when technology fails, it doesn’t signal the end of the project) and a more collaborative, open culture. Something we didn’t anticipate is how much the residents changed the non-digital aspects of the host organisations: at Lighthouse, particularly, they influenced the wider team culture and this might be something we would put more emphasis on in future iterations.”

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Punchdrunk and podcasts

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

As part of the next series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

Previously we heard from Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra, and Claire Harvey, one of the digital bods behind the Dero project at Sage Gateshead. This week we ask the same question of Pete Higgin, enrichment director at Punchdrunk, and find out about what he thought was the success to his project.

Question 1: What do you think the key to success has been with this particular project?

“The key to success has been good communication between all teams involved. The challenge was always to co-ordinate a project in New York, which was being conceived and built in London, Boston and New York. Undoubtedly the support, resource and opportunity offered by the project team in New York was key to making the project successful too.”

We’ll be asking this question of the other projects in due course, and finding out their answers to some more. In the meantime, have a listen to the latest Arts digital R&D podcast, the third in the series. This one is all about using digital channels and technologies to distribute arts and cultural content and reach the widest possible audience, including new and international ones.

The LSO Pulse App: mobile apps, QR codes and the problem with paper tickets

July 5, 2012 6 comments

The LSO Pulse project is the London Symphony Orchestra’s discounted ticket and loyalty scheme for students – they offer £6 tickets for 10 (thereabouts) on selected concerts throughout the LSO season at the Barbican to students aged 18 years old or more. 

I caught up with Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra to find out how the Pulse project was coming along…

“We wanted to update the technology we used to run the scheme and to give it a 21st century feel,” explained Jo, which is why LSO chose to use an app to reach a younger audience. “The app lists all the events included in the scheme, allows the students to share their attendance on their social networks and enables them to buy tickets for themselves and their friends directly from the app.

“It means that they don’t need to leave it in order to call or book online – this also means that they don’t have to pay a booking fee, which would usually be up to a third of the ticket price again on top.”

Jo explained that the tickets are delivered to the app as a QR code, which users can bring with them on the night for scanning on entry: “Students also collect points in the app for completing actions such as sharing with their friends, buying tickets for themselves and their friends and for filling in short surveys after the event. Points build towards a tiered series of rewards, such as CDs, free tickets, free drinks and meals, Amazon and Spotify vouchers – at the end of the season we reward the person collecting the most points with a trip to Paris with the LSO.”

Jo was keen to mention that, overall, the project has gone very smoothly: “We were delighted with the initial take-up of the app by our existing LSO Pulse members and pleased to see that the transition was pretty smooth for them. We haven’t had too many bugs surface in the app itself, and have had a smooth ride on the scanning hardware side, with no on-the-night disasters or total tech failures (aside from a couple of minor Wi-Fi problems!).

“We have been surprised by some of the ways in which the students have used the app – for example, a couple of users without smartphones used the mobile website on a desktop computer and then printed the QR code ticket to bring with them on the night, something we hadn’t considered as a possibility. Luckily this worked just as well!”

Because LSO are yet to do all the data-crunching, Jo didn’t have any concrete numbers but revealed that early indications show that awareness of the scheme itself has grown, with more first-timers attending LSO concerts.

“Our main challenge was related to the scanning process in our venue, the Barbican Centre,” admitted Jo. “When we sat down with them to explain what we wanted to do, they raised an issue with their auditing process – paper tickets were a required part of this and entry to the hall was not permitted without one. They were also concerned about their stewards having to decipher more than one type of ticket quickly when large numbers of people were entering the hall together.

“As a short term solution we decided to set up a dedicated desk for scanning and printing off the tickets that had been purchased in the app – stewards could then hand the purchaser the corresponding ticket after their QR code ticket had been scanned. This also meant the stewards didn’t have to be trained to use the scanners.”

Jo also mentioned another work-around they had considered: “We also thought about a solution whereby we purchased a ticket printer which printed a ticket when the QR code was scanned, but we discounted this solution as the Barbican could only accept tickets printed on their own stock.”

Despite this change to the initial plan, the app team have been working with the Barbican on future implementation of mobile ticketing, and Jo said she’s delighted that their test project has been able to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of this method: “We have however still been able to test the full solution twice at our venue, LSO St Luke’s, with stewards scanning the phones and without handing out paper tickets, which we were pleased to see went smoothly.”

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

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

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