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.”
Last week we looked at the LSE Pulse project and what had emerged since its completion. This week we do the same with Punchdrunk. I caught up with Peter Higgin, enrichment director at the immersive theatre company, whose project aimed to connect real-world and digital experiences in a performance space. He told me about the importance of having a digital specialist in a project like this, something they didn’t have the luxury of when it ran.
“Doing it again I think we’d place a digital specialist within the Punchdrunk team,” he admitted. “It would mean we could deliberately break the rules and conventions that we adhere to in the physical space when creating online experiences. We’d also be able to explore the option of creating a bespoke piece outside of Sleep No More.”
There were other lessons as well, particularly with organisation: “We would definitely restructure our scheduling and protect the time set aside for beta testing.”
But what the project did get right was the technical logistics of it all. As Peter told the Guardian back in May 2012, “The physical installation of the project saw us run over 8,000 feet of CAT-5 cable around the site, linking a 100MB internet connection to our control hub within the building with individual runs that broke out to 24 access points. This allowed us to create a network across the building to live stream sound and audio content to both live and online participants.”
The project used a mix of 10 RFID readers and 50 Bluetooth devices, as well as 10 physical portals, “which allowed participants to communicate” said Peter. “These included a poltergeist-like book that online participants could cue to flip a real book off a shelf when their participant was nearby and a typewriter that allowed online participants to type direct messages to their real-world companion.”
Earlier this week I asked the LSO Pulse project and Punchdrunk to offer what they think other arts organisations can take from the projects they were part of. For Punchdrunk, it was about rethinking how audiences and companies digitally connect with eachother, and for the LSO project, the lessons were purely mobile.
For the Happenstance project it was instead about how organisations think about their digital offering and makeup, and how they go about embracing technology.
“Rather than trying to use technology to fix a specific problem or answer a particular need, the aim was to see how technology (and specifically, technologists) could transform the arts,” said Katy Beale when I caught up with her. “In a way, our aims were similar to those of the Government Digital Service: how could the arts become digital by default, rather than digital as an afterthought?”
Katy admitted that Happenstance has helped make the arts organisations involved more visible to the digital community, “both in the immediate vicinity and through national showcases such as Future Everything or TedX. Digital innovation is inherently social, and the residents instinctively drew on their existing networks and constructed some new ones, which the arts organisations will benefit from longer term. We can also see that Happenstance has application outside of the arts world, into the wider public sector and commercial organisations. And while the legacy will be different for each of our initial participants, the learning from the project has the potential to make a radical, longer-term change in the way that arts and cultural sector embraces technology.”
It’s been a short while since my last update (not least because I’ve been on holiday!) and it’s been great to come back to so many views and shares on the blog, so thanks very much!
The last few posts in the series have asked questions of some of the projects (for example, we’ve heard why clarity has been so key for the Happenstance project and how, for the Dero project, success is down to committed project partners) – it’s been interesting to see the different answers and compare and contrast, but there’s a wider question I think needs addressing:
What are the wider implications of these projects? What lessons will other arts orgs take from all the experimenting?
For Punchdrunk, and their digital project, it was about rethinking how audiences and companies need to rethink how they connect digitally, particularly pertinent in this fast-paced world of tech and social media. “The conventional model doesn’t fit and needs to be continually interrogated,” said Pete Higgin, enrichment director at the company. “I think as part of a body of projects in the pilot programme, this one is certainly part of a wave of work that will explore further the crossover between digital and the arts. On a company level, our eyes and ears are opened to new possibilities and we are exploring ways to integrate digital work into our company.”
For Nico Koepke, CEO of KODIME, the tech company involved in the LSO Pulse app programme, the lesson was purely mobile: “Students and other young audiences can be very effectively reached and engaged on the mobile channel, and they appreciate the offer and reward with loyalty. We also feel the project showcased that marketing and selling tickets via mobile including the reasonable complex transaction mechanics does not have to cost a fortune or require a new boxoffice system.”
Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager for the London Symphony Orchestra (the organisation behind the Pulse programme) it was about looking at the bigger picture: “We have taken our prototype app and are in the process of widening its scope to include several other orchestras and venues, making one big student scheme for classical music concerts in London. While collaboration between arts organisations is nothing new, this will be the first time that London’s orchestras have worked together on such a large project, pooling resources – financial and people – to reach more of London’s student population to hopefully get them to classical music in greater numbers. For a group that is traditionally in competition with each other, it feels like something pretty revolutionary.”
… which is exactly what the Digital R&D Fund is all about: creating revolutionary ‘things’ and forming revolutionary ideas to filter down through the ranks so that all arts organisations can get in on the action.