Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dinner-Vention Update

Good morning
"And the beat goes on....................."

The Dinner-Vention - Jammin' at Djerassi was held this past Friday night, and we had a probing discussion and spirited exchange of ideas.  We video taped almost three hours, and now begin the task of editing the tape into a cogent, and we hope, compelling presentation.  I hope we can have the finished record of the conversation done and up on this blog site within a month or so.

Given our initial reaction to the event, I think it very likely we will do Dinner-Vention II next year.  Perhaps, after that (or even a third one), we might gather all the guests together for a two or three day gathering - with no agenda, no issues on the table - just the opportunity for some very smart people to share ideas. And then to share those ideas with the wider field.  We learned a lot about the processes, protocols and dynamics of this effort, on which we can build the next one.

Meanwhile I've asked all the dinner guests to consider blogging or otherwise writing about the experience - their reflections, comments and reactions to all that was said, as well as their further thinking - and will provide links to any that opt to do so.  For those of you that may not have seen dinner guest Devon Smith's thoughts prior to the dinner (posted by Thomas Cott's You've Cott Mail) , I have included them below.  We've also set up a closed Facebook Group so the dinner guests might continue the conversation they started Friday night.  It is my hope for this project that this inaugural class of the Dinner-Vention, having bonded through the process, will continue to share their thinking not only with each other, but with the wider field.

Three hours is clearly not enough time to fully address the myriad questions and issues the table put forth (let alone all the thoughts of the guests which the limitations of time prevented us from even bringing up), and we probably raised more questions than we answered, but there was considerable food for thought last Friday night - from specific ideas, to wider conceptual thinking.

I want to thank everyone involved in this project - Anthony Radich, and everyone at WESTAF, for their support; Shannon Daut for helping me to guide the project; and Margot Knight at Djerassi for her kind and gracious hospitality in hosting the event.

I especially want to thank the dinner guests themselves.

There is no doubt the Dinner guest group - representing the future of our field - was a gifted assemblage of some of the brightest minds on the rise in our sector.  And giving this cohort of our leaders a wider platform was one of the objectives of the effort.

Here then is Devon Smith's pre-dinner thinking paper:  (and I invite all the guests, if they wish, to submit their own lists of questions which I would like to post here.)

"Dinnervention is a gathering of 12 "up and coming voices" in the arts, conceived by Barry Hessenius, paid for by WESTAF, more than a year in the making, and finally happening IRL tomorrow evening over a two-hour dinner at Djerassi.  It began with crowdsourced voting of potential dinner guests. More than 350 names were submitted. Hunger Games style, 12 were chosen, though I doubt we'll be debating to the death[a]. Next came the selection of a meaty dinner conversation topic, sourced by the guests themselves, and shaped into a coherent vision by the selection committee.

Then we chosen few were asked to write briefing papers (Part I) and (Part II) about how we would address the topic of, "Traditional audiences are declining and participation patterns are shifting seismically, which is having a deleterious impact on arts organization's traditional revenue streams. How can we address this pattern on a macro scale? What would a new movement around the arts look like?" Barry published these online, and asked us to continue ruminating and engaging via email with each other, and the organizers.

I have to admit I haven't been able to contribute to the conversation in the way I had hoped months ago when this whole plan began to take shape. There's been a dearth of open dialogue on social media by the 338 other I'm sure incredibly well deserving potential participants. I didn't get a chance myself to dive into the other 11 briefing papers until the 6 hour flight from DC to SFO I'm currently aboard. None-the-less, I find myself inspired and brimming with ideas that I hope we have the opportunity to tackle in what will amount to roughly 7 minutes of speaking time per guest.

As we were taking off, I ritualistically opened my latest copy of WIRED magazine, fortuitously titled, "The Future of Design. Invisible. Beautiful. Everywhere." And suddenly, my trusty Field Notes memo book was filled with potential. What follows is a summary of what amounts to my own Random Access Memory.
  • Google's Project Loon: where is our moonshot idea? our willingness to invest in R&D?
  • Nassim Taleb's new book, Anti-fragility, shows how randomness and complexity tend to make (some) systems stronger. In the way that recovering from Chicken Pox provides us immunity. Or the way that humans still beat computers at chess because even experts sometimes make random moves that rigid computing systems can't replicate. How do we design our arts ecosystem for anti-fragility, rather than stability, or survivability?
  • How do we align incentives across a wide spectrum of stakeholders? I want whistleblowers who will blow the doors wide open at institutions who are inefficiently using the public's funds. Not just misappropriating them, but, for any reason, not maximizing the most productive use of capital to create art.
  • I think that in a given city, our product doesn't have enough variability. People show up to museums not knowing what exhibits are showing. What makes us think they don't do the same with theatre performances? When we market the arts, it is too often about the art.
  • Why aren't there more (any?) arts think tanks? I live in the city of think tanks (DC), and see how they are moving surprisingly swiftly with 21st century needs to shine a digital spotlight on all their experts, and encourage thoughtful dialogue on important issues of policy. Policy that doesn't stop short at the Beltway, but finds itself impacting communities around the world. Great as it may be, we need more than New Beans, and Createquity. We need the authority of Brookings, the embedded evaluators of RWJF, the global perspective of Demos, the intellectual bent of Third Way, the zeal and approach to digital distribution of the Heritage Foundation and the funding of Pew
  • is advocating for the goals of the technology community, by focusing on immigration reform. What does arts policy look like, beyond tax breaks, economic revitalization zones, and more federal funding for artists?
  • What happens when people start wearing Google Glass to the theatre? The New York Times is broke, but they've already developed a Google Glass app. Does any artist, in any institution, even own a pair of Google Glass?
  • What happens when we can 3D print our props and costumes? Does any University MFA program even own a makerbot?
  • Glitch Art demonstrates an interest in the unrefined. The mistakes made beautiful. Who's producing glitch (performance) art?
  • Google has the same problems we do--declining audiences, declining time spent with their core product, and an influx of competitors that offer audiences new ways to do what Google's always offered. What do they do about it? Invent Google Glass to give advertisers entirely new performance metrics. You thought pay per click was useful? Wait until pay per glance. They develop self driving cars. Not for the data, but for the 90 minutes of time it will free up for 100 million people in the US alone. 90 new minutes of brain space for people to search Google, and click on Google's distributed ad network. They make the insane plausible with Project Loon. 3 billion people aren't yet connected to the internet (and therefore are out of our reach)? No problem, let's replace costly satellites with low-fi weather balloons to provide wi fi to the world. If we can clearly articulate the problems we're facing in the arts (which frankly, I don't think there's any agreement on), then we can start exploring moonshots.
  • What if an arts organization employed a user experience designer? What problems would they tackle first?
  • The reason we run theatrical performances so long is to recoup the costs of building them, relying on the ephemeral "buzz" to build over time. So build cheaper, and market faster.
  • There's a new wave of hyper-local living room shows. Where "Do It Together" is the new "Do It Yourself." Sometimes just giving a name to something makes it cool, and approachable, and the idea itself tangible to audiences. What does hyper-local arts look like? Maybe we've already got it, we're just not capitalizing on the term.
  • What is the quantified self data for the arts? What does a Jawbone product look like, optimized for aesthetic consumption and production, rather than for health? What could we do with that data?
  • We need more "Digital Curator meets Community Manager." Someone who is immersed in the art-making in our spaces, as much as in the community-making online. Dinnervention itself would have benefited from such a role, helping to guide and nurture the online opportunities in the run up to this IRL event.
  • Moore's Law fundamentally drives innovation in the technology world. What is our Moore's Law that can predict how (and how quickly) the landscape will change?
  • The government is now looking for Nudges, to guide users to make the right decision, of their own volition. How can the arts use behavioral economics principles to drive attendance and participation?
  • Dark Patterns refer to those online systems set up to "trick us" into doing something we otherwise likely wouldn't. Opting in to your email newsletter for example by providing a helpfully "pre-checked" box in your ticket purchase flow. They are meant to be deceptive, and in doing so, destroy our relationship with our audiences at the very moment they're forking over their hard earned cash to us. Stop doing it.
  • I want to know the moment that X% of the audience takes out their phone in a quiet theatre to check the game score. I want to be able to use that data to better optimize our performance, the same way programmers minimize bounce rates by speeding up page load times. I want to know the paths that people take through museums. I want to be able to use that data to build new museums, and new exhibits, new experiences, the same way that grocery stores silently ping my cell phone's wifi to know which aisle I walk down first, and where they should put more high-value signage for the latest sales.
  • Big data is coming to the arts. See Chris Unitt and Sean Redmond for more.
  • Impossible business models have disrupted industries not through institutions making change, but from entrepreneurs with a vision--for the product and the business model. Warby Parker disrupted the monopoly of LensCrafters by pairing two MBAs with a sense of purpose and nominal exposure to the industry. Invite the quants to the table.
  • NAMP (perhaps unknowingly) adeptly employed digital retargeting on me yesterday. I visited their website once, and then their ads followed my web browsing the entire rest of the day, courtesy of Google's distributed ad network. More like this please.
  • Speaking of NAMP, in the spirit of TCG's "doing > learning" mantra, November's conference should feature a workshop on iphone photography apps & methods. These produce incredibly high-quality and artistic opportunities to create in minutes for free what a studio photographer will spend weeks and tens of thousands of dollars on.
  • We live in a Filter Bubble. Individually, and as an industry. The most value you could probably get at a conference is to go to a Healthy Hackathon and see how that industry is using digital technology to influence behavior, not just purchases. Go to Games for Change to blow your mind on how to use art to influence behavior. Go to XOXO to be inspired. Go camping in Portland for a week to learn how to make 3D prototypes. And the very ones who put on our industry conferences should be paying you to go learn from these other conference, and bring your insight back to the industry. Foster an attendee swap partnership with your colleagues at other foundations/service organizations. You don't think healthcare professionals would be inspired to learn from the Chorus America national conference?
  • Last week I noticed a tweet asking "do we have enough conservative art." Who is our Fox News? We need them (or at least, that far end of the spectrum) to be truly diverse.
  • WIRED's 101 signals for high density information sources breaks individuals down by business, technology, security, science, culture, and design. You know what "culture" means to the WIRED generation? Music, board games, cartoons, graphic novels, TV, Film, video games, sports, and comedy. Not a museum, theatre, opera, dance company in the mix. And who are the "designers"? They are the pre-fixes of architecture, video game, industrial, visual, urban, tech-art, interaction, user experience, technology, data viz, video, graphic, typographic, and furniture -designers.
  • Where is our Angel List, matching funders with potential sources of investment?
  • Who are our Entrepreneurs in Residence? Hackers in Residence?
  • Where are our incubators?
  • Who is our Fred Wilson to provide decades worth of free insight to the up-and-coming generation, humble in his role as community moderator more than guru.
  • My first perception of your organization if of your website. Does it reflect what you want me to think about you?
  • Medium is a platform for creators. Some they pay, others they offer free "space" to, distributing the ones who become popular on their own merits, and those they believe deserve more attention. YBCA is our Medium. Where are the others?
  • Why hasn't Ben Cameron done a Reddit AMA? I demand it by the end of the year.
  • Where is our HackerNews? Ian David Moss, great as he is at link roundups, isn't enough.
  • In the past year I've joined the homebrew beer community, that connects kitchens to Twitter, elevating the amateur, who consume what they create, and idolize the craft movement while vilifying the "big beer" industry. Where is our homebrew arts?
  • The Corporation for Public Broadcasting pays local radio stations to merge together. What arts funder will be brave enough to propose the same model?
  • What arts organization would use local Google search result trends to drive their programming calendar?
  • There is a culture of craft in our midst, a renaissance of handmade goods. Where are our hand made (artistic) experiences?
  • What would this dinnervention look like, formatted instead as a presidential debate. Each of our POV on a litany of specific issues, with an opportunity to frame and rebut each other's assertions. There's a conference panel I'd like to see.
  • There will be a Massively Open Online Course this fall, using the 4th season of the Walking Dead to speak to physics, epidemiology, mathematics, and sociology. Where is our artistic MOOC?
  • The triumvirate of the Knight Foundation, Niemen Journalism Lab, and Poyntner Institute collective cover some of the most interesting experimentations and trends in the journalism world. Where are the large institutions taking risky leaps with outspoken words about what's working and not in the arts ecology?
  • In the technology world, the pro-am power dynamic is flipped. Facebook is run by a 29 year old billionaire. We trust Zuck, but not your interns?
Upon which, my flight landed in SFO. My incredibly patient driver navigated the dusty, windy, sun-drenched, and often unmarked roads to Djerassi, what must be one of the most beautiful places in the world for an artist to spend time creating."

Have a great week.

Don't Quit