As the cacophony of social media voices continues to intensify around nonprofit causes, the world of arts and culture is really just beginning to embrace the potency of online engagement tools—in provocative, new ways. For many organizations, the experience is exceeding online engagement and becoming what I call “meta operational” – creating the illusion of participation in the core functional tasks organizations. This creates a dynamic, new way to thinking about participation and volunteerism—especially for those more casual observers or inquirers. As we say in the performing arts, we are finding new ways to break down the fourth wall.
Nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter said in a recent post that “the internal is the new external. “ The line between internal and external discussions (and functions) is thinning. We are moving toward a real-time operational transparency. And this concept is giving birth to innovative paradigms of collaboration with external audiences. For example, anyone can now participate or contribute to a strategic planning discussion or exhibition scheduling session which is shared online in a program’s blog or community forum.
Artists and Art Museums
Another example of this is the The Extraordinaires iPhone Application I discussed in a blog post a couple of weeks ago. With the microvolunteering app, individuals can actually participate in the organization’s central curatorial tasks. What a notion! With The Extraordinaires, one is invited to do the academic work—actually tagging and categorizing images for the Smithsonian or cataloging images for the Brooklyn Museum. In addition, the Brooklyn Museum has also introduced a $20 annual “socially networked museum membership.” It’s called “1stfans” and offers exclusive event invitations and access to artist-created content on the protected Twitter art feed (@1stfans). And the “Tag! You’re It!” introduction to applying keywords to their images. A key factor in this new mindset is that leadership must be comfortable with discomfort. “The leadership of the organization understands that social media and connectedness has an impact on the organization and they need to embrace it,” Kanter asserts.
Other artists and museums are using social media thoughtfully and in big, bold ways (but not necessarily requiring big budgets). They’ve capitalized on the audiovisual nature of the Web to showcase the storytelling and community-building aspects of their work. For example, emerging art spaces can learn a great deal from Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, where the exhibitions aren’t the only cultural experiences. Visitor options at WalkerArt.org include “Connect,” “Join,” and “Blogs” with content on design, education, new media initiatives, and visual and performing arts. They also publish art history and analysis podcasts on the museum’s iTunes U channel, and curators’ comments are available real time through the mobile system Art on Call.
National Symphony Orchestra’s “Tweet Suite”
And in the performing arts realm, the “Tweet Suite” experiment is getting lots of buzz. The National Symphony Orchestra recently experimented with tweet tactics during Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony at Wolf Trap. Though many were dubious, the orchestra tweeted notes of explanation from conductor Emil de Cou during the performance. (Example: “In my score Beethoven has printed Nightingale = flute Quail = oboe Cuckoo = clarinet — a mini concerto for woodwind/birds.”) Those interested sat in a designated area on the Wolf Trap lawn with their BlackBerries, iPhones, or other mobile devices. They followed @NSOatWolfTrap Trap to gain a new perspective on the score. And, you could also follow along without actually being at Wolf Trap at all. Though there has been a crescendo of moans in response from classical purists to the techno-intrusion into the traditional concert experience, innovation is important to integrate to insure a continuing appeal to audiences in a world full of so many voices and media competing for our time and attention.
What so you think of Tweet Integration and Meta Operation? Let me know.