The Experience Economy (Engaging Art, Pt II)

Note to self: Spare the prose and save the reader.

Have to confess that after reading ALL of the various posts and comments in Doug McLennan’s “gangblog” called Engaging Art: A Public Conversation, my first takeaway is sheer exhaustion – we got some lonnnng posts, ripostes, and rants going on here! On Sunday Editor Doug McLennan attempted a rather breezy summary (links are mine; prose is Doug’s):

Robert (Levine) says he tends to think things stay the same. Greg (Sandow) suspects (okay, more than that) that fundamental change is afoot and that the traditional arts as we have known them in the recent past are finished. Moy (Eng) is energized by the possibilities of change, and Ed (Cambron) thinks the museum model for symphony orchestras might be the best. William Osborne seems to think that lack of public funding is at the root of all that ails us in America. And Molly (Sheridan)? She seems amused by all the hand-wringing. (have I managed to mangle and mischaracterize everyone’s positions?)

Steve Tepper, (from the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy, and one of the honchos behind the whole exercise), on the other hand, came back with an even more reductive summary:

Many of the postings and reactions to the book vacillate between “technological determinism” and “technological realism.” The first group imagines that our patterns of engagement will change dramatically because of the introduction of new technology, alerting us to a number of possible scenarios: death to experts and professionals; rampant choice and diversity; hyper-active and interactive audiences who dictate every detail of their experiences; constant mediation through screens and electronic devices; etc. The others tend to believe that there is nothing truly “new” about “new technology” and that it is simply returning us to habits and modes of engagement that were popular in earlier times. Others simply see technology as a useful tool, but not as transformative of social and cultural life.

Regardless if you are a determinist or a realist, I think it’s worth noting the rest of Doug McLennan’s commentary:

It’s interesting to me that everyone who creates anything these days is having some version of this conversation. Certainly anyone in the arts. But also Disney and CBS and Universal. And Starbucks and the Los Angeles Times and BMW and Coke. We’ve moved from being a service economy to an experience economy. Service is now assumed. The question is what’s the experience going to be.

Some of these entertainment companies (and even car companies now think of themselves as entertainment companies) have been losing audience at rates the arts would find catastrophic. Top-rated TV shows, radio stations, recording companies and newspapers are seeing their audiences down by 30-40-50 percent from what they were when the 90s began. By comparison, the 90s were the biggest expansion of the arts economy in American history. Even the softening of arts audience numbers since 9/11 is nothing compared to some of the retreats in the commercial sector.

The changes in audience behavior we’ve been talking about here are all things that commercial “content” makers are also addressing. I’m not sure they have any better answers than we do yet.

From my travels around the county I think he’s (mostly) right: these conversations are suddenly taking place, and not just in the creative arts. And everyone’s groping and guessing for clues, let alone answers. I say “mostly,” however, because there are still a few world-is-flat types who are putting their hands over their ears, intoning, “I cannn’t HEARRRRR YOU!” And too many of them are working in the music business. Oh, wait, I forgot: The world IS flat again….

We Can’t Rewind, We’ve Gone Too Far

Yes, there have been a lot of silent days at the RoeDeo lately, but not for lack of anything to say; been busy lately in some computer-less pursuits, such as constructing the new World Wide HQ. Lots to post about, but to Break The Silence, let me point you to a fascinating conversation going on over at called Engaging Art: A Public Conversation, timed to coincide with the upcoming American Symphony Orchestral League conference in Nashville, and with a new book called Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America’s Cultural Life. Some deep thinkers involved in the group blog, including some names found in the blogroll to your left, as well as some utterly fresh and frothy (to me anyway) personalities. Like Vanessa Bertozzi, who in her first post taught us about Steampunk. And the Hewlett Foundation’s Moy Eng. And Molly Sheridan of NewMusicBox and, who writes (in part) in a provocative post called What if Video Saved The Radio Star?:

I‘ve been wondering if we’re getting carried away by this “broadband is changing everything” supposition. I’m under 30. Too old for Facebook, perhaps, but young enough to have made my only career out of online content delivery. Yet I still buy tickets to real plays, museums, and concerts, even if I make the purchase online because I followed a link from flavorpill.

If the little sphere I walk around in indicates anything, the technology isn’t dictating a drastic overhaul in what artists want to create or cultural consumers want to experience at the base level–no fundamental truths about the human condition have been nullified by the clips posted on YouTube. (Yet, anyway.) What current circumstances are forcing is a massive overhaul in access. Right now, you can go back and experience that video whenever you want, whether or not MTV ever broadcasts it again. You can adapt it. You can see what they’re doing to it in Japan.

In the chaos this explosion is currently creating, the traditional institutions that will step to the fore are the ones willing to truly learn the language and concentrate on how they can grow and position themselves to lead the pack. Because yes, after years of massive domineering corporate control, maybe we’re a little punch-drunk on the power that we’ve gained to create and promote the art we love, regardless of the $$ potential.

Creative culture is more a part of the everyday lives of Americans because they are being encouraged to create. Isn’t this what we wanted? But so far it still takes a name like Will Ferrell to make it profitable online. No matter how great access to 6 billion options sounds, we’re paradoxically on a hunt for the cream and access has made us very tough critics. This is where our established institutions can take their street cred and step into the fray.

Besides being a bang-on observation, Molly’s post (since I followed all the links) pulled up from within the deep recesses of the RoeDeo brain the original pre-MTV version of that song, which got a lot of college-station and alt-rock airplay Back In The Day…by the now-long-forgotten Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club.

Haven’t heard the original in decades, (Thomas Dolby, interestingly, played keyboards in the band) but as I recall it was a lot more earnest, better sung, and a lot less gimicky than the subsequent Buggles version (a/k/a On a more substantive basis, more on the Engaging Art thread as it develops…