Digital Literacies: Vancouver Arts LIVE!

As our final project for the senior seminar class during spring 2011, my project partner and I were assigned a task to develop a vehicle to deliver content produced for the local art organizations to a global audience via the World Wide Web, in a form of an internet TV, streaming, and on-demand services. In addition we also proposed to implement traditional and non-traditional elements of mass communication, such as cable access television, blogging, and social media sites to promote the cause. Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) became our partner in collaboration for making this project a reality. VSO is considered in the community as a major representative of the arts in Vancouver, Washington and it has a real-life marketing dilemmas in trying to broaden their target audience to a larger diapason of audience (age demographics between 20 to 50). This provided us with a real-time set of issues that are also extend beyond the VSO as a single local arts organization.

To demonstrate the achievement of the course goals, I believe it is important to show how the problem was perceived through understanding of culture, various medium environments, and show project syntheses behind its final form and multimedia context.

After a few meetings with the client it became apparent that the issue of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra spills over the organizational boundaries and broadens itself within the entire community of Vancouver. One factor became obvious through the personal observation. Another became depended on a set of marketing strategies and goals for the organization and organization’s willingness to make this project a reality.

The apparent factor is the lack of modern approach that entails immediate delivery of the content, and instant feedback from the audience. Vancouver’s lack of the modern approach and sometimes overly traditionalist point of view for the performing and visual arts, as well as the lack of collaboration amongst the local arts organizations has multiple causes. Most of those causes are too broad to list, but the one is worth of our attention. This issue may have a global tendency where local arts suffer from a geriatric stagnation, generated from the lack of teaching the arts appreciation in K-20 and limited interest for youth to sit at a “boring” old-style performance. The cause for that to change may be the advancements of the digital technology in the 21st century that promotes multi-sensory, multi-media entertainment, that is immediate and reflective, and that is almost viral in its nature.

The era of digital creativity, multifaceted performances, Cirque du Soleil and the Black Eye Peas makes it nearly impossible for the local arts to compete with the globally popular digitally enhanced art forms. Local arts have hard time modernizing themselves, once again, due to the variety of reasons, two of which very well may be the financial instability due to the low funding and lack of audience participation, and digital divide as a factor of access to digital technology, demographics, location and more. The result is the loss of self-identity and the lack of audience participation. Such statement is not without proof. This could be easily confirmed by observing the crowds at the local concerts, gallery events and other local mainstream happenings in the community of Vancouver, Washington. Although the idea is there, the lack of modernity, appeal, and, consequently lack of unified voice to be heard by young audience must become the main concentration of the organizations and so of this project.

The types of audience and the styles of performance elements seem to be archaic form the get-go. While populations of Vancouver and Clark County grew in the 90s, the art organizations, for the most part, kept their old models of operation. Because of that entertainment industry in Vancouver suffers from a dying audience syndrome, in comparison to the other communities globally, and even locally, in Portland, Oregon. It may be due to the lack of understanding of digital culture and its influence on the local community. Today multimedia environments and multimodal communication are at the center of the interest.

Let us for a moment glance at the Oregon Symphony. It is easy to notice how radically different their website is in comparison to the Vancouver Symphony’s. Oregon Symphony’s social media sites and World Wide Web activity are talking to their audience and promoting their content to a wide range of ages and groups via the World Wide Web. Oregon Symphony is in social media world, they are mobile, and they are interactive. In today’s economy classical performance must embrace the digital culture in order to survive and prosper. I also believe the notion of how important it is to compare and contrast on a global scale the ability to not just communicate to-, but to interact with- the modern audience. Modern audience, including the generation of millenials, has portable computers, mobile devices, smart cars, high-speed internet, Wi-Fi, blue tooth, smart home electronics and other gadgets and widgets, apps and bells and whistles. They are plugged in, they want to know, they yearn to receive massive amounts of information. This needs to be embraced by the local arts organizations.

Another major factor contributing to the issues of Vancouver’s self-identity crisis and low audience participation is the close proximity and supposed business “rivalry” to Portland’s art community. But I would rather say it is “possessiveness” of the old rather than a healthy and nourishing “competition” and creation of the new. As a result, Vancouver and Clark County, Washington are put into a tough position; its talented, multifaceted cultural community bares the costs of the lack in participation and awareness, while having an enormous potential to prosper within its own underpublicized yet ridiculously rich culture.

In addition there is another contributor to the issue. Vancouver needs a revolutionary approach for access to the arts at hyperlocal level. Local news trucks are too busy and too expensive to run around to Vancouver from Portland in order to capture what really happens down here. On the other hand local public access organizations with their 30-year old stagnant infrastructures do not adequately cover local events.

This may sound like it is a time for a cultural revolution in Vancouver, Washington. Vancouver is hypothetically in the year of 1917 for the local arts. The art community does not know how to self-reinvent and become modernized, while the audience does not want to see the same old thing again, therefore, the void is created. This is where the Vancouver Arts LIVE comes to play. If Vancouver Arts LIVE is successful it would be able to fill in this niche, it may very well establish itself as a local organization, distributing arts content to the public on a global scale.

According to the blog of the National Association of Broadcasters entitled “The Future of TV,” the global tendencies show that the future of TV lays not within a established, royal editor-driven media conglomerates, but within the local people, and community organizations of local citizen journalism effort to promote hyperlocal content captured at high quality, and catered to the audience free of charge.

The digital technology of today brings in the next-generation encoding solutions for streaming and VoIP (Video over Internet Protocol) network services that can effectively deliver local content to a global audience, thus overcoming the challenges of access and increasing reporting and live event broadcasting capabilities.

The advent of Web 2.0 conversational communication, instant feedback, VoIP, high volumes of highly compressed data and increasing bandwidth capabilities, make it possible to revolutionize the way we communicate. A two-way communication with the audience becomes immediate, hyperlocal, and interactive, creating content aimed locally but distributed globally.

In this senior seminar project, not only the digital communication is promoted but also the delivery of content is enhanced through a multi-conduit, multi-modal distribution of the content to the audience abroad, not just in a concert hall setting but also over the World Wide Web. It is not just one thing anymore for a classical concert hall performance; it is also a mix of performances and interbreeding of visual and performing arts, with the digital technology. Today’s intermissions must be entertaining as well and should involve audience participation. This is where the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is ahead of its “rivals” – a personal touch during the intermissions. The audience is able to communicate with the orchestra members right at the lobby, socializing at the eye-to-eye level. Vancouver Arts LIVE took this very idea and made it digital. The wide ranges of multiple elements that cater to the interests of all audiences on a personal level create participatory culture.

With that in mind, it was our project’s goal to address these issues of limited resources, limited audience, lack of unified direction for the art community, and introduce current digital technologies to the community, promoting arts in Vancouver, Clark County area of Southwest Washington. Proposed tasks were to promote Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, as our client, help updating print program layout, and produce several live and on-demand pieces. The live broadcasts of local events, on-demand and featured artist pages generated a proof of concept for the Vancouver Arts LIVE as an Internet TV site, utilizing a network of social media sites to promote and advertise local arts and converse with a global audience.

A partnership between Vancouver Arts LIVE project and VSO was mainly focused on building this model of communication with the audience that would become interested in the content and engage in participation. This model is not unique and other communities already have something similar at place. After some research, we found a few organizations with similar goals. Such organizations are: Tampa Ba Arts Channel, Seatlle’s King FM Arts Channel, Ovation TV among many others. However, considering the size of local population, Vancouver, Washington, nor Portland, Oregon, have anything similar established locally in our area. This provides an opportunity, a niche for the Vancouver Arts LIVE to potentially become that vehicle of delivery with its mission to promote arts.

In terms of the audience, as a non-profit organization, the VSO struggles with limited resources to serve the community of classical music patrons. In order to move forward into the future and utilize the Vancouver Arts LIVE as a tool compiled of emerging technologies and embed this into a business model. VSO must diversify its audience, to promote expansion of its membership and its donor base, and help itself stay afloat. The emphasis is placed on today’s younger generations, and active members of the community.

Our objectives became clear. A synthesis of tools creating this digital home for the arts community and promoting unified identity for the Vacnouver’s arts, in order to establish access to the audience of young and active adults. Passionate and interested youth is the important factor of the community’s engagement into arts.

Local arts ambassadors, such as VSO, can use Vancouver Arts LIVE to educate and promote awareness for the arts in Vancouver, Washington and to advocate for the performing arts on behalf of Mozart, Bach, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky to the today’s digital generation. As a result, a bridge is formed over a generational gap, to promote engagement and participation from the community at large, and consequently enrich local culture.

Methodology was rather simple. A website was built with integrated so social media features to promote the cause and create a form of service. This content holder then began to fill up with production. The website synthesized several applications to work in unison to spark the audience participation and deliver videos via live-stream and on-demand, independent from social media live chat room, along side with the facebook feedback embeds, ratings, featured local artists pages, share buttons, post categories and more. For streaming service we used Watershed USTREAM with its embeddable options and robust webcasting tools to capture and then archive content and track audience participation. In the future, perhaps such tool may be developed independently of the services.

Along the content delivery network (CDN) services our website and social media were designed with visual similarity throughout (logo, color palate, etc.) to keep visual consistency and become easily recognizable. Facebook and twitter served as the communication tools with the audience to connect with the public, hear their feedback, recruit artists, and create an on-line community of patrons.

YouTube became most economically and technologically sound social media solution as an alternative content delivery system free of charge, high quality, available to millions and most of all familiar platform to provide on-demand features, and archive content.

It became obvious to us that social media driven organization, such as Vancouver Arts LIVE, must be just that – social. Site that aimed at the community must be embeddable, sharable, free of charge and social in its nature; therefore, it was crucial for us to use the skills we’ve obtained throughout the Creative Media and Digital Culture program.

Language text and technology, digital multimedia authoring, digital diversity, and history of photography, fine arts and other topics of the Creative Media and Digital Culture Program provided a synthesis and foundation for developing Vancouver Arts LIVE. Appreciation of local history, arts and culture is an important factor in order to continue projects, such as this.

Vancouver Arts LIVE currently is a project and have not realized into a non-profit organization just yet. If that would happen, it would definitely be an asset to the community, by offering technologically advanced services providing rich, well produced, hyperlocal content to the community. Any local support and participation from a multiple layers of the community is needed.

In conclusion it would be safe to assume that this sort of idea, if put to work, could very well provide a great vehicle to inspire the audience and increase attendance and participation with the local art organizations, such as Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, art galleries, theaters, and other performing and visual art organization in the area. The potential lies within the abovementioned demographics, groups and patrons. Without a community, there is no community organization. Local art organizations need projects similar to Vancouver Arts LIVE to become a flagman for the culture and arts on hyperlocal level. This sort of niche may have a real chance to spark the interest and increase participation in the arts and culture to the level that Vancouver and Southwest Washington have never seen before.

Please contact Mikhail if you are interested in developing community media to promote arts and culture in Vancouver, WA.

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written by the Columbian staff writer Ashley Swanson