Vancouver Arts Summit: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences

This is a guest post by the Alliance's summer student, Angela Friesen. It is reproduced from her blog, The New Is The True.

I was lucky enough to spend the past two days at the Vancouver Arts Summit (thanks to my great summer job at the Alliance for Arts and Culture). The entire thing was outstanding, but yesterday was especially so. I went to a super fantastic (super tense) panel discussion on "new media, new tools, new audiences".

I've come to be pretty disenchanted with the term new media - to my mind there is no longer any such thing; it's not something separate from the way we live our every day lives. Everything we do is through "new" media -- plus what comes next? Do we get new new media when what we have now becomes old new media? Newer media? Terminology aside, the panel discussion was fascinating, due to the range of voices. At one end of the spectrum was Jerry Wasserman, who seems to have gotten into the internet out of necessity more than excitement, and still seems a little skeptical about the whole thing, and at the other was Kris Krug, who had more than enough enthusiasm about and faith in the digital world to get most attendees really excited about the possibilities that come along with expanding your online presence.

I could really feel the tension between the two perspectives - the traditional media who don't trust the internet vs. the younger users/creators who seem to have integrated it into every part of their lives - but that tension made me feel so connected to my love for technology and media and newness, and the fact that at its core all media, new and old, is about connection and learning.

Also on the panel were Miss 604's Rebecca Bollwitt, Vancouver Opera's Doug Tuck, The Georgia Straight's Brian Lynch, along with moderator Charles Campbell of The Tyee. There was so much going on and being said, so many different perspectives and values and concerns being voiced, that I'm sure if you talked to someone else an entirely different set of recollections would come to their mind, but here are the things that stuck with me:

  • How much energy in the room came directly out of Diane Ragsdale's keynote address. People were really inspired by some of her points, especially about making lateral connections across disciplines and the idea of an online concierge.
  • The fact that opera, an art form that is sometimes characterized (of course not by me) as stodgy, has been so ahead of the curve when it comes to using media and technology (check out the Blog and Beyond section of Vancouver Opera's website, which currently includes an Operabot Animated Video Contest).
  • Reminders that social media tools can be as high or low maintenance as you want them to be. If you have a blog, but are afraid of the time you (think you) would have to put into other social networking sites, automated processes make it possible to use sites like Twitter and Facebook with no effort beyond the initial setup, so every time you post a blog an update is automatically posted to your twitter, which in turn updates your Facebook. No, you probably aren't using these tools to the best of their abilities, but that doesn't mean they aren't creating value.
  • Likewise, etiquette is changing - the fact that someone follows you on Twitter doesn't mean that you have to have a deep relationship with them, or even respond when they comment on your posts. That said, a lot of people love having a closer connection to their audience.
  • Kris put forward some really practical tips for how to build (or build on) an online presence:
  1. Even if you're not ready to use them, register a domain name with your first and last name and/or the name of your project. Also register your name in social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc. so that this space is held for you if and when you want it, and doesn't get used by anyone else.
  2. Use an RSS feed and set up Google Alerts for your name and your project's name so that you can be aware of what is being said about you and where.
  3. Half of the value of your digital presence is based on the content you are presenting, while the other half is based on the tracks you make. Spend half of your time (and money) on your main site and the rest on creating tracks in the Internet - by this he means networking, commenting on other people's blogs and sites, posting to sites like Twitter and Facebook, and so on.

Weird fact: we all found out that Michael Jackson died because Kris was online during the session. Charles had just asked the question, "Where do you find information you trust online?" and out of nowhere Kris said something like, "Apparently Michael Jackson just died". I don't think I was the only one who thought it was some kind of test or demonstration, showing us that you can't trust everything you read. I then got two text messages in short succession both telling me the same thing. It was all a little surreal.

Today, to end the conference, the wonderful emcee (she had another word for herself, but I can't remember what it was... something french sounding*), Vanessa Richards, closed by thanking everyone, and then she brought it back to MJ. She talked about how powerful it was to be a kid and see Michael with the Jackson Five showing her that children could sing and do it with passion and energy - that being a kid wasn't restricted to Sesame Street. She talked about how sad she was when Michael first went solo, and how lonely he must have been throughout his life. Then she sang his first solo hit, Ben, because she thought its message was one that should be recognized and embraced by the arts community. I wish I could post a video of her singing, because I had one of those wonderful moments where my vision shifted, and everything aside from the performer and the performance was totally gone.

I was completely taken into that moment, which was a perfect end to two days of talk about arts; I got to get into that simple, profound, direct, moving, expansive experience that is the reason people make and see and do art. Since I can't post that, I will post Mr. Jackson, before it all came down around him, singing about connection.

* Editor's note: The word Angela is looking for here is raconteur, which means someone who tells stories with wit and skill. It is a French term derived from the phrase "to recount".

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