Technology is the way forward for arts orgs in the Millennial age
playwright Gwydion Suilebhan on his blog, 10/1/12
We are living in a time of immense and painful transformation in the arts. All across the country, many of our biggest arts institutions are facing extinction. Meanwhile, artists have been totally marginalized. And at the same time, audiences are diminishing. Only the digital art forms are doing somewhat well...because almost all of our leisure time in America is spent at home watching television, surfing the internet, and playing video games. I believe all of these issues are related -- because the arts are an ecosystem... and an ecosystem is only healthy when the relationships between the elements that make it up are healthy. Right now, in America, that just isn't the case.
So what would make for a healthy arts ecosystem? It's not magic: it's the same thing that makes for healthy relationships everywhere: open, honest, two-way communication. Engagement between equally-respected partners. And part of what's been getting us there in the past few years -- and what's going to keep getting us there faster than anything else -- is technology. Technology has always up-ended the arts throughout history. With every evolution, technology changes not only how we express ourselves, but also (and more importantly) how we connect with each other. What we really need now is a major transformation of the entire ecosystem: one that helps arts institutions complement their role as cultural curators and stewards of our shared artistic history ... with a role as platforms that are focused on empowering direct creative engagement between artists and audiences.
We need institutions to become, at least in part, service organizations less focused on the personal creative visions of their leaders and more on the needs and experiences of their constituents. Ultimately, this transformation is really just a big generational shift: from the Greatest Generation, who had enough faith in centralized institutional power to build arts organizations in the first place; to the Baby Boomers, who started to question that centralized authority and erode the foundation of institutions; to Generation X, which totally lost faith in the ability of institutions to provide real value; to the present day, the Millennials, who are actually ready to believe in institutions again... but only the ones that help them express themselves. They're looking for platforms they can stand on, not mountains to stand in the shadow of. Millennials are the future, and the arts institutions that start orienting themselves to the Millennial age will stand the greatest chance of surviving long-term. Because while artists and audiences will always survive, because making and interacting with art are fundamental parts of being human, institutions are vulnerable. We don't watch plays in the same places we watched them in fifty years ago, and we might not watch them in the current institutions fifty years from now. In the ecosystem of the arts, institutions have to adapt and evolve or die.