Hi, My Name is Len and I’m an Art Geek

To be a geek is one kind of isolation, although one that’s improved in status considerably since the word mainly meant a wild man whose act usually included biting the head off a live chicken, bat or snake. To be an artist or active in the arts is another kind of isolation, not uniformly positive–consider the term “artsy.” I enjoy both these ways of being at the edge of the mainstream, but I very rarely get to enjoy standing there with 120 others. That’s why I’m having such fun at the Technology in the Arts conference in Pittsburgh, convened by the Center for Arts Management and Technology (CAMT) at Carnegie Mellon.

I live-Twittered during the sessions yesterday, and my Twitter friend Cathryn Hrudicka suggested shifting to a blog resources post. Excellent suggestion, Cathryn! So here are some highlights:

The Art of Second Life. David Dombrosky, who is moving from the Southern Arts Foundation to succeed Cary McQueen Morrow as executive director of CAMT, was scheduled to be on this panel, but was unable to attend. I had heard him talking about his Second Life explorations on CAMT’s excellent Technology in the Arts podcast, and was looking forward to meeting him. The other panelists were Nettrice Gaskins of the Massachusetts College of Art, Lauren Lamonica of Millions of Us, and Brian Newman of Re:New Media.

Lauren told the inspiring story of how the young creators of the Four Eyed Monsters movie used Second Life and other social media to gain an audience of several hundred thousand for their film. She took the risk of doing a live demo of Second Life, and sure enough, the SL artist she was planning to talk with, Filthy Fluno, didn’t show up. Another risk: someone might show up from your live audience, which is what I did, using my laptop from the side of the room. Hercules Randall landed at Millionsofus and sent a few text chat messages to Lauren’s avatar, including “Call on that guy sitting over there on the side; he has a good question to ask.” She took it in stride, but I realized the next time I do a live SL demo it could happen to me, and it could be a “griefer” making this more than interesting.

Nettrice, who teaches students in a SL classroom, had this bit of advice: don’t do anything in Second Life that you can’t do in real life. Otherwise, you’re missing the potential of the medium. She had a band of her real life students milling about in a SL room. She said her students are more open with critiquing artwork in SL than RL, and they are completely comfortable with the interface. The future of education?

The MacArthur Foundation is doing a year-long investigation of philanthropy in virtual worlds. Millions of Us from time to time makes its handsome New Globe Theatre available for nonprofits. In response to that Tweet I received a message from Drew Stein, CEO of Involve that they “launched a non profit initiative last quarter to help non profits best use SL and partner them with corp spnsrs.” (That, BTW, was a good example of the joy of live Twittering, to get a response from outside the conference on content that I was sharing.)

MIT’s Technology Review has an article on Google Earth and Second Life. Harvard has a course on cyberlaw in Second life.

Social Networking and the Arts. Alan Levine, chief officer of the Kennedy Center, gave a useful big picture on social networking, but he irritated me with a flip and uninformed dismissal of Twitter. He surfed to the Public Timeline of Twitter, which showed he’s not using it himself, and said something like, “can you believe someone would sit all day and watch this?” I raised my hand and suggested that the real value of Twitter is gathering people to follow who are smart and can point me to fascinating ideas and links, a sort of human RSS feed. I did not mention that I was live Twittering his session and sparking Tweets from fellow cultists sharing my indignation.

To his credit, Levine is trying to get the Kennedy Center to include reviews of patrons on its site, but so far the forces of status quo prevail. A guy in the audience said, “that’s like telling people they can’t talk about the show while they’re standing in the lobby.” This looked to me like a classic example of how far the arts have to go before we really take advantage of social networking and connections with audience.

Open Source Tools. Sarah Schnadt, webmaster of the Chicago Artist Resource, and Heather Joy Helbach-Olds of the Artist Trust in Washington state, sang the praises of Drupal as a way to design effective web sites. Sarah also talked about ArtistLink in Boston, also done with Drupal. The Chicago site was impressive, but too orange for my taste and that of Twitterer Stephen E. Streight who Tweeted, “Bro, those bright orange glarings burned my retinas. I’ll be sending you the eye doctor bill. Penetrated my sunglasses even!” George Shoemaker of the Utah Arts Council, sitting next to me, pointed me to a well-done Silicon Valley arts resources site, Artsopolis.

Three excellent general resources for nonprofits using Open Source: TechSoup, IdealWare, and NTen.

Keynote Speaker. Jake Barton, founder of Local Projects, is simply amazing. He spoke to the whole group yesterday afternoon, showing various projects that use new media tools to tell collaborative stories and create uniquely potent new public spaces. Check out his web site for a feast of pleasures. A sample is a storytelling trailer highlighting miners in the Southwest.

He recommended a classic book on museums, Stephen Weil’s Making Museums Matter.

The room fell completely silent as Jake talked about his media work for the National September 11 Museum and Memorial. He said the site will be like a web page, constantly updated with real content from individuals involved or affected by the attacks.

After all this Art Geek inspiration, I ran into a kindred soul back at the Omni William Penn, Elizabeth Dunn, of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. We had a wonderful dinner together at the hotel, sharing many common experiences related to the travails of bringing the power of technology to arts organizations and artists. Turns out she’s also a Twitterer, naturally, and a blogger who knows how to write well about a subject I care about.

This took way longer than I had planned, so I’ll be racing out of the hotel to make the next session, Interactive Marketing with Web 2.0 . No time to doublecheck links or typing, so apologies for any errors. See you on Twitter!

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