Thursday, December 4, 2014

Essay: Jacob Niedzwiecki on the future of artists and arts organizations, Part II

“Build no more fortresses, build railways.” Part II
by Jacob Niedzwiecki
(reprinted with permission)
Performance photos by Vish Hansa, featuring the cast of Jacqueries, Part 1

Live performance is now a premium product — or even more of one
We’re putting on live performances in the age of mechanical reproduction. When 'free' is the default price point, even a fringe show becomes a premium product. For indie organizations and companies that run close to their communities, this is only a small bump up the ladder. But organizations who were offering a premium product are now offering an elite product. They need a strategy to avoid creating a price umbrella. They need an affordable on-ramp for aspirational consumers and potential audience members. And they need to pay time and attention to social issues to keep their image positive. Cheap, high-reach activities like livestreams can help all types of organizations. Large organizations can use second companies or chamber groups as ‘flanker brands’, with the potential to negotiate contracts more amenable to reaching extramural audiences.

Market the pain points
The conversation that is taking place right now around fair compensation for musicians is highly visible and vital. Get into it. If you’re a company, stop complaining about your unions and start marketing the fact that you pay a living wage. You are sweatshop-free. You are cruelty-free. You are made of artists and they are not starving to death! This is an historic achievement, and it’s worth trumpeting.

You are made of artists
The evolution of unions / professional associations in North America has resulted in adversarial relationships with management. Of all sectors, arts organizations should be able to find common ground and common goals. If you’re an administrator or a union rep, and you’re not looking at how work structures in Germany, Japan, or parts of the U.S. help maintain flexibility and encourage mutual trust and collaboration between workers and management, please…buy a farm, raise some sheep — follow your passion, but quit your job, because you’re hurting us all.

Force projection and amphibious works
There is a small contemporary dance troupe from Australia that has more lifetime YouTube views than the National Ballet of Canada. This is an example of what military types would call 'force projection' — a large ensemble does not automatically translate into global influence. If you are creating work for live performance, you need to figure out how to project that work into an online environment in a way that maintains its creative integrity. Video trailers are the starting point, not the end; don’t try and use online to market the work locally. Try to make a compelling experience for an extramural audience, and use online tools to make sure it also reaches locals. The goal is creative works that can have a life in both environments — amphibious works.

Force projection part II: long live the new flesh
The fastest way to success in Canada is to be successful somewhere else. Culturally, we trust external validation. Traditionally this meant touring, but work for extramural audiences can be a much more accessible route. For me, this meant moving sideways from performing into making dance films and interactive works, rather than focusing on live works right away. Video tours cheaply, lives happily online, and offers more opportunities to travel and connect with presenters and audiences.

Every live performance project in this city should answer the question, “Can our audience be bigger than the people in the room with us?” Sometimes the answer might be no, but if the answer is 'yes' or 'maybe' or 'probably, but how?' or 'absolutely, but how do we cover the costs?', that’s a win. I want to help those projects reach that extramural audience, and work harder on capacity building and knowledge sharing across the sector, making technical resources available to creators at all scales. F/ has some concrete programs to this end that are being announced soon. This is way more than livestreaming: this is planning for extramural audiences from the very beginning of the creative process. Maybe your play can also thrive online as a webseries. Maybe your dance work can be visually annotated for interactive viewing. Or maybe (as in the case of Jacqueries) your work can use that technology to provide an otherwise impossible live experience.

The parallel endeavour to projecting Toronto-based work in a tech-mediated form is to convene an audience for it. The artist RM Vaughan once released a series of buttons that said, “Please stop talking about New York.” New York’s legend as a hotbed and incubator for culture persists even as its actual influence and activity wanes. How about a very Canadian request: “Please start talking about Toronto?” I would love to assemble a cabal of curators, marketing & development professionals, and artists to figure out how to build a global extramural audience for this kind of amphibious work — works that can live both in the flesh and online.

Read Part I of this series
Read Part III of this series

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.