Sadly #Shift Happens lost its way a little during the middle of day 2. A series of seemingly unconnected speakers trotted, galloped and occasionally lurched through their presentations making it feel like a series of sales pitches rather than contributions to an insightful, joined up debate. This was unfortunate as I felt fired up after the morning session. My notes dried up and I was beginning to wonder whether I was actually getting value for my £175.
Alternatives to Conference Bingo
Not everything was lost though as during the lull art works were created whilst several people joined in an online game of whose Ian Aspin. Alan Bennett, Johnny Ball and Alan Partridge were just a few of the suggestions! Lyn Gardener left about this time with a heartfelt plea – delivered appropriately enough via twitter – ‘Whats the point? Why does it matter? Good things for an artist to consider when they are making work’.
Wonderfully Back on track
Thankfully things began to pick up a little later in the afternoon. Alice Greenwald’s presentation (delivered with a little less underwater feel via skype from NY) about the National September 11 Memorial Museum moved many of us and in www.911history.org showed a really practical way in which digital tools were being used to provide information and artifacts. Its a site thats well worth the effort of exploring and which clearly demonstrated the next speaker Hannah Rudman’s four C’s ( content, curation, community and context). The digital planet , she said, needs excellent content Not every thing can be or should be digitised. A good starting place is your non core content – artist talks, post show interviews, workshops etc – and then move onto selected content which fulfils the four C’s. Its about increasing the access,reach, impact and value of live events and leaving a good quality legacy. She talked about how Ambition had used free tools such as Qik and Ustream but had rejected them for more middle of the market tools. Personally I’d liked to have heard more about the tools she’d had success with (remembering of course previous speakers pleas to use those tools creatively – as DK put it to Riff, Steal and Play).
Picking up on Hannah’s environmental theme Sian Alexander of juliebicycle.com shared tools and information on being digitally sustainable. Echoing DK again –(its cheaper, sexier and easier) – Sian talked about making the business case for sustainable, environmental improvements. So, for example, change a CD cover from plastic to cardboard and you save 95% of the emissions. Track your venues carbon footprint using smeasure and make the scientific case using this i phone app. (I agreed witha fellow twitterer Lorilei’s plea for an android version). I’m particularly looking forward to reading the research on the environmental impact of touring as its something I’ve been given quite a lot of thought to recently and may blog about in the near future.
Then came David Sabel (Head of Digital Media at the National) who didn’t quite fit with the environmental theme. The oft quoted NESTA research had shown that NT Live weren’t providing an alternative for audiences (don’t travel – see it at a cinema near you instead) but actually were finding new, world wide audiences –(previously Dave Moutrey had mentioned how 40% of the Cornerhouse users were from abroad something which is not uncommon on content rich sites – the Guardian is another example).
Sabel started describing the National’s own shift in the past year – the development of a new digital team. Previously digital work sat somewhere in the void between marketing, education and the exec tea. Now it is a 4 (nearly 5 strong) person team – but it’s a team that baulks at strategy. Things are changing so fast it makes no sense (Sabel argues) for long term digital plans – its all about trying things out, taking risks, being experimental, learning, re learning and unlearning.
So to NT Live – an ambitious project that was taken on when NT were sure they could do it well and make it sustainable.
Sabel recognised that the cinema experience is different to the live experience – but is actually equally valid. In a very different way many of the online followers of Shift happens talked about how much they had engaged with the event – here is one example tweet ‘@MarcusRomer …enjoyed it virtually through tweets & vicariously through friends. Hope you enjoyed it. Well done! #shifthappens’ which echoed an old blog post of mine about enjoying county cricket digitally here
What was making it work – the fact that people were seeing it on a big screen with fellow audience members – thus maintaining something of that theatrical DNA. Interestingly after the first NT Live Phadre NT were asked to show shots of the audience applauding so cinema audiences don’t feel ‘stupid’ for applauding themselves.
I was interested in how the thing was put together. NT hire all the kit in – hold two camera rehearsals and a test screening at the nearby BFI. There are between 4 and 7 cameras which absolutely get priority – but the audience attending know in advance they will be there.
And whilst some of the twitterati were quick to point out part empty cinemas (apparently my local Odeon in Colchester is one of the top five performers for alternative content) its clearly been a major success. As Sabel pointed out its about opening the walls of the theatre to an extra 50,000 people. He also noted how many of those 50,000 – even though physically remote from NT were being driven back to the NT web site which was beginning to embrace the principles Lyn Gardener had talked of in the morning – lively, reciprocal and outward looking. It means – said Sabel – that the National means something to people otherwise it wouldn’t be able to reach.
But one is left wondering what is the lo fi alternative for those of us without the resources of the National. Thats where the creative, playful use of tools come in I guess.
Ending with the Sublime
The day ended with the sublime and simply beautiful work of Jonathan Harris. You can view We feel fine here () and a video about I want you to want me here . Finally see the whale hunt here .Well worth the effort and a great way to end proceedings.
A perfect example of one of the underlining theme of Shift Happens – its not about digital. Its about creative people using digital tools.