Technology in the arts: Idiocy or ingenious?
A few years ago, I was chatting with one of our longtime museum volunteers about how technology has made finding information on any subject as simple as typing a phrase into Google. Gone was the need to open a book or talk to an expert to learn.
Her frank opinion of these advances: “We’re raising a generation of idiots,” she said.
To some extent, I agree with her, like when I hear a “Johnny B. Goode” ringtone interrupt a performance of a Bach Concerto. And yet, technology has also extended the reach of cultural organizations beyond a gallery or concert hall.
For example, the Lawrence Academy of Music Girl Choir livestreams one concert per semester.
Karen Bruno, Lawrence Academy of Music director, says, “I’m grateful that we can livestream as it has allowed far-away family members, parents in military service and alumnae the opportunity to participate as audience members.”
When musicians travel to perform, like the Fox Valley Chorus did recently in Las Vegas, the event hosts streamed their performance.
Shirley Mercier, membership chair of the chorus, said, “Many people back in the Fox Valley appreciated being able to watch the livestream.”
While livestreaming a sculpture positioning in a gallery most likely would draw a small audience, visual arts organizations have been using digital technology to present art through new channels as well.
In Appleton, you can see the ACREofART exhibition of 10 sculptures installed in the downtown and riverfront districts. Not only can you see the sculptures, but you can go beyond the obligatory, hand-on-the-chin, “that’s interesting” pose and learn about them by using an arts tour application. Once you are in the app, you will hear artist statements and follow a map to find other sculptures throughout the city.
In Neenah, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass just completed a two-year collection digitization project. With the help of a grant from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, the museum staff photographed approximately 25 percent of the 4,200 objects in the collection, which means they processed more than 7,000 images and moved information from a card-catalog format to a searchable digital database.
All of this work improves staff efficiency, helping the museum remain relevant in a world with rapidly-changing communication. Beyond benefits to in-person guests, digitization also enables the staff to reach a worldwide audience though the Google Arts and Culture project.
Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass was invited to join the Google Art and Culture project five years ago and has since added high-resolution images of more than 1,100 of its objects to Google’s database. Virtual visitors can explore world-famous institutions from across the globe, research art movements, artists, mediums and even create their own exhibitions. Most important, people can share the discoveries with their friends.
As more arts organizations use digital technology to connect with their audiences, I disagree with my friend’s idiot theory. While there is no at-home substitute for the wonder, awe and social connectivity you’ll experience at a performance or in a museum, digitally sharing the arts proves an evolutionary channel for reaching people where they are.