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Blogger Book Club III: Embracing the Chaos

By Molly Sheridan

Embracing the chaos of community means letting go of the need to plan everything and the fantasy that you can control any given situation. Instead of building up plans and structure, you should be building flexibility and environmental awareness into your campaigns. You need to be hyperaware of your surroundings and be able to tap into opportunities as they arise and that you never could have predicted.

–Tara Hunt, The Wuffie Factor

What’s the biggest secret you have?

Often when I speak with reticent artists/arts organizations about their online presence, a lot of their fears make them sound like presidential candidates about to appear on national television: I can’t talk about this, what if that person says that. And I have to wonder: Just what are they doing in there that, if every passerby on Central Ave. knew about it, would be damaging? Seriously, what’s the worst thing we could find out about you (and if it’s that juicy, maybe we should make a side project out of it)? What’s the outcome of professional transparency you most fear? Am I being naive here?

Which leads to another point (and a bit of a personal rant): the culture industry is not the military. There is no real reason to reinvent every website and social networking tool that comes down the pike, but I watch cultural institutions try to do just that over and over again. That may offer more control and precision, but why do we seek these qualities in this area of our work? Are those really our top goals when it comes to building bridges with our communities? Reinvention of the social wheel is expensive and counterproductive because it cuts us off from the larger community–the very thing most of us are combating in the real world. Few organizations are that interesting that a person would only want to play on their exclusive playground. We do not need Audiencer and PatronBook when in many cases the originals will server our purposes quite well if not exactly. The Metropolitan Opera may need a specialized ticketing system, for instance, but most of us probably could be using the simpler services that sell tickets to a lot of different events. A universal access point like this is important because people who may never have thought about coming to hear your symphony have the chance to stumble on the fact that you’re playing Berlioz next week and consider it.

This “let the experts work for you” course of action is also exponentially more cost effective and easier on overworked/inexperienced staff members. You don’t need to hire and coach and monitor a web developer to develop a specialized website that will showcase your activities: Just pick a template offered by WordPress and add the necessary plugins. Let their employees do the R&D sweating every time technology lurches forward again. Your audience will trust you because your materials will always feel up-to-date.

As Hunt outlines in the quote above, the online public square/marketplace requires flexibility and creativity that, as members of the so-called “creative class”, we should be uniquely positioned to excel at. It’s particularly suited to low-budget/no-budget operations with a dream and a message and personally invested staff members (even if that’s just you). If you actually have a few dollars to do what you do and are feeling protective, take a deep breath and peel a few fingers off the rope you cling to every day: You can do this well if you think about it. And as Hunt and Shapiro have extensively illustrated, the rewards are more than worth the risks. You can stay inside your box if you’d like, but that’s arguably an even riskier venture. Like it or not, we can’t stop: We’ve come too far.

Comments

  1. “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.” Henry David Thoreau
    Last month I finished an evening length score for a dance piece that ran four nights at the Ailey Theater here in NYC. All four nights were very well attended. The pre-performance publicity included an interview with the choreographer on WBAI, publicity in the NY Times, New York Magazine, and Time Out New York, as well as blasts via email and facebook from all of those involved with the show. I even maintained a blog to describe the rehearsal process and discuss how I was going about putting together the score.
    The first piece of music I brought to the dancers in the rehearsal process was composed very quickly with very little thought on my part. I was alone when I tracked it and mixed it and I played all of the instruments. The dancers flipped when they heard it, and it became a template for much of the final score. Now here’s my point…
    I wasn’t twittering, facebooking, and/or blogging when I wrote that piece. And if you asked me to explain how I created it, I couldn’t tell you exactly. It’s a mystery to me. And the piece still leaps out of the speakers at me whenever I listen to it.
    The process of composition is magical – I would even say spiritual. And I feel that this process can be seriously compromised when you attempt “share” it via these online tools. The medium of the blog or twitter can denigrate what is a profound experience and even – due to unnecessary outside influences – create a compromised piece of art. Instead of digging deep and “letting go of the rope” creatively speaking, an artist may try to please everyone or at least not make any waves (if I can mix my metaphors here…)
    I value the time I spend alone in part because I understand that those periods of isolation – where I’m not thinking about bills, music critics, lunch, etc – is crucial part of my creative process. My best work has always come out of time spent very much alone. And I don’t really see how I can get to it any other way.

  2. I completely agree, Chris. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook, for instance, but I know how they work, why they’re useful, and I understand what I might be losing in, um, whuffie, because I don’t want to devote the time to using them right now. It’s a choice that involved weighing multiple factors. But we can make these decisions about how and when we use such things, so the tools themselves need not be a source of anxiety and can be applied powerfully when they would be of great use. Unlike the digital natives, we’ve already made it through adolescence and have a pretty good handle (I hope) on what to share, when to share, and when to turn it all off.

  3. “Unlike the digital natives, we’ve already made it through adolescence and have a pretty good handle (I hope) on what to share, when to share, and when to turn it all off.”
    I agree, very well said. And this is another topic perhaps, but a lot of people a generation behind us do not understand the danger of posting personal information online where it can be accessed by not-so-nice people. Even college aged kids are kind of clueless about this.
    I’d like to point out that one of my favorite bands Einsturzende Neubauten recorded an entire album while broadcasting the process via a live Internet video feed to fans who signed up for the experience. Even Blixa Bargeld had good things to say about the experience. And EN’s music is about as uncompromising as it gets.
    Meanwhile my hero Bob Dylan griped not too long ago about iPods, the Internet, etc (he too quoted Thoreau), but his last album had a HUGE push via online services like Amazon and iTunes. And certainly his fans chat and compare notes via the Internet.
    It’s important to ask questions. Even to contradict ourselves. I think that’s part of my job description (as a composer).
    I have no problem with chaos. It’s homogeneousness that freaks me out.

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