Q&A: An interview with Andrew Taylor
published in Artsline, the newsletter of the graduate Arts Administration program at Drexel University, Fall 2005. Reprinted with permission.
According to marketingterms.com a blog or web log is defined as a frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and web links. People maintained blogs long before the term was coined, but the trend gained momentum with the introduction of automated publishing systems, most notably Blogger at blogger.com. Thousands of people use services such as Blogger to simplify and accelerate the publishing process.
ArtsJournal is a weekday digest of some of the best arts and cultural journalism in the English-speaking world. Each day ArtsJournal combs through more than 200 English-language newspapers, magazines and publications featuring writing about arts and culture.
Andrew Taylor is the manager of the Artful Manager on ArtsJournal.com, a blog that focuses on the business of arts and culture.
What urged you to begin the Artful Manager?
I’m a bit of a techno-dweeb, so I was fascinated by the blog phenomenon from when it started (not so long ago). It seemed to be an intriguing alternative to other forms of publishing — newsletters, journals, magazines, etc. — that resolved some of the issues I disliked about those media. I could write what I want, when I wanted to. I could focus on short little bits of thoughts rather than 2000 words or more. And I could publish instantly. Most other text media had way too many editors and gatekeepers, and took way too long to get ideas into the world (trade magazines can take a month or two from writing to publication, academic journals can take years).
About the same time, I began corresponding with Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal.com, who was also thinking of launching a blog section on his wonderful web site. We began corresponding. And through that collaboration, I was among the first batch of bloggers to join the fray on ArtsJournal.com.
What was your goal? What did you hope to accomplish with the blog?
Honestly, my only goal was to take the blog medium out for a spin. I learn best by doing. I like to write (in short bursts, mind you, not in long, scholarly prose). And I needed a place to store my random thoughts and connections about the business of arts and culture. The fact that people started reading the thing was a happy accident. The real goal would have been fulfilled if nobody ever came and nobody ever cared: it was a form of public journal for me to store my thoughts, and clarify what I thought I knew.
Do you think this blog is the best technique to reach your goal?
Sure. There’s nothing to match it in all my past publishing experience. I used to be a journalist and magazine editor. I’ve written for academic journals. So I’m familiar with most approaches. I suppose I could keep a personal diary, instead. But there’s little deadline pressure on a diary nobody will see, and no public scrutiny to make you be sure you’ve thought something through. Plus, the costs are minimal (i.e., zero), and it’s thinking I’m doing anyway as director of my MBA degree program.
How is the blog funded?
I’m paid nothing, and I pay nothing. Doug at ArtsJournal graciously provides me the web space and blog system to maintain and update my entries. I give him what he wants around ArtsJournal.com — personal perspective and context for his readers.
How many hits do you get per day? How many people actually comment?
It’s radically variable. I get about 500 ”page views” a day (a much more effective measure than ”hits,” which tends to be an inflated view of things), or 15,000 a month. On some days, I get over 1,000 visitors. As with all media, active comments are much, much lower…a few publicly posted comments a week, and a handful of e-mails directly to me.
What is it about this blog that makes it attractive to visitors?
Beats me. The wonderful thing about the cost structure and lack of gatekeepers is that I don’t have to care. I just write what I want to write, and people come or they don’t. There are no advertisers to please, as in magazines. There are no major foundations or funders to tip-toe around. There’s no academic editorial board to consider.
That said, I’ve been wonderfully surprised at the positive response. Perhaps there aren’t a whole lot of options in the world for this kind of public discussion of the business of art.
Is this your first experience with blogging? If not, where have you blogged before?
There really is no ”before” in the blog world. The term was coined in 1997, a few blogs launched in 1998, and about 23 of them existed in 1999. Today, Technorati, a blog search engine, tracks 20 million of them.
You are 1 of 14 ArtsJournal bloggers…what does that mean? Is it just about your affiliation to ArtsJournal or do you communicate amongst yourselves?
It means nothing more than ArtsJournal.com editor Doug McLennan thought we all had something interesting to say. It’s his party, and he invited us. He’s a smart guy, with a massive network of contacts in the field. It’s an honor to be among ”the chosen.” At the same time, there are hundreds of wonderful blogs hosted elsewhere, or launched by their authors. ArtsJournal.com is just one little dinghy in the ocean. But it’s a fun and fascinating group in the dinghy.
The group of us communicate to varying degrees. I happen to be in more frequent contact with Drew McManus and Greg Sandow, just because we tend to hover around the same issues, and have different opinions and perspectives on things.
Do you have any on-going relationships with commenters from your blog?
I’m hoping you mean professional relationships, otherwise…no comment. Seriously, I’ve met dozens of interesting people through my blog. And many among the readership have invited me into their conversations at conferences and roundtables and think-tanks. A wonderful aspect of the web is its ability to form and connect communities in tiny little niches. Arts administration, despite our collective hubris about the field, is a niche.
How do you think your blog has affected non-profit arts and cultural organizations today? In what way?
I honestly have no idea. I’ve heard from readers that a post or a link has led them to think differently about what they do, or discover a resource they didn’t know about, or share a thought with their boards or peers by forwarding it along. If that’s true, I’m flattered and astounded. I doubt I’m changing the world. But I’m changing some minds and connecting some dots that might not have been connected before. That’s pretty cool.
You direct an arts management program. Has your blog impacted your program in any way (increased enrollment, more discussion about cultural topics with students and faculty, etc.)?
I think my daily deadline to write something, to make a connection, to comment on an article or arts issue, has had a profound impact on me as a teacher, as a program director, and as a member of the professional arts and culture world. It’s led me to explore ideas I hadn’t clearly stated before. It’s caused me to question to the core what I think I know. It has put me in a conversation with a larger world than I had ever expected.
I’m guessing my students and my program benefit from that perspective. And I don’t think it hurts our national reach among those who are interested in that particular conversation.
But as I said at the beginning, all of that is gravy. The true purpose for me is entirely intrinsic. It’s my daily journal. It’s my morning mental calisthenics. If people read it and connect with a thought or two…bonus.
What do you think is the next step with the Artful Manager? And where do you see the blogging phenomenon going in the future?
The next step for my blog is more like 500 more baby steps. I’ve written just over 450 entries now, and every weekday morning I expect that the issues and ideas will have dried up. Thankfully, the interesting connections, articles, ideas, and individuals keep presenting themselves. I heard somewhere that a great chef isn’t judged by the first few meals he or she prepares, but by the quality of his or her 10,000th meal. If I can get to 1,000 entries and still feel engaged, and still see evidence that I’m engaging someone, I’ll be pleased and proud.
As for the blogging phenomenon, I only have wild guesses: I imagine there will continue to be a boom in the number and diversity of blogs, followed by an explosion in filtering and search systems (like Google Blogsearch or Technorati) to help us all wade through them, along with a commercialization of the blog space (corporate advertising and ”branding” blogs). Once the blogsphere becomes corporate and boring, some group of brainy people will evolve the technology into something equally infectious and surprising.
The arts industry has volumes to learn from the emergence of these communications and social systems. I’m having a blast just throwing myself at the opportunities to see what sticks.
Interview by Melissa Valvik
Andrew Taylor is the Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business. He is also the founder and president of Arts/Axis Consulting, serves on the board of the Association of Art Administration Educators, and is a consulting editor for The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society.