Spiderman and digitalization in the arts

Vlad Cotuna, 23 Jahre

I’ve found out that Peter Parker was Spiderman and not the other way. I’ve found out that he is human and that he also has human limits. This is exactly what I discovered when I reached my limits at preparing and cutting the interviews I made for the Karajan Music Tech with the JungeReporter group. It was an overwhelming and educational experience for my career trajectory and my life too. Initially I’ve found it challenging that the conference was transformed into a videoconference because of the current pandemic. It was for me much more exhausting due to the fact that I am not trained at all in videoconferencing. Moreover I was not skilled at all in working with video editing programmes but I was able to extract some tips and tricks from the helpful people around me – around in a virtual sense of course.

„Who will survive and rise?” is one of many questions Clara Radunsky asks the participants in a virtual Zoom – room at the Karajan Music Tech conference.  This question is not only concerning the current existential crisis known under the name of Coronavirus but also affecting the  art sector especially the opera houses in Austria.

Despite the advance of technological innovations and the rapid change of environment during the last years the core of the opera concerning performance and using the available technological utensils remained the same. “If this does not change”, Radunsky remarks, “the opera will end up as a museum object for tourists.”  But what and who is the problem and how could that be changed?

The main problem and solution at the same time: Artist Managers

In a pre-conference interview, Clara Radunsky gave me a little insight on one of these issues. “The task of an artist manager did not change at all during the last 20 or 40 years. The tools that are used are still very old fashioned. Most of the artist managers work with paper calendars and phones. It is mostly paper-based and people-based and they are working only with their reknown network.” Opening up and using current technologies would not only guarantee the survival of arts in crisis’ like this but also create a feeling of togetherness between the artist managers. Showing transparency would mean sharing the data of an artist, a performance etc. But that would also mean, Radunsky explains, that the Artist Managers would have to share their networks with other mangers and stop promoting their own work. Creating new digital business models also means recruiting diverse staff members and teams with a variety of technological and technical backgrounds. “In other words, you have to invest if you want to keep up.” Opening up would also mean to get out of this bubble and try to attract other groups of individuals who are not familiar with the opera and in general with classical music. “And this is where technology and online branding come into play. Artists will have to put exemplary videos of themselves on different platforms to give the user an impression about their style of performance.” Radunsky entitles this as “user – centric”.

It is very obvious that the new technological era is offering institutions a lot of possibilities of connecting artist with users, be transparent and tighten the relationships between the artist managers. Nonetheless, this model remains in the current state a utopian one and even after most of the institutions implementing these questions again would have to be asked: How can the manager, artist, institution and user cope with the giant flood of information, considering that we live in a fast world? Even if it sounds Darwinian: Who will indeed rise and survive? What about the other contemporary art institutions with a precarious financial background? Radunsky’s message came across and was thought-provoking to the virtual listeners. Especially after finishing her lecture, she put questions in the forum, concerning the future of the opera in relation with the digital business models that afterwards caused a havoc of opinions in the virtual Slack rooms.

The conference itself was fascinating and odd at the same time. There were for example people like Jeff Burton or Maya Ackerman who are illustrious personages in their domain, sitting with you in a virtual room in the Slack App, liking and commenting your posts.  It seemed like personal barriers vanished totally and everyone talked to anybody like if they would have known each other for a long period of time. The environment was unexpectedly warm and familiar. Although I think that the execution of the conference in a digital one was brilliant, I nevertheless noticed a few things that are in need for improvement. On the one hand the presentations or some of them seemed rushed, for instance many talkers concentrated to much on the time frame, to finish their presentation on the 30 minutes mark. Before the beginning of the presentations, their biographies were skimped, and also on the official website of the institute their curriculum vitae were confusing. For newcomers like me who used Slack the first time in their life, it was in terms of information very overwhelming. I feel that an extra introduction to Slack would have helped me to better cope and digest this flood of information coming towards me. And yet, for taking place the first time I think that the JungeReporter workshop experience was a unique and positively overwhelming experience that provided me with both valuable information, journalistic techniques and equipped me for my next participation in a digital conference. After acquiring the new skills I learned, I felt again like Spiderman, full of power. But we all have to keep in mind and follow Uncle Ben’s words: “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.“