It’s Probably Not a Tech Bubble, But There’s an Increasing Need for Traditional-Digital Cultural Partnerships

On Techvibes we’ve spoken of how educational institutions have struggled to keep up with the times. It has become increasingly clear that digital subculture knows no leaps or bounds. The divide between the traditional worlds and the digital ones are increasingly apparent.

Perhaps this is nowhere more evident in the newsroom as I pointed out in a recent article. It’s not that surprising come to think of it—the tech world goes against the conservative nature of Canadians with all the insane buyouts, mergers, and valuations.

The reality is that media is a business as well. We have seen that with the fall of the newspaper over the last decade or so. It could very well be non-existent in the next decade or two as Knowlton Thomas recently pointed out.

Mashable’s Pete Cashmore was named to Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List. Arianna Huffington won a Pulitzer Prize for The Huffington Post. Meanwhile, CNN is in disarray, having lost half of their viewers in a year as the digital world keeps on flipping the media world upside down.

There is evidence that unlike the turn of the new millennium that we are not in a tech bubble this time around. John Hobday in the Stratford Report asks if Canadians are ready to form a much-needed cultural digital partnership. An example of this current cultural anarchy is in federal Canadian politics where the Conservatives continue to try to appease to their traditional base. The NDP have emerged to tie them in the polls since last year’s election.

Hobday references a 1987 report on the Canadian arts commonly referenced as the M.A.P report. It concluded that programs in arts administration were not properly institutionalized within Canadian universities. As a result, existing programs rely extensively on practicing arts managers who for the most part have no formal training in teaching.

Further, one of the other problems outlined in 1987 was the failure of those involved in the art world to recognize artistic institutions as those that must be run like businesses in order to survive financially. Many institutions have failed since. Hobday mentions the continued challenge of financial success for artistic institutions.

Some universities and colleges do have brilliant technical arts programs that blend with business options. Those are notable exceptions. But for the most part a general arts degree at a Canadian university does not come with the required knowledge one needs to enter the workforce in an increasingly technical and underfunded arts world.

Hobday says a 2007 Ipsos Reid survey was done on behalf of the Cultural Careers Council of Ontario. It stated that the expenditure of funds on staff training was on average a $43 annual investment by not-for-profit and heritage organizations.

The fundamental problems within the artistic culture and the business culture were never solved twenty-five years ago according to Hobday. It is young Canadians who are suffering today, oftentimes standing in an unemployment line. As a result, there is an abundance of technical positions because Canadians lack the required skills to do these jobs. You could say that the unemployment rate in many technological fields is close to zero percent.

Hobday doesn’t shy away from saying that young Canadians will most certainly have the choice of an increasingly broad range of jobs in the arts. However, investment must be made in youth. Compensation and an opportunity to grow is required for those entering the arts world.

The current state of the arts world in regards to employee progression has a lack of ability to achieve success and promotion. That inevitably saps enthusiasm.

And when the enthusiasm goes, so does the cultural institution. Hobday says that it has gone largely unnoticed how often a prolonged period of great artistic success has occurred when there has been strong and stable management in place.

Hobday further argues for arts as a business: “I believe that the disinclination to think of arts organizations is also a factor. For example, there still seems to be a real aversion to using business terms such as ‘product,’ ‘consumers,’ or ‘customer relations.’”

He continues: “Whether acknowledged or not, even our largest performing arts organizations and institutions are in the business of selling tickets and derive considerable revenue from doing so. They are essentially high-risk micro enterprises … I recognize that the idea of having to reallocate resources to place an emphasis on strengthening the business side is likely to be divisive.”

In 2012, Hobday hopes that the threat of further government cuts will lead to an increasing necessity to give cultural managers the proper technological tools, resources, income, and education. This will have to come from a different source of funding such as the business world. Corporate Canada currently invests a lackluster amount in the arts.

A growing digital culture should enable the will of cultural managers to explore the new opportunities afforded by technology. It should happen given that we are reaching a tipping point between traditional and digital. It will only happen, though, if the current stakeholders embrace the exceptionally creative people in the digital sector. Together, Hobday believes the blending of traditional and digital resources could lead to both traditionally and digitally creative people helping each other find solutions to challenging problems.

And it does start with those responsible for arts management programs at Canada’s colleges and universities. He believes that government also has a role to play in ensuring the organizational and financial health of grant recipients.

Hobday concludes: “Surely a comprehensive map that draws ideas from Canada’s creative cultural community and our equally creative digital technology expertise could provide us with the guide that is needed to ensure the economic and social prosperity that will benefit all Canadians.”

Despite overwhelming divisiveness, the best way forward has clearly become for digital and traditional to work together.