Culture Geek 2017

Read Katie Moffat's round up of this year's Culture Geek conference...

The last 12 months we have seen some monumental political changes, both at home and overseas and many of the related firestorms that swirled around events like Brexit and the American election were fuelled by the internet. Never has the human race had so many tools and platforms with which to organise, share and communicate. But, take open access and add in individuals and groups with strongly held and opposing views, and you have an explosive situation. As a result, the internet these days can seem an angry place, with groups from opposite sides of the fence lining up to shout each other down. It can be easy, against this background of negativity, to forget about the incredible power of the internet to also spread positivity. The CultureGeek conference, which this year took place on Friday 19 May in London, flies the flag for individuals and organisations who use digital tools to engage and inspire audiences, to stimulate and to fundraise.

Kimberley Rose Drew is the social media manager at The Met in New York, she is also the creator of the popular tumblr on black contemporary art. The opening keynote of a conference brings a certain level of expectation and Kimberly more than met those expectations. An articulate speaker with a passion for arts and culture, she talked about her career path to date and what she sees as the function of the role she has at The Met; opening up the collections to a wider audience and putting a face to an organisation that to non-attenders probably appears as an intimidating behemoth. She stressed the importance of access for all and discussed how the internet helps to make that feasible. It is clear that Kimberly, who is still only in the early stages of her career, has a bright future ahead of her - certainly one to watch.

Continuing the theme of the democratising power of the web, Will Stanley, Senior Communications Officer at the Science Museum talked about running their Kickstarter campaign, which raised over £50,000 to rebuild Eric the robot - the UK's first robot. For the arts and culture sector, crowdfunding opens up new possibilities for revenue generation but raising money this way is certainly not the easy option - 14% of Kickstarter projects don't receive a single pledge. At CultureGeek, Will shared his advice for anyone considering trying to fundraise this way and aside from the great practical tips, the key point is to ensure you have a great story to tell. Essentially, you need to ask yourself, why should people care about your project?

Over the last few years there has been much discussion in performing arts about the potential for live streaming as a means to help organisations reach a new audience. Often this relates to performances but for a dance or theatre company, rehearsals can provide rich material for viewers. Tim Wood, Marketing Director at Rambert used his speaker slot to share what Rambert have learned having run two all day live streaming sessions from the rehearsal room, the first in 2015 and another last year. Their original inspiration was the Royal Ballet Daily Class (a nine-hour live stream by The Royal Opera House in 2012) that to date has racked up over 3.3million views on YouTube. Tim is a funny and engaging speaker who was honest about the lo-fi nature of their technical setup which resulted in at times, patchy audio and occasional odd camera cutaways. In many ways, he maintained, the rough-around-the-edges production values added to the charm of the finished product adding an authenticity that viewers seemed to appreciate. He also pointed out that you don't always have to add additional frills - such as commentary. In an increasingly frantic world, the rise in 'slow TV' (see the incredibly popular livestream of a Norwegian train journey or a two hour trip along UK canalways) is evidence that sometimes people value a viewing experience that is stripped down to its bare essentials. As Tim said, in the case of Rambert: "you never get bored of watching dancers spinning round and round".

At the other end of the spectrum of technical wizardry - Toby Coffey, Head of Digital Engagement at the National Theatre shared examples of their recent and forthcoming work in the area of Virtual and Augmented Reality and 360 video. They now have a "Storytelling Studio" a resource dedicated to exploring how new technologies can help them to create rich, immersive experiences for audiences. For example, when Wonder.land came to the National Theatre following its run at Manchester International Festival, the theatre created a separate VR film which was experienced by over 90,000 people - many more than were able to see the performance itself. Of course you have to be lucky enough to have the budget and resource to be able to create this kind of work but interestingly, the key takeaway from Toby's talk is that the technology always takes second place to the story. It has to enhance an experience, not be there for its own sake. Their latest production Draw Me Close reinforces this approach - with a laser like focus on story and character development as the primary driver of the project's development.

Digital tools represent two sides of a coin, on one side Facebook fake news and the marauding mobs of Twitter and on the other, a place of joy and creativity where artistic passions are nurtured and audiences are entertained and entranced. CultureGeek provides a welcome reminder of the power of the latter.

Katie Moffat, Head of Digital

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