Thus far, we have gathered more than 150 pages of community input on Artse United’s vision for designing a cooperative digital future for managing the arts, including issues of “digital life”, “managing creativity”, “capturing insight”, “promoting justice”, and more in the visual, performing, and disability arts. In Part 2, we share emerging insights on the major barriers, practices, wants and needs for successfully managing creativity in the digital world. See Part 1 for insights on the digital life of Ontario arts workers.
Retaining quality human relationships and connections was expressed by participants as an important challenge, where “one-to-one human interactions are much more effective than digital”, “going digital often makes everything feel less real”, and “it will always come down to flesh and blood at some point”. Maintaining a positive balance between creation and administration was another challenge, where “learning and siloing admin practices are hindering creativity” and “communication time is eating into practice time”.
As in their digital lives more broadly (see Part 1), participants’ current arts management practices are seen as highly fragmented and overwhelming, where “my files are disorganized and scatter like cockroaches when I try to look a them”, “my (physical and digital) spaces look like a hoarder paradise….collect, collect, collect, but never use”, “I don’t get to do as much as I want (as an artist) because I have too much digital work to do”, “(I have) too much information to manage, especially marketing and profiling”, “I feel like I am always behind and missing opportunities”, “I still have not found an ideal practice for organizing my information”, and “my CVs are a confused mess, I forget, I omit, and eventually lose”.
Similarly, participants’ productivity in arts administration is suffering, where “I have still not found an ideal practice for organizing my information”, there is “too much manual data entry (and) redundant work”, manual data management processes are “heavy, time-consuming, and error-prone”, “too much time is spent looking through emails for information”, “updating old files to new standards is very difficult”, and “during grant season, those involved run all over the office looking for information on audiences, success metrics, and more”.
Accessibility and learning curves for using current digital tools is also seen as problematic, where for some “most familiar programs (i.e., Excel) are unfamiliar to me”, and specific needs for arts management software are not currently being met as “we are not the same as other industries”.
Best practices for managing creativity vary widely among participants, both artistically and administratively. Many wear multiple “artist”, “producer”, “manager”, and “other” hats with varying degrees of organization and digitization. The range spans widely from “everything is digital” and “everything is memory” (or “intuition, I keep it in my head”), to “I am half digital and half analog”.
Some participants have stopped using digital tools entirely (“I returned to pen and paper (no digital admin system) because all my work is customizable”), while others see the benefit of mixed practices (“I like the back and forth between analog an digital as it helps me organize in different ways”).
Some participants also feel it is “counterintuitive” to place any organization on “deeply embodied” creative practices. However, others are now “70% digital” in their creative practices, and the benefit of using digital tools for arts administration “requires rigorous and meticulous practices which helps clear the fog behind my creative practices”.
Administratively, there is little consensus on what digital tools to use and whether individual solutions are useful or not. For example, some feel time management software is valuable – and will “change creative or admin practices based on reports/data collected” – while others do not see any value. Popular platforms include Dropbox, Google, Quickbooks, Wave, Microsoft Office, Slack, WhatsApp, Mailchimp, Square, Hootsuite, Sprout, Zoom, Wix, Shopify, Trello, Marcato, Monday.com, Indeed, BookNet, and more.
However, for some, Google is seen as too pervasive and troubling, where “Google is 90% of where I live digitally”, but “alternatives are hard to find”, and feeling uncertain if they can “afford to go to another system, find another system that is convenient, have the time to migrate over to a new system’. Google is also seen as “super-functional” bringing diverse teams to together, yet also dysfunctional with “too many files and information getting lost in the chaos”.
Participants identified more than 50 desired characteristics for the user interface experience of a new arts management solution. These characteristics include: “simpler”, “cleaner”, “quick”, “intuitive”, “understandable”, “user-friendly”, “not gimmicky,”, “not taxing”, “a relief”, “non-hierarchical”, “accessible”, “affordable”, “non-technical”, “short and deep”, “stimulating”, “inspiring”, “collaborative”, “respectful”, “ethical”, “transparent”, “positive attitude”, “healthy”, “sustainable”, “sensitive”, “adaptive”, “evolving”, “predictive”, “optimizing”, “streamlining”, “standardizing”, “easily convertible”, “efficient”, “unified”, and “centralized”, among others.
Participants also desired “centralized and personalized organizational tools that empower instead of overwhelm”, yet for groups do not “centralize work around a single individual, making it easy for others in the workplace to take on their responsibilities if need be”. They seek administrative digital tools that enable “being able to see what others are doing versus waiting to be told”, helps them “stay relevant as many new voices enter the field”, supports “flexible, negotiated, ongoing practice(s)”, bolsters “feeling/being caught up”, are “not taxing, doesn’t drain my energy”, “organizes and consolidates information without making it feel like there are tons of files to navigate”, identifies and prioritizes “realistic expectations” and helps “know(ing) when you’ve done a good day’s work and when to call it a night”.
The software also fosters “ongoing, clear, honest, open, collaborative dialogue (where) everyone working on the project feels like they have a voice and has a platform/process for sharing it”, with “reminders (for upcoming tasks and opportunities) that are not jarring”. Like a phone that “knew to look up times for commute home based on previous habits”, some hoped the software will track and learn from their “artistic habits” over time, being able to predict future habits for shows/schedules. Also, the user experience “doesn’t stifle creativity but helps develop it from fundraising and grant writing to evaluation”.
By prompting “greater distinction between working hours and off-hours – and actually taking a lunch”, participants hoped the software will help with “dismantling burnout culture”, “prioritizing workplace culture over generation of multiple works – not spreading support too thinly”, and “setting ground rules or guidelines for respectful/healthy interaction and decision-making”.
Desired features support increased efficiency in administration, HR / project / content / asset management, client relationship management, analytics, arts administration literacy resources, and more. Examples include:
Human resources and project management: “office-wide system that manages the inbox and relevant documentation for projects”, “knowing when each project starts”, ‘knowing where collaborators are with respect to their responsibilities on a project”, “critical pattern checkpoints and reminders”, “good dialogue between team members to adjust work processes as needed”, “regular work schedule not in fits and starts, help setting specific goals and working towards them”, “productions dailies easier to receive in an app than email”, and “managing last-minute scheduling conflicts and ongoing changes”.
Content management: “content dissemination planning tool”, “creative content management from creation to dissemination, tracking performance against our goals”, “consistent way to approve what is being said about us, proof images, titles, captions”, and “centralized way to manage online posts and website content would be a huge timesaver”.
CRM: “harmonizing membership databases, social and web, to one system”, “a better CRM system as an alternative to spreadsheets and Google”, “better capture artists, participant, and community feedback through the entire process”, “communication strategies that help offer the right information to the right people at the right time”, “relationship building and subscriber management tools”, “keeping track of things I like on social media”, “Tinder-like matchup for funding”, “streamline approvals, rejections, proposals in one location”, “ways to reach out to others I do not know yet, find points of connection and shared interest”, “ways to share information about projects in development, to allow people to join/contribute as it is growing”, “opportunities to share and synergize with sister groups to eliminate duplication of effort”, “suggestions on audiences that might connect with my work”, and “cross-posting content to multiple platforms and tailoring content to those mediums”.
Analytics: “understanding value of non-digital products in digital channels”, “live analytics versus importing or exporting”, “benchmarking comparisons with others and avoiding mistakes”, “evaluate your decision-making was valid”, “analysis of effective posts or listings over time”, “to know fully what we are bringing to the table is ours and valued”, “truths to guide the industry and our artistic/creative practice”, “custom solution to evaluate risk and target market”, “monitoring social media transactions for products and services on and offline as a measure of impact in our community”.
Automation: “feed out to-do lists based on priorities”, “tells me what action I can do today for the biggest impact”, “automatically prompt for image descriptions and other types of metadata”, “automatically updating RAM allocations for more intensive processes”, “negotiating exchanges between different platforms doesn’t stifle creativity but makes space available for raising money, outreach, education, other activities”, “better ways to schedule together, check calendars, auto discover availabilities and prompt earliest time to meet”, “easily replicate calendar and filing systems from one show to another”, “automatically recognize producing patterns based on previous projects”, “automatically predict sales outcomes based on various factors”, “suggests social media posts based on recent images and how I typically promote”, and “platform uses data to inform producer how to improve project or scale up”.
Literacy templates and resources: “hivemind of recommendations and resources shared by others”, “embedded recommendations, standards, templates for companies and artists of various sizes and lifecycle stages”, “updates and recommendations on strategies for best practices in different sectors”, “recommendations on access to different funding, residencies, artists, products/merchandise, workshops”, “project management timeline templates with standard checkpoints”, “templates with averages for various production types”, “templates for policies, bylaws, reinforcement of practices, constitutions for Board members”, “glossary with testimonials on apps that are working and why”, “help with thinking, exploring the nature of my work and how I can benefit from digital tools”, “seeing what others are doing digitally”, “word of mouth referrals to hire help”, and “link or connection to skilled specialists”.
Accessibility and interoperability: “screen reader compatible”, “plain language”, “it is possible to talk to a person when I am stuck”, “tailoring experience to accommodation”, “asking and providing accommodations in a respectful way”, “trauma sensitive”, “building in inclusivity and accessibility with accountability would be amazing”, “adjustable interface to accommodate visual, auditory, other limitations (i.e., font, sound, screen is adjustable”), “accessible to older technology”, “middle ground between software that do not work together”, “obtains true consent to share information, given freely with understanding of implications and can’t be revoked”, “gender inclusive and LGBTQ+ welcoming”, “consolidate processes and information to be less repetitive and time-consuming, strike a balance between personal life, artistic life, admin life, and other responsibilities”, “ways to access for users that are blind, Deaf, missing limbs, bedridden, non-verbal….”, “easier way to use digital interface to help overcome language differences (i.e., ASL <> English)”, and “I want to feel in control of my digital tools instead of at the mercy of them”.