As controversial political stands go, “black lives matter” should rank pretty well near the bottom of the list. In any reasonable world, it would be the sort of sentiment that is so obvious it doesn’t even need to be stated. And yet statements of support are exactly what Kickstarter and Creative Capital felt compelled to offer the world after yet another series of horrifying deaths of African Americans at the hands of police last month – one of whom was selling music and DVDs when the cops were called.
Long-simmering racial tensions in the United States have been spilling out into the open for at least the past several years, but until quite recently conversations about race in the arts have been largely limited to subjects like diversity on stage, on screen, and behind the scenes; cultural appropriation; and the distribution of funding to arts organizations that serve communities of color. But at a time when the American public seems to be simultaneously running out of both tolerance and patience, more basic and urgent concerns are rapidly coming to the fore. It’s hard to have a healthy arts ecosystem when people fear for their physical safety, which can start to happen when actresses receive death threats while performing in a Shakespeare festival or get drowned in racist taunts for taking part in a movie. The convergence is happening in the other direction as well. Just this week, the Black Lives Matter movement released its much-anticipated policy agenda, the Movement for Black Lives, and arts and culture are all over it. The “list of demands” includes items such as “an immediate end to the…dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society including…media and pop culture,” “funding to support, build, preserve, and restore cultural assets and sacred sites,” “programming and partnerships to support Black-owned and operated media organizations,” and “full access to technology including net neutrality and universal access to the internet.”
Pokémon Goes. July 2016 will forever be remembered–within some circles–as the month of Pokémon Go. The free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game was released in the United States on July 6. As of this writing, the app has topped 75 million downloads worldwide. There are currently 4,158,765 posts tagged #PokemonGo on Instagram. Daily usership has outpaced twitter and facebook and retail is cashing in. It’s getting people to exercise. It’s given rise to the Pokémon Sherpa. It is, by all accounts, a global phenomenon–but it’s not really just about the Pokémon. Augmented, or mixed, reality has the potential to be one of the most significant and potentially disruptive trends of our generation. (AR/VR investment hit $1.1 billion this year–in March.) The disruption piece is clear, and response has been swift. Saudi Arabia renewed the fatwa–originally from 2001–which explicitly bans the game (it’s allegedly pro-gambling and pro-Darwin). Other countries have also warned against is use, though for different reasons: Bosnia is concerned about users running onto land mines, Egypt is concerned posting photos poses a security threat. Its significance is yet to be fully realized, although the potential for augmented reality as it intersects with cultural organizations is already beginning to emerge. For one, it’s been a boon in the audience-quest. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas has encouraged Pokémon Go users to catch Pokémon at the museum, noting a significant correlation between the launch of the app and visitorship. (On the other hand, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC has asked Pokémon players to stay away, out of respect.) Will AR be the engagement silver bullet some organizations seek? Time will tell, and maybe quite quickly.
Books on tape are making a comeback. No longer just the stuff of road trips and bad jokes, audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in the book business today. Fueled by the ubiquitous smartphone, revenue from downloaded audiobooks in the U.S. grew 38% in 2015. (By comparison, hardcovers and paperbacks grew by 8% and 3%, respectively, and e-books revenue declined 11%.) Pretty much everyone is looking to get in on the action. Publishers are hiring high profile actors, and testing out original dramas; authors, such as Stephen King and Fred Armisen, are writing new work specifically for audio. Audiobooks may only represent 3% of the overall global trade book industry, but their flexible, shareable nature works well with millennials, and their future, for now, is bright and voluminous: Audible, the biggest producer and retailer of audiobooks, says its customers are on track to listen to 2 billion hours of programming this year. Curious? Here are the 20 best-selling audiobooks of 2016 so far.
Google (tries to) buy Europe’s love with $450 million. Google and Europe’s relationship is rocky at best. From three rounds of antitrust charges in one year to investigations into allegations of tax shortfalls and accusations that it does not fully protect European’s “right to be forgotten” online privacy rights, things are not going well. So the company (which rejects all aforementioned claims) is doing what many have done before it in such a situation: it’s throwing money at the problem. It has earmarked some $450 million for European projects from 2015-2017 in an unprecedented effort to fix its reputation among Europeans–and sway the opinion of policy makers who have the power to halt its progress on the continent. The money is largely concentrated on arts, culture and education–$75 million towards training Europeans in digital skills, half a million to test immersive journalistic videos, money for museums to digitize collections (as with the British Museum), and for co-working spaces to support tech hubs. Google is even cozying up to its fiercest opponents (publishers) with $167 million to help them adapt to the digital world. The money is sure to do some good, though whether it does good for Google is yet to be determined.
Bands and fans unite against UK ticket scalpers. This past May, in response to growing indignation against ticket resellers, the UK released a report acknowledging that secondary ticketing sites were “falling short” when it came complying with rules instated in May 2015 to protect consumers. The report called for further investigation, and lists nine recommendations, including stronger penalties and the possibility of court proceedings for platforms that continue to break the law. This month, a consortium of music industry folk–including the managers of One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Chvrches, Iron Maiden, Mumford & Sons, Arctic Monkeys and PJ Harvey–launched FanFair Alliance to lobby the government to do more to protect fans and artists, and thus reclaim a piece of the purported $1 billion in revenue it is estimated the secondary market nets in a given year. The Alliance is calling for better enforcement of the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, more transparency about where tickets came from, increased corporate responsibility, and control of supply. It’s not just the managers who are upset. Artists have spoken out against the reselling practice which keeps their ardent fans out of seats; One Direction even turned down a hefty sponsor opportunity when they found the sponsor was a reseller. The movement is young, if the rancor is not. All eyes now are on the industry’s biggest stars, and their fight for their fans.
MUSICAL CHAIRS / COOL JOBS
- Carla D. Hayden has been confirmed as the 14th librarian of Congress. She is the first woman and first African American to hold the position.
- Michelle Boone is stepping down as commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events after five years in the position; she will be replaced by Mark Kelly, the vice president for student success at Columbia College Chicago.
- The Mozilla Foundation seeks a Vice President, Advocacy. Posted July 8; no closing date.
- The Nile Project is hiring a tour manager for its 2017 US tour. Posted July 14; no closing date.
- Ideastream seeks an editorial manager to lead its Arts and Culture programs across multiple platforms. Posted July 16; no closing date.
- The Arts Education Partnership at Education Commission of the States is hiring a Policy Researcher. Closing date August 18.
NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE
- The Foundation Center took a look at what the middlemen in philanthropy are doing, and published their findings in their newly launched Intermediaries Knowledge Center.
- A new brief from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies forecasts state arts council funding for FY17. Meanwhile, Arts Council England asked the arts and culture sector how it should invest its funding from 2018 onwards and published a report of the consultation findings, which outlines the agency plans to make as a result.
- Professor Ethan Mollick of The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School published a study on the broad impact of Kickstarter on the creative economy.
- A study by the European Economic and Social Committee released this month explores the role of culture for sustainable economic growth, its potential to reconvert cities, and its capacity to enhance social integration and to build shared a European identity.
- According to new figures out of the UK this month, the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic arts workers is up 60% since 2011.
- New research suggests that, while most people are biased against other races, some odd psychological interventions can help.
- An Ofcom review of public service broadcasting (PSB) has found that television watching among the 25-and-under has dropped 27% since 2010.
- A study commissioned by Ontario’s Ministry of Labour shows widespread problems with enforcing basic employment rights and leaving vulnerable workers exposed.
- California Lawyers for the Arts released a study exploring the feasibility of establishing a national network to support arts in corrections.
- And finally, new research out this month suggests investors should buy paintings only if they like looking at them–and not to make money.