Blast From the Past

I know a lot of you out there are busy and – like me – violate the “inbox rule.” You know, the one that says that you should only touch a piece of paper twice (once to put it into the proper “to be dealt with” file and then once to actually deal with it), or else it’ll get buried in your inbox. Well, I was on a plane to DC on Sunday, January 24 (for a meeting on the Metropolitan Business Plan) and I ripped out this lovely article from the New York Times about our hometown arts organization, On the Boards. And, of course, I just found it in my inbox this week, but goll darn it, I’m going to blog about it anyway.

The article is about ontheboards.tv, On the Board’s innovative approach of doing high definition records of live performances that happen in their venue and then offering these performances online on a pay-per-view basis. There’s probably three things that strike me about this of importance:

1) Audience expansion: The program was initially funded by that Wallace Foundation grant I talked about a while back, which is all about building expanded arts audiences. And while many of us think that there is no replacement for seeing live performance, kudos to OtB for understanding that a) not everyone has time to do so and b) people now are more used to getting their creative content on a screen than in person (youtube, etc.). As Lane Czaplinksi, the artistic director, puts it “What our culture cares about, it tends to record and distribute.”

2) Paying for things online: From the failed New York Times $elect on, there has been significant resistance to paying for online content. The Internet is still thought of as the Wild West, where everything is free and there are no rules. But we also value free things accordingly, and live performance is something very valuable. It represents the hard work of creativity and self-expression that – believe it or not – is not the same thing as every random person posting YouTube videos of themselves singing. If arts are indeed a craft and a profession, then people should pay for them whether they’re buying a ticket to sit in a theater or sitting alone in their home theater. The fact that OtB is able to charge is a significant cut against the grain, and an important “moral” stand.

3) Everything/one is online: It strikes me as significant that the main focus of our Global Health Nexus Seattle effort is to webcast as much local global health content (panels, speeches, conferences, etc.) as possible, because we believe that it’s the best way to grow awareness and understanding of the exceptional global health activity going on in our region. At first glance, this may seem like the same point I made in #1, but it’s different. #1 is about changing how we receive arts content, and the important tension between getting people together to have a shared, live experience vs. just making sure they appreciate and value the arts. This point is about using the web as a way to get out content that is otherwise accessible only in a limited way to limited people. That’s true geographically (I can’t go to On the Boards or Life Sciences Innovation Northwest if I’m not in town), financially, time-wise (there’s just not enough time in the day for me to go to everything I’d like…but I do have spare time late at night on my laptop) and content-wise (for some of the Global Health Nexus stuff, I wouldn’t be welcome to be there in person. I don’t need to be the eight billionth person to write about the “power of the web,” but I think that there’s a particular niche of that argument that’s interesting with regard to specific content.

By the way, the title of this post is a double entendre. It’s a blast from the past that I’m writing about an article from January. And you can view content from the past in an on-demand fashion by going to the On the Boards and Global Health Nexus Seattle websites. I may be slow, but I’m still clever!

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