On Thursday, I attended the Indiana Cultural Tourism Conference. I was disappointed about the sparse crowd, especially after keynote speaker Andrew Taylor, Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the Wisconsin School of Business, shared his views about the concept of place in the Internet era.
Mr. Taylor admittedly borrowed heavily from Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly, so I’ll cite him here as well. To summarize his presentation, the Internet first linked computers, then pages and now links data. What does that mean for cultural institutions and other small businesses? Here are some of my take-aways:
1. It is no longer good enough to just have a Web site. If you are tracking visitors to your site, you are missing the boat. The average patron may not visit your site, or may come visit once. Make sure your content is accessible outside of your Web site – on Facebook, Foursquare, through mobile apps, on Flickr, etc.
Place is where the people are.
2. It is just as important to create a virtual experience as it is to create a real one. Mr. Taylor repeatedly urged the audience to experiment and test ways to build a digital experience. Active content creators, like bloggers, are curious, engaged and want access constantly to information of interest to them. If you are an exhibitor designer, for example, how are you enhancing the real experience with virtual components like text tours, virtual educational enhancement, and online curatorial conversation?
Place no longer is defined by its physical boundaries.
3. Geocoding is the metatag of the future. Mr. Taylor gave his coordinates several times during the presentation and encouraged everyone in the audience to begin doing so as well. Why? The new generation of smart phones, digital cameras and new devices like the IPad all have built-in GPS. The new crop of apps emphasize GPS automated messaging and. You can take GPS guided tours everywhere from New York City to Limestone Country in Indiana.
Do you know where you are? Increasingly everyone else does.
In a future where the online experience is as important as the real one, the real trick will be balancing the actual experience with the technical enhancements. It already is hard to go to the movies or theatre without the distraction of mobile tweeting. Yet, I also think it is very exciting to think about how a museum tour or a visit to a new city could be enhanced just through my cell phone.
If cultural institutions aren’t thinking about this now, they run the risk of losing even more revenue to the ones that are. Between 1990 and 2001, national arts attendance grew 6%. During the same time period, the number of cultural organizations grew by 60%. In this increasingly competitive landscape, arts organizations have to also be technological mavens to survive.
In the words of Mr. Taylor, “Be there or not.”
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