This is an updated version of a previously published article that has been edited for clarity.
Thus far, we have gathered more than 150 pages of community input on Hatch Open and 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 below, 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, Part 3 for descriptions of impact practices for the arts, and Part 4 for explorations of digital justice in the arts.
Retaining quality human relationships and connections was expressed by participants as a barrier to successfully managing creativity in a digital world , 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 “limiting” challenge, where “learning and siloing admin practices are hindering creativity”, “communication time is eating into practice time”, and “when (the administrative process) is ‘done’ creativity begins”.
As in their digital lives more broadly (see Part 1), participants’ current arts management practices are seen as highly fragmented and overwhelming, where their information is disorganized and unmanageable, “I don’t get to do as much as I want (as an artist) because I have too much digital work to do”, , “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 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 and 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 tools that will help them “stay relevant” in the field, support flexible practice(s), “organize” and “consolidate” information without feeling overwhelming, identify and prioritize “realistic expectations”, and aid in “know(ing) when you’ve done a good day’s work and when to call it a night”.
The software would also ideally foster “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 would not “stifle creativity but (help) 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 templates and resources, and more. Examples include:
Human resources and project management: Participants sought features such as an “office-wide” system that manages their email inbox, project documentation and collaborators, and “last-minute scheduling conflicts and ongoing changes”. The software would support “critical pattern checkpoints and reminders”, as well as “good dialogue between team members to adjust work processes as needed”.
Content management: Participants expressed that a centralized tool for the planning, creation, dissemination, and tracking stages of content management both on and offline would be a “huge timesaver”. Additionally, this software would provide a way to “approve what is being said about us, (and) proof images, titles, (and) captions”, and post and tailor content “on multiple platforms”.
CRM: Participants communicated the need for a CRM that supports: “harmonizing membership databases, social and web, to one system”, capturing “artists, participant, and community feedback”, subscriber management, and ultimately relationship building and information sharing. In terms of funding, participants desired software that “streamline(s) approvals, rejections, (and) proposals in one location”. A participant also desired a CRM that provides “suggestions on audiences that might connect with (their) work”.
Analytics: Participants expressed desire for access to “live analytics”, as well as the ability to analyze the effectiveness of posts or listings, evaluate “risk and target market”, and monitor “social media transactions” to measure community impact. The software would hopefully provide a way to “evaluate your decision-making” and “know fully what we are bringing to the table is ours and valued”.
Automation: Participants desired a software that automatically: “prompt(s) for image descriptions and other types of metadata”, creates “to-do lists based on priorities”, updates “RAM allocations for more intensive processes”, recognizes “producing patterns based on previous projects”, replicates “calendar and filing systems”, “predicts sales outcomes”, and “suggests social media posts” based on various factors. Promoting ways to “(negotiate) exchanges between different platforms” without “stifl(ing) creativity” was also important to some participants.
Literacy templates and resources: Participants indicated that a “hivemind” of shared resources and recommendations for organizations and artists of “various sizes and lifecycle stages” would be beneficial, including “best practices in different sectors”, “funding, residencies, artists, products/merchandise, workshops”, app testimonials, and “skilled specialists”. Additionally, participants sought templates for “project management timeline(s)”, and policies, bylaws, and constitutions for Board members.
Accessibility and interoperability: Accommodating and inclusive software was important to some participants, including access for “users that are blind, Deaf, missing limbs, bedridden, non-verbal” and so on, such as with an “adjustable interface to accommodate visual, auditory, (and) other limitations”. As well, participants expressed the need for software to be “gender inclusive and LGBTQ+ welcoming” and “trauma sensitive”. Some said that they wanted a program that “obtains true consent to share information, given freely with understanding of implications and can’t be revoked” and that they “want to feel in control of my digital tools instead of at the mercy of them”.