Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Genomics of Art, Education & Commerce: Part II


This is the second of a two posts sharing my interview with Christine Kuan, Chief Curator and Director of Strategic Partnerships at Art.sy—a web platform designed to help users browse and purchase art. Part 1 [insert link] explored Christine’s background, what is involved in “curating” Art.sy’s content and Art.sy’s business model. In this post, Christine talks about Art.sy’s role in the art world, its partnerships with museums, and its ambitions for creating a broader audience for art. If you have your own questions for Christine, please pose them in the comments section, below, and I will encourage her to reply.

Q: Per conversation on the recent CFM Blog post about Art.sy, what do you think Art.sy’s role might be in canonizing art? Museums are influential players, as are major dealers, in identifying who is “important.” Will Art.sy or services like it (on-line, algorithm-driven) change that dynamic?

CK: I think the beauty of the Internet is that the content is infinite and has already expanded the canon well beyond Janson and Stokstad. Art.sy allows users to create their own experience of art—going from one work to another by genes, tags, artists’ names, geographical regions, color, medium, etc. What we’ve already seen is people follow major artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and contemporary artists like Mark Barrow. With more than 25,000+ artworks and growing, “importance” is relative, we’re also constantly adding more museums and galleries—it’s just a question of manpower on our end. The search algorithms only facilitate the discovery of artworks where the genes have been added by art historians, but the preferences and choices of our users is what creates their experience of Art.sy. And that experience is dynamic, it changes every time the user takes an action on the site.

Q: Art.sy features digitized images of works in the collections of participating museums, as well as work that is for sale. Say a bit about those partnerships--what is the benefit to museums of sharing their digital collections on the site, and what is the benefit to Art.sy?

CK: Our 65+ museum and nonprofit partners use Art.sy to further their own missions in different ways—they can feature exhibitions on our homepage, show highlights from their collections in our database, or sell limited edition artworks on our platform. Partners can choose to do as much or as little as they like with any or all of the options. The obvious benefit is more exposure and press coverage for the museum. Since Art.sy launched to the public last month, we have had over 25 million artwork impressions. And, revenue-generation is clearly important to every museum, so we are also developing e-commerce features for this December and next year we’ll be doing print-on-demand. Art.sy allows museums to reach a targeted audience of 100,000 and growing registered art lovers, students, curators, collectors and patrons. We’ve been working with museums across various departments because every department, whether it’s new media, marketing, communications, development, visitor services, merchandising, education, or curatorial can take advantage of our free platform and services. Museum partners have free access to our CMS so that have access to their content at all times and can update and upload new content at any time. Art.sy CMS also provides real-time analytics and it syncs with our free Folio iPad app so museum staff can take their own collection images into the galleries, share images with educators, email works and notes to outside colleagues, or access their collection images anywhere they travel.

Q: Arts organizations in general are struggling with the issue of how to expand their audience beyond the traditional demographics. Does your research suggest that Art.sy might reach a different, or broader, audience than currently patronize museums & galleries?

CK: Yes, I think that’s precisely what Art.sy is about—reaching new audiences and the next generation. Nearly everyone I work with now is under 30 and digital technology is as integral to their daily lives as eating breakfast. It’s not an add-on or a luxury; it’s a basic element of life. It’s really changed my view of what the future will be like for the art world—technology is going to be critical to museums in every dimension of museum policy, operations, and programming. But technology is never going to replace what museums do in the analog realm—it’s going to amplify what museums do—create compelling exhibitions, tell stories, build community, help to preserve and conserve art, and cultivate new visitors and donors. The draw of the authentic object will never be displaced. The digital surrogate just stokes greater interest in seeing the real thing.

Getting people who are too intimidated or uninterested to go into a gallery or museum to feel excited about discovering art online, but more importantly, giving people the technological infrastructure, content, and tools to have a meaningful experience—that’s extraordinary. We’ve already had users write in to say they use Art.sy for exhibition planning, research, art therapy, art history class, etc. We’ve also had people who have never collected art, buy works of art from Art.sy because they want to live with an original artwork. This means that even in the short-term, we’ve engaged new audiences. Also, The Art Genome Project is critical to broadening access and engagement. To be able to get to Jackson Pollock works from “Splattered/Dripped” or “Abstract Expressionism” or conversely to go from a Pollock to other artists who employ the same technique, whether it is Sam Francis or Juju Sun—is a very powerful thing. Art.sy is providing a user-driven way of discovery that doesn’t hinge upon a pre-existing knowledge of art history. This is important to the future of museum education, exhibitions, patronage, board development, fundraising, and visitorship. People want to engage with art and they want to learn more and be inspired. As leaders in the museum and cultural heritage community, it’s our mission to explore how technology can further discovery, access, and engagement. Art.sy is working towards that end.

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