3 Ways that Open Source Can Radically Transform the Arts
Open sourcing—otherwise known as “commons-based peer production”—is a model for the production of cultural and material products and activity. It is most well known outside of the arts as a successful collaborative model for producing software since the advent of the web more than twenty years ago. The goods that result from an open source endeavor belong to “a commons” and are accessible to all.
A key characteristic of an open source product is that it cannot be privatized. Privatization defines value through artificially induced scarcity and then derives money from barriers to access. Value in an open source project, however, is defined by how successful the needs of a community are being met and by the project’s ability to enable continuous innovation and evolution due to its openness and accessibility. Open sourcing is a civic good and a process for re-organizing communities and social dynamics. In many economic and cultural contexts in which we inhabit, open sourcing is counter-cultural. In terms of its value system and world-view, it’s a perfect match for what many people feel the not-for-profit sector should aspire to.
Creative, intellectual, cultural commons are constructed by people in a community with a collective vision for solving some problem or addressing some pressing need for that community. In the online world, commons emerge through a process driven by democratic “peer production” enabled by the Internet and digital tools that widely distributes the capacity for individuals to become knowledge and/or cultural producers.
At HowlRound were I work, we co-develop and steward online communication platforms and in-person gatherings to promote the development of knowledge commons for the theater. All of our platforms have adapted the open source or commons-based peer production model and the results of experimenting in this new model have been astonishing for us.
Here’s a summary of what are the most transformative outcomes of open sourcing or commons-based peer production as it relates to HowlRound’s community of artists and cultural practitioners who co-create and share knowledge and practice:
Open sourcing is:
1) Efficient: It produces a huge amount of knowledge and information with limited administrative resources. It’s wildly efficient in terms of the ratio of inputs to outputs.
2) Galvanizing: It transforms contributors into stakeholders of a community's advancement and common benefit. The idea and feeling of ownership is redefined and energizes the community of contributors to care for the collective work.
3) Revelatory: It breaks down monocultures, old social hierarchies, and enables a diversity of previous unseen contributions, perspectives, and narratives to emerge and take root. It’s democratic at its core. It makes the previously invisible visible.
As administrators of several open source projects, we have the opportunity to constantly learn how to be stewards, facilitators, and infrastructure developers for a commons and a community of peer producers. The well-known and well-worn 20th century model of curation and gatekeeping is obsolete in commons-based peer production. The community sets the agenda. The community is the primary beneficiary and owns the work. And the gatekeepers of a previous generation have been replaced by facilitators and stewards.