Online social media has radically transformed news coverage. Tweets, Facebook posts, and amateur videos were essential in the coverage of the Arab spring, Japanese tsunami, bin Laden’s death, and Hurricane Irene. Public radio and local newspapers are now multimedia companies, crowdsourcing listeners and readers in co-authoring content. Arts organizations, surprisingly, are behind the curve. Audiences today are drawn, not merely to a performance, but to an arts experience in which they participate. The experience does not begin and end at the performance curtain, but long before and after: at home, in the lobby, online, and sharing with friends. Word of mouth has always been potent for box office, so it is essential that the arts marshal the power of online participatory media. However, this calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about what cultural participation means for audiences, live and viral. At social media workshops, the conversation still defaults to using these platforms as a one-way transactional marketing medium: pushing out more marketing messages. Totally wrong!
Online platforms need to be transformed into participatory aesthetic spaces connecting audiences with one another and with artists; provide forums where people can register how they feel about the work they see; and, ultimately, arts groups need to give up some curatorial control. This is threatening to many arts organizations. In the past, the expertise of curators defined culture in a community. Now consumers consider themselves collaborators. How to let the audience in? The New York Philharmonic and Indianapolis Symphony encouraged audiences to text message choice for encores. Walker Art Center had its public vote on an exhibition: 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection. Glee, the unorthodox television series, allows fans to create their own stories and share them online. Every week, "gleeks" upload versions of themselves lip-syncing and dancing to whatever songs were featured in the most recent episode. Instead of shutting these down as copyright infringement, the producers are genius in encouraging fans to create their own meaning on YouTube. These examples do not dumb down artistry, but expand cultural participation opportunities for audiences. The key to success is to find authentic ways for audiences to contribute and find meaning -- before, during, and after events. Engaged online communities co-create experience, meaning, and cultural value. Ultimately, emboldened fans become ever more loyal viewers, consumers, and concertgoers. Experiential relationships in cyberspace are the next frontier for the arts community. What are some ways that your local arts organizations have utilized social media or the internet to co-create experiences?