Breaking Ground 105 Arts - Art in the Digital LandscapeBy Lori Kissinger, Executive Director, Borderless Arts Tennessee;
Let me begin by saying that I am not a technology person. I appreciate the benefits that technology brings to the lives of many. But I am dreaming of the day when I can retire to our family farm that exists beyond the reaches of the internet. I share this information simply so you can imagine my horror when COVID shut down the world in March of 2020, leaving the digital trail as the only option for any services to travel.
We were only weeks away from our Borderless Arts Water Warriors program. More than 50 people had been working on the project for months. We quickly transformed art that was to float on a lake to art that could float through the digital waves on our website and social media. We jumped on the Zoom train and moved our dance program to live Zoom sessions, with recordings posted to YouTube. We spent money on a videographer rather than a venue to make our Young Soloist music competition a real performance. The videographer magically strung videos of performers and announcers seamlessly together in what felt like a live performance. We moved quickly and creatively through a variety of programs and learned some surprising lessons.
By going digital, our audiences increased. People were not bound by travel distance or transportation issues. Even the constraints of time melted away. An event could now live for a day, week, or even eternally rather than for a few mere hours.
Our Water Warriors program that brought 100 people to the park to watch the event in 2019 brought over 7,000 people to view the event digitally in 2020! Our summer arts camp could beam in teaching artists from all over the world. In one week, our dance program went from six local dancers to 45 dancers from all over the state.
I also found that I could be at more events. My travel time from one event to the other now meant pressing a button rather than driving an hour and scrambling to find parking.
Considering my relationship with technology, I have been honored, but also amazed, that several organizations and people have asked me what Borderless Arts Tennessee did to make the jump into the digital world. I still do not know all of the new platforms that are out there. Quite frankly, I do not have the time, energy, or interest to spend my days learning the latest and greatest tech tricks.
So, here is advice from a non-techie person surviving in a digital jungle:
- Know what you need to accomplish and focus on learning the tech that can help you accomplish that task. You do not have to know every technology and you do not have to be an expert on the technology that you learn. For instance, I know that I need a hammer to drive a nail into the wall to hang a picture. I have the ability to use the hammer to drive that nail. However, I have no idea how to use that same hammer to build the entire house. The hammer is a tool that I am using for the task I need to accomplish. I see technology as a tool and use it in the same way. If I tried to learn and master every new technological platform, I would become completely overwhelmed. I would not be doing my job, which is to offer services…. not to be a tech wizard.
- Adjust your budget. Where we once spent money on venue rentals and travel, we now spend money on videographers and platform developers.
- Be creative. If I had only one piece of advice, this is it. It is creativity that has guided our organization. Borderless Arts Tennessee is blessed to have some outstanding teaching artists. We have all worked together. It has been those creative energies that have pushed us into a new frontier.
- Don’t get the idea that it is all a bed of roses. We have lost some participants who just do not function as well doing projects through technology. Our participants miss the social aspect that even Zoom cannot provide. My workdays are even longer, and virtual fundraising is a puzzle piece we haven’t yet solved.
Someday, the clouds will clear, and people will once again gather for functions. When that day comes, Borderless Arts will not forget the important lessons we have learned. This new trail has many benefits to our participants and our organization, and we will never abandon it completely. However, I still have not given up on that retirement dream when I can leave the virtual world and my trail consists only of footprints.
Lori Kissinger is the founding Director of Borderless Arts Tennessee, which she has led for 20 years. She is also a senior instructor in the Communication Department at Middle Tennessee State University.