#TBT Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Funding? (spoiler: yes)

Joe Patti published a thought provoking piece at Butts In The Seats which examines the development of technology to support the arts, a topic near and dear to my own arts admin heart.

The inspiration for his post came from the  Knight Prototype Fund awards announcement, a program I was keeping an eye on. Although the Knight Foundation has a good track record in supporting technology-based programs, they wouldn’t exactly rise to the level of success associated with commercial VC investment. To that end, one excerpt from Patti’s post caught my attention (emphasis added):

The Holy Grail of technology tools for the arts seems to be live delivery of program notes during a performance. I am not sure if the tools aren’t effective, the technology difficult to use or if there is a resistance to a common standard, but these type of projects seem to always be in the works. Back in 2004 we saw Concert Companion. Artsjournal has been promoting a live streaming of program notes by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  There was also San Jose Ballet’s live casting of commentary during a performance of Sleeping Beauty last May. (Interested to know how that turned out.) Now Knight Prototype Fund is supporting MIT’s ConcertCue which plans to do much the same thing.

Adaptistration People 041Yes, they do seem to always be in the works and there has been an enormous amount of money thrown down that hole.

While I agree there is value in real-time program notes, I find the continuous amount of resources poured into these efforts to be a mystery.

I also agree with Patti that it seems to have reached “Holy Grail” status but I’ll be surprised if the field doesn’t look back on it with embarrassment over just how much time and treasure was devoted to those pursuits for what will likely be comparatively limited returns.

Hindsight is already painting many of these efforts in a light similar to Monty Python’s interpretation of the Holy Grail quest than anything more profound.

So how much more money do we need to throw at these efforts before we realize answers already exist and there are no shortage of critical technological problems waiting for funding. Their only problem is they aren’t as sexy as real-time program notes.

I would be remiss to point out that one of the projects Knight is funding, MIT’s ConcertCue, already has a provider up and running: EnCue.

We examined that topic just over a year ago:

Smartphone Program Notes Are Back In The News

EnCue certainly hasn’t gone out of business since the article was published and they are one of a few excellent platforms developed in recent years to fill the real-time program notes market. Consequently, why Knight decided to direct limited funding dollars toward this MIT start-up is puzzling, to say the least.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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