Coming Off Shift
Last night I went to the final debriefing session for the Shift-Time Blogging Project. Time for a final look back at the festival, and a look forward to where the project might take us next. (I am not going to talk about the problems with the Project during the festival, as they’ve already been addressed in depth in Is Shrewsbury Talking.) This piece is aimed mainly at the Festival and Project organisers, so feel free to skip what’s below the cut if you’re not interested.
With 2009’s fun-packed Darwin Festival in February, other Darwin events and speakers from last November onwards, and Shift-Time with its arts/science/ideas fusion in July, we have been spoilt rotten this year. I was sorry to hear Jon King say that Shift-Time would not be repeated. I think there is a real need for something in the summer to balance the February festival. Not as lavish and lengthy as this year’s Shift-Time, perhaps more on the scale of the Darwin Symposia that were held in previous years. There is clearly a lot of good interdisciplinary stuff out there, that could be part of future events – keeping the Shift-Time ethos of being a melting pot and a meeting point for arts and sciences, craft, technology and ideas.
My favourite parts of the Festival were encountering Theo Jansen’s Umerus followed by his fascinating and entertaining talk in St Mary’s Church, and Arjen Mulder’s rich, thoughtful and challenging soliliquy, read so ably by Geoffrey Streatfield. Some disappointments: the Opera just wasn’t for me, the Tortoise Project didn’t seem to have quite come off. There were a couple of very pleasant surprises. The Darwin Blast Off proved to be a very lively debate, covering a lot of ground and getting some great feedback from the audience. I wasn’t expecting a lot from that. I wasn’t expecting to get much from Blue-Eyed Soul’s dance performance either, but I found it clever, skillful, mesmerising and engaging.
The Blogging Project encouraged me to set myself an agenda. It made me approach the Festival in a more structured and deliberate way than just turning up on the day to see what was going on. Doing a bit of research before events aided my understanding of them and made the Festival a fuller and more enjoyable experience. I’ve come away with a lot of good memories and experiences, as well as the words and photos that went onto this blog and onto Flickr.
Reading and watching what the other participants produced added even more value. There was some great stuff generated over the period. From the discussion last night, it was clear that just about everyone who was involved with the Blogging Project came away with something positive and useful from it, more than just the knowledge of how to set up a blog and/or use other social media. All good so far.
But we now have a Festival that’s finished and a Festival blog that has come to an end. Where can we take the Project, or its successors? Listening to the people involved, it seems that we have three distinct areas to look at.
1) Effective communication for artists/performers and event organisers. The involved people talking shop, rather than engaging with the public. They are looking for ways of passing information around within the local Arts networks: news of events, grants, awards, opportunites, meetings, etc. This is one area where the Blogging Project has already got things going, with a Facebook page and a lot of Twitter activity starting to get the job done.
2) Pre-event communication with the general public, which falls into two parts:
a) Spreading the word about what is on when – to reach that part of the potential audience that doesn’t bother to read the Summer Season brochure religiously, or otherwise find things out for themselves. (And to act as a gentle nudge that the event they were interested in is on tonight, so they don’t forget and inadvertantly miss it.) This would also probably work best with Twitter and/or Facebook.
b) Offering people who are already showing mild interest (by visiting a box-office, or an event website) something more than just the PR puff and the synopsis in the programme. This is not an established habit yet, but I think it could become valuable. Already it is quite common for the artist’s website to be listed on such a site. That could be gradually expanded, as was done with the Blogging Project. Some of the material could be generated by local bloggers, some from a bit of web-searching to find background material or reviews. Take a play as an example: from existing material you could link to the theatre company’s website, perhaps to a Wikipedia essay about the play’s subject (if it is about a historical person or set in a particular period) or the playwright, you could find online reviews and photos from previous perfomances by the same company. Then, where the artists/performers are willing, you have the option of interviews, previews or other ‘tasters’ of some sort which could be provided your by local bloggers. Knowledge of your potential pool of bloggers would allow these opportunites to be offered to those most likely to respond positively to the material, but without the bloggers being expected to turn in a glowing puff rather than an honest and reflective opinion, and letting them present the material on their blog in their own way.
3) Feedback after the event for the organisers and other involved parties. Encourage a selection of your bloggers to attend events that they think will interest them, and gain in-depth feedback from their reviews and comments. The material will not only provide feedback, it will become feedstock for the sort of extended-event-info in 2a) – when the same event is repeated either in Shropshire or elsewhere, or the same performers/artists make a new piece. Rather more use than a tick-box ‘evaluation’, unless all you want is percentages of satisfied customers and a count of bums on seats. This could also be increased by web-searching for reviews and comments about the event not made by the ‘home team’. People who attended the event could be encouraged send you a link to their blog or email their opinions. This should provide a gradually enlarging set of competent and interested people who can be offered the chance to get further involved.
So there we are. The Shift-Time Blogging Project is officially dead. It had a good wake last night, following its moratorium. The future starts here – and I, for one, am rather looking forward to it!