Culturebot – Challenge Semi-Finalist

Attendees at a Culturebot event in conversation.

Our adaptive challenge

Because existing institutional structures no longer correlate to how art is being created, produced and attended, the performing arts sector is in a state of transition being framed as a crisis. Culturebot will mitigate this crisis by building a horizontal, grassroots movement to transform cultural criticism from reactive, “thumbs up, thumbs down”  reviews and opinions to collaborative discourse that fosters deeper community engagement and audience literacy. We will do this by extending Culturebot’s reach beyond the web into live space with events that model nonhierarchical conversation tactics and seamlessly integrate with our online network.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

Culturebot has been addressing this challenge to one degree or another for nearly ten years and is only now beginning to attain the awareness and understanding of the sector at large. In all that time, no viable alternative has arisen, while the need and demand for our work only increases. Since its inception Culturebot has been a labor of love, born and raised through sheer will power and tenacity, and sustained entirely by the volunteer efforts of a committed, passionate community of artists, administrators and audience members. In order to survive, much less grow, thrive and fulfill its long-awaited potential to adequately serve its community, Culturebot must receive logistical and financial support to become independent and sustainable.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

The performing arts sector is in a state of transition being framed as crisis. Existing institutional structures no longer correlate to how art is being created and produced, nor do they meet the changed expectations and behaviors of current audiences. This disconnect has led to systemic dysfunction that resists traditional remedies. New methods are needed to question prevailing assumptions and ingrained attitudes in pursuit of new solutions for creating a sustainable arts ecology. Culturebot is leveraging the idea of ”horizontalism” to introduce the transparent and collaborative behaviors of the social web into the arts discourse; and building a grassroots movement to support new thinking and constructive dialogue and creating virtuous cycles of positive change.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

Between studies confirming overbuilding, audience attrition and varied perceptions of resource scarcity, there is no lack of evidence that prior assumptions have engendered unsustainable practices in the arts. Creating systemic change requires behavioral change predicated on attitudinal change. Attitudinal change begins when diverse stakeholders convene as equals to acknowledge systemic dysfunction and envision new solutions. Current discourse in the sector is mostly unilateral, reactive, and unlikely to lead to positive change. What is needed is a platform for conversation and collaboration where all stakeholders are represented fairly and their concerns respectfully acknowledged in pursuit of mutually beneficial outcomes.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

Culturebot’s longstanding efforts to reframe discourse have been oft-validated as the death of print journalism and the rise of social media reinforce the need for new platforms for meaningful, constructive discourse between artists, audiences, and institutions. Events, always a part of Culturebot’s efforts, have grown increasingly central to our mission. Aware of the value of moving discourse from mediated space to live space and back again, we are attempting to process map the iteration of discourse, building a unified platform to document, disseminate, and grow the discourse. Ideally, this will integrate with emerging technologies of the semantic web, supporting seamless knowledge sharing across life, mediated space and multiple platforms.

Our vision of success launched in 2003 as a community engagement initiative for Performance Space 122. Over the past ten years, the scope of our mission has expanded to being a transmedia platform for rigorous, thoughtful discourse in and on the arts. We are where artists, audiences, institutions, and administrators come together to discuss big ideas and issues. We are developing innovative frameworks for criticism, discourse, and cultural contextualization to advance our vision for deepening community engagement, increasing audience literacy and expanding arts awareness. Success for us would be creating a national community of practice to further develop these open, shareable frameworks and proactively implement them in communities nationwide.

An "agenda wall" at a Culturebot event.
An “agenda wall” at a Culturebot event.
Culturebot is the only audience-facing national media entity devoted to the full range of contemporary performing arts. We create and distribute quality content across all media with our website as the central hub for text-based content such as essays, interviews, previews, points of view, and responses. These exist next to multimedia, social media, and aggregated third party content. Our events are developed synergistically with online and printed content so that discourse and relationships move seamlessly between live space and mediated space. We serve the artists, audiences, administrators, and institutions who create, present, and engage with contemporary performing arts including but not limited to dance, theater, live art, and new music.