Beyond bricks & mortar: Technology as a catalyst for local arts & culture

Beyond bricks & mortar: Technology as a catalyst for local arts & culture

Written by Derek Manns - Cofounder & CEO of Stagehand

Photo by Freckle Face Media Co. 

Local culture is being eroded by technology. For communities to maintain their unique identity the stewards of local culture must learn how to use technology to their advantage. 

Back in the late 80’s I spent a summer traveling through Europe. One of the most exciting  things for me was falling asleep on a train or a boat and waking up in a completely different culture.  Different languages, food, architecture, music, artwork, customs. Back then I didn’t even have a cell phone, I had a “Lets Go Europe" book and every day was an adventure exploring interesting places and hanging out with people “in real life”. 

Nurturing a vibrant local culture is good for everyone. It's great for the quality of life for those that already live in the community and it is a key point of consideration when people choose where they want to live. Companies need to attract and retain talent and that can be difficult in places where there is seemingly nothing to do after work. But downtowns are still dealing with high vacancy and safety concerns, 51% of restaurants are either losing money or just breaking even and small businesses who are programming local artists struggle to keep their doors open.

One of the biggest changes in the last generation is the impact that technology has had on our lives. The average Canadian now spends 6 hours and 35 minutes online every day. Companies like Netflix encourage us to cocoon in our homes, social media has changed how we interact and communicate and we are only just starting to see the opportunity and challenges that will come with Artificial Intelligence. Technology provides the opportunity for unlimited scale, it brings global influences to our every waking moment and that can be both good and bad.

Yet when it comes to investments in local arts and culture, tech is seldom at the forefront. The big local investments in culture tend to be bricks and mortar, new entertainment districts and theaters, surely if we build it they will come! To be fair, sometimes that is appropriate, but it is no longer the only tool in our belt. Technology provides new opportunities and possibilities. Disruptive new technology-driven business models (Uber, Airbnb, Amazon) have demonstrated that new bricks and mortar are not the only answer. Sometimes you just need to innovate and optimize things that already exist. 

Virtually every community has designated leaders and advocates for local music, arts and culture.  These leaders need to be thoughtful and deliberate about using technology as a catalyst for local musicians and artists who play a key role in building local culture. In this series of blogs I will explore ideas for how arts organizations can update their thinking and develop progressive new digital strategies that both protect and build our local culture.