Written by Derek Manns and Dan Duguay
“Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them”. Alfred Whitehead.
It can be called infrastructure...
Most people recognize the value of the arts, they make the world more beautiful and interesting and they are one of the fundamental building blocks for culture. But the arts is a challenging industry and the pandemic has only made things worse.
Traditionally when a municipality wants to support the arts they spend money on bricks and mortar. We build performance halls, galleries and museums, we might even create an “entertainment district” with hopes of engaging the public.
Spending money on physical infrastructure tends to be the most obvious thing to do, but there is an argument for a different, or maybe a parallel approach. Consider this quote from futurist and author Tom Goodwin, “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.” In the same way that there will always be a need for hotels, there will always be a need for theatres and cultural centres, but it is fascinating how Airbnb organized latent and under-utilized accommodation capacity seemingly out of thin air. The key word here is “organized”, Airbnb aggregated an army of hosts and provided process and consistency that made it easy for anyone with a spare room to behave like and compete with hotels. In case you missed it, Airbnb went public last year and their current valuation is over $90B, apparently somebody thinks it’s a good idea!
The same can be done with the arts. Culture doesn’t just happen in theatres, it happens in small clubs, community centres, coffee shops, microbreweries, city streets, airports, +15’s and parks. All of the above are to the arts what spare rooms are to Airbnb. What the arts lack is consistent infrastructure. Ask any musician about the countless times they have filled out yet another form that provides the same information in a slightly different format to apply for festivals, programs or grants. Or ask the owner of a microbrewery who has tried to bring music into the tap room on Friday nights. There is no way to easily access the local inventory of talent unless you are already well connected in the live music industry. Alternatively you could hire a booker, but for a casual music venue that model seldom works.
What if we redirected a bigger portion of the millions of dollars that goes into bricks and mortar and really got serious about enabling the digital infrastructure that makes it easy for non-traditional venues to program their own space? Stagehand has worked with many non-traditional venues and what is fascinating is that when the basics of finding and booking talent becomes easy, people start to innovate. At the Calgary Airport they went from music only on special occasions to one of the most active live music programs of any airport in the world! One stage quickly became four, they experimented with musicians at the security line and they had musicians welcoming travellers on baggage carousels. Gravity Cafe, Stagehand's first coffee shop, started hosting live music 5 nights a week and Half Hitch Brewing, Stagehand's first microbrewery, hosted 100 performances in their first year!
Right now a lot of commercial real estate companies are nervous. COVID has hit everyone hard and we need to draw people back into malls, office towers, small businesses and restaurants. Wouldn't it be great to provide some new infrastructure to activate these spaces and re-engage the public? Infrastructure isn’t always sexy, but done right it forms the basis of growth and innovation. We all could use some of that right now!
Stagehand is a Calgary based technology company that builds infrastructure that makes it easy for creative cities, businesses and organizations to work with local artists.