Friday, 30 January 2009

This week's crush ....

.... is Joseph Sullivan's blog 'The Book Design Review'. To quote a friend - it is the house of awesome. Check out, for example, this post bringing together a slew of recent editions of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ("most of them pretty horrible").

You can also follow Sullivan on Twitter:

Hat tip to the Te Papa blog for the link

Thursday, 29 January 2009

In the first of what promises to be a series of posts, Vicki Allpress Hill of The Edge wrote on the NZ Live blog today, under the title 'Smart marketing: the answer to the recession', that:

... most local organisations just can’t hope for the kind of budget that their counterparts in North America and Europe have access to. Without doubt this impacts on your ability to deliver successful marketing through the online channel, because you need money for web development, email management systems, online advertising creative and placement and staff resources to maintain it all.

The good news is this. Some forward-thinking arts marketers here are already doing it well. And the success of online marketing depends more on the things we down under have in spades: creativity, resourcefulness, collaboration, empathy with customers, attention to detail and follow-though.

Allpress Hill doesn't give any examples yet, but if you want a one-stop introduction to successful (and low-to-no cost) online relationships with your customers, check out this interview with Shelley Bernstein, web guru at the ultra-networked Brooklyn Museum.

One of the things I like about Bernstein's approach is that she treats online communication and interaction as a logical extension of what the museum has always done. From the article:

“There’s someone on our staff who goes to community centers and reaches out to people—it’s the same on the Web,” Ms. Bernstein said. “We really, really, firmly believe that we should be going to them, not expecting them to come to us. And also that their message is way more powerful than ours on these platforms.”

You shouldn't be thinking about starting to talk with your audience online because you can't afford print advertising. You should be thinking about it because it's your job.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


10 minutes ago I nearly published a snarky little side-swipe at an epic failure of a website (an animation - no matter how zippy - and an email address does NOT equal a site to promote your design company).

Paul Reynolds just shamed me out of it though with this thoughtful review of the new Katherine Mansfield Society site. There are surprisingly few sites dedicated to individual (dead, well-known) New Zealanders, and while the KMS site has definitely got work to do, it's a decent start.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


One of the most thought-provoking things I read over the summer break was one of James Surowiecki's regular columns for The New Yorker.

In 'News You Can Lose' Surowiecki looked at the effect withering advertising revenues and the rise of the internet have had on newspapers. He writes:

Newspaper readership has been slowly dropping for decades—as a percentage of the population, newspapers have about half as many subscribers as they did four decades ago—but the Internet helped turn that slow puncture into a blowout. Papers now seem to be the equivalent of the railroads at the start of the twentieth century—a once-great business eclipsed by a new technology. In a famous 1960 article called “Marketing Myopia,” Theodore Levitt held up the railroads as a quintessential example of companies’ inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Levitt argued that a focus on products rather than on customers led the companies to misunderstand their core business. Had the bosses realized that they were in the transportation business, rather than the railroad business, they could have moved into trucking and air transport, rather than letting other companies dominate. By extension, many argue that if newspapers had understood they were in the information business, rather than the print business, they would have adapted more quickly and more successfully to the Net.

Surowiecki points out that none of the major news aggregating services - such as Google News - are run by newspaper companies, and that many newspapers have carried over a 'walled garden' approach to their websites, refusing to link out from their articles to other pieces of coverage or other websites.

Meanwhile, bloggers like me are happily piggybacking off the backs of newspapers, using their reportage as the basis for our own writing. (You could see this post as a prime example - at this point, I think it includes more of Surowiecki's text than my own). As he writes at the end of the article:

For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.

This got me thinking - what would I pay for?

In the Yes column:

  • Google Reader (and possibly Gmail - which would become a lot more important to me if I lost my job)
  • Twitter (I'd ditch my cell phone before I lost this)
  • Blogger (I'd rather pay Google or Wordpress to use their platforms than pay a viewing fee for all the blogs I visit)
  • Ma.gnolia (it's speed drives me crazy, but I'm in their clutches now, with years' worth of carefully annotated websites and articles tucked away there).

In the No column

  • Pretty much any newspaper or magazine site. Although I read bits of them often (the Guardian most days, various US papers most weeks, Stuff and the NZ Herald when I can't help it) I'd be really reluctant to subscribe to any of them on a full time basis. I get most of my news from National Radio, and no single publication provides enough articles tailored to my interests to make a daily, weekly or yearly fee worthwhile. Except the New Yorker - and I have a print subscription, because I can't read that much online.

Which confirms what Surowiecki is saying: I'm a media free-loader, and currently I enjoy the best of both worlds. I use a news aggregator to pull together bits and pieces from nearly 100 sources, rather than remaining faithful to any one media outlet. And while I feel kinda bad about this, I'm really unwilling to change my behaviour.

BUT. For the past two years I've (well, we've) donated US$20 to NPR to help pay for the bandwidth that brings me the This American Life podcasts. I don't have to, but Ira asks so nicely, and I really value their offerings. So maybe there is hope.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Jerry Saltz says

The solution* to the financial crisis is getting artists to curate exhibitions from your collections.

Who would you pick to curate where?

*NB - 'financial crisis' used here in the sense of 'we can't afford to ship in temporary exhibitions', rather than 'the banks have frozen up and consumer confidence has nose-dived'.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Away game

Best of 3 is off gadding about until Monday 26 January. See you then.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Memo to self

You know how some days you go home steaming and unleash a diatribe about the stupid person who was saying those irrational things which are patently untrue about this thing that you absolutely love but are, like, totally not at all biased about?

Days like that, I should remember this two part interview with Clay Shirky on why the internet isn't making us dumb, and this talk by Neal Stephenson from the Authors@Google series.

With thanks to @gnat and @maupuia for the tip-offs.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

From the 'No shit, Sherlock' files

Students upset real life not the picnic art school lecturers told them it would be (Guardian online)

I remember once sitting in a Careers Services office, looking at the list of occupations that recent art history graduates had taken up. It featured several cafe workers and someone who trained horses. I realised then that I should have taken my horoscope's advice and trained as a fire-fighter, but by then it was too late ....

Nay, I say.

Hi there. I'm Best of 3. You might know me for my relentless support of such web phenomena as Flickr and Twitter.

Well, today I'm here to tell you that all the glistens on the web is not gold. There's a lot of hoo-ha on the wires this morning about the partnership between Google Earth and the Prado, which has resulted in 14,000 megapixel digital images of 14 of the Prado's key works being made available for intensely close-up viewing through Google Earth (which you need to download to access, so here's the link to do that).

The resolution of the images is beyond amazing; the white flecks of paint in the eyes of the Infanta in Las Meninas are easily visible, the flicks of apricot paint on the side of her cheek are centimetres long on my screen. But. It's only 14 works from the collection. There's no plan to digitise more at this level, or to work with other museums. I'm not even sure that the images are available on the Prado's own website (it's refusing to load this morning).

While I'm not as hung up as Jonathan Jones on the lack of the silvery light when you see the works in person, I'm going to favour standard digitisation and and easier method of access over extraneously high-quality, extremely limited digitisation every time.

However - the video recording how the images were made and stitched together is amazing. Enjoy (and I recommend on mute).

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Four interesting things I have read today

Jen Graves: 'In Art News' Jen Graves of The Stranger (Seattle) takes apart an article bemoaning the departure of the Seattle Times' art critic Sheila Farr. The original article, by Emily White, is one of the now-becoming-familiar condemnations of the lack of respect amongst newspapers for experienced art reviewers. Graves argues:

To proclaim a national day of mourning for the loss of a notably disengaged critic at a deeply disengaged newspaper—the Times checked out of the cultural conversation of Seattle and the nation long ago, if it was ever part of it in this young city (when is the last time you saw a Times culture writer in the midst of a national dialogue?)—is to miss a far more important problem than whether this city has three full-time critics or two.

Penguin Blog: Fav '08 cover designs Members of the Penguin Art Department discuss their favourite book cover designs of the past year in this beautifully illustrated blog post.

The Book Cover Archive Not just a beautiful site to explore, but obviously a well-kept and well-mannered one; a list of proposed and achieved enhancements is listed at the bottom of all the pages, along with links to similar sites.

Nina Simon's message to museums re:Twitter I've been meaning to talk about this here, but have decided to work blog it instead. Many people say that there's no right or wrong way to use Twitter - heck out the lengthy comments thread for some opposing views. My free piece of advice for museums and galleries: if you're (still) thinking about starting a blog, you should now also be thinking about how that blog interlinks with (or could be replaced by) Twitter.

And one thing I've only scanned, because it's (a) depressing and (b) seemingly the same article that I've being reading everywhere for the last two months - where's a nice big diamond skull meme when you need it?

Three things I am currently curious about

1. What exhibitions City Gallery Wellington plans to re-open with in September

2. How the NZ at Venice Foundation plans to raise $400,000 by the middle of the year

3. Whether Sarah Thornton's 2008 book Seven Days in the Art World will stand up to reading in 2009, or whether it will rapidly turn into an exercise in looking-back-at-the-glory-that-was.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Tearing down the barricades

I would love, love, love to see some New Zealand museums or galleries take part in the Wikipedia Loves Art project that's just kicking off on Flickr.

The point of the project is to gather photos to illustrate Wikipedia articles. A list of desired images will be posted at the end of Jan, and then individuals or small groups can go forth and compete to collect the most shots. From the guidelines that have just been posted on Flickr:

Qualification Notes:

1) Shots submitted must be licensed with the correct creative commons license required by Wikipedia. That's got to be either "Attribution Creative Commons" or "Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons". There is no resolution requirement.

2) You can only shoot works of art in the public domain, so as a general rule, only works of art created prior to 1923 will be able to qualify. This will differ from country to country, so check with the Wikimedians for general help with this.

3) Images can only be taken at participating institutions (following their guidelines posted below) and must uploaded during February 2009.

4) In the caption, your images must include the object's full identification and credit line from the object's label; your team's name; and the category this image defines so that we can assign points. Each institution may ask you to tackle getting this information in different ways, so best to see the each venue's guidelines posted below for more information.

5) Images must be your own work, submitted by you.

This could be a great opportunity to engage with the Flickr community in your area - the Wellington group in particular is very strong. You'll also be in very good institutional company: Shelley Bernstein from Brooklyn Museum put out the call this morning, and LACMA, the IMA, the V&A and the Met are all on board.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Brass tacks

As we ponder entry charges, the visual arts community in the States is loudly debating deaccessioning, following the National Academy Museum in New York's decision to sell two Hudson River School paintings for approx. $US15 million to help keep the institution afloat.

The professional standard is that collection items should only be sold in order to buy more works for the collection (e.g. selling off a lesser Rembrandt print in order to trade up to a better version). Carmine Branagan, director of the NAM, alerted the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors about the decision, but according to this article in the New York Times, was unprepared for their response:

In an e-mail message on Dec. 5 to its 190 members, it denounced the academy, founded in 1825, for “breaching one of the most basic and important of A.A.M.D.’s principles” and called on members “to suspend any loans of works of art to and any collaborations on exhibitions with the National Academy.”

Ms. Branagan, who had by that time withdrawn her membership from both groups, said she “was shocked by the tone of the letter, like we had committed some egregious crime.”

She called the withdrawal of loans “a death knell” for the museum, adding, “What the A.A.M.D. have done is basically shoot us while we’re wounded.”

Beyond shaping the fate of any one museum, this exchange has sparked larger questions over a principle that has long seemed sacred. Why, several experts ask, is it so wrong for a museum to sell art from its collection to raise badly needed funds? And now that many institutions are facing financial hardship, should the ban on selling art to cover operating costs be eased?

The NYT article provides good background if you want to start reading some of the debate about deaccessioning for reasons other than collection enhancement. I'd recommend:

  • Richard Lacayo's two pieces (one and two)
  • Michael O’Hare's blog post (cultural policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, quoted in the NYT article)
  • Donn Zaretsky (also cited in the NYT article) has a number of posts on the topic on his art law blog - maybe start with this one.
  • This NPR article, where Graham Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, suggests that the NAM should have sold their building before selling collection items.

This week's crush

Clifton Firth, Three contact lenses, c. 1940-1949.
Reference Number 34-P286A. Collection of Auckland City Libraries, from the ACL's Heritage Images database.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

For your reading pleasure

Relating to yesterday's post, a reader sent in a link to this 2005 report on entry charges for non-residents by the Christchurch Art Gallery (PDF). The Council asked the Gallery to prepare a report reviewing current charging practices against national and international trends, and examine the possibility of introducing entry charges. From the report:

It is recommended that the Council:

(a) Not proceed with charging admission for non residents (Option 1) to the gallery owing to:
  • Adverse impact on international/national reputation, visitor perception and experience
  • Adverse impact on visitor numbers after introducing entry charges (based on international/national experience)
  • Long term viability of the gallery threatened (inability to attract major exhibitions owing to visitor numbers)
  • Financial disadvantage from introducing entry charges
  • Adverse local and tourist market reaction.

In other reading manners: a review by Adam Stenbergh of David Denby's Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Pay as you go

Last year, there was a lot of speculation about what the credit crunch would mean for the art world.

It's widely expected that 2009 is going to be tough for institutions that are heavily reliant on sponsorship or endowments, art dealers, and artists who needs sales to pay the rent. Mark Amery suggested a return to the garret wouldn't be a bad thing for our artists - a view Cheryl Bernstein rebutted. Jonathan Jones has recently argued that the economic situation won't stop kids from starting bands - but may change the attitude that's developed towards the arts in the last 15-20 years:

"People will suffer – are already suffering – so to wonder how much money will be made at art fairs next year, or how many new books will be published, seems irrelevant. But in saying that I've already announced the first consequence of economic recession: culture will be widely shrugged off as a luxury."

Last year, I briefly speculated about what this might all mean for galleries and museums as local councils started to look at their budgets. Last week that started to cut closer to the bone as the Wellington City Council put up proposals to save money, including charges for non-residents to visit galleries and museums (and cut library opening hours, which I find even more depressing).

While other mayors in the greater Wellington region appear to have come out against the plan, I haven't seen responses from any of the institutions (or from the umbrella organisation, the Wellington Museums Trust) except this snippet:

Museum of Wellington spokeswoman Kim Young said Wellington was a "different market" compared to Rotorua where museums are free to locals only because they compete against national museum Te Papa.

... which I think, reading through the garbled syntax, is an argument that Wellington institutions have free entry only in order to compete with Te Papa. Really?

There are a lot of points to discuss here, and I'm still too holiday-brained to really get into it. But one thought that pops into my head is this: every year, these organisations are expected to increase visitation, and their funding is linked to (or at least reviewed in association with) visitor numbers. Could policies like this - which are likely to reduce visitation - cause a downward spiral in funding? And might it be better to instruct these organisations to find a 5% budget saving, and let them determine the best way to go about it?