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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Technology in the Arts

Posted by Maximum Fun on 25th August 2008

I’m no fan of irony, but I find this one delicious: I loves me some media consumption, but I’m not the target audience of most of the media I consume. (Or maybe I am, which leaves open the question of why C-SPAN, Dwell magazine, Prime Minister’s Questions, The New Criterion, Charlie Rose and The Economist are squandering so much time and money targeting 23-year-old essayists/podcasters.) Podcasts, however, don’t tend to have target audiences — most seem content to define their demo as “whoever clicks the subscribe button” — but the one I’m covering this week does. It’s Technology in the Arts [iTunes link], and if you run a small- to medium-size arts organization, you’d do well to give it a listen.

Needless to say, I don’t run a small- to medium-size arts organization — not since my atonal symphony orchestra, critical gender semiotic performance art theater and roving mime troupe all fell through. But no matter! As noted here before, I still draw massive quantities of enjoyment from listening to discussions from within subcultures I don’t know much about; it’s all kinds of fun to try to decipher what’s being said, and to pick out the shiniest pearls of information that I wouldn’t have gotten through my usual avenues.

Technology in the Arts is a production of Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for the Management of Creative Enterprises’ Center for Arts Management and Technology, so there’s some cachet here, and not just because of the length of the name. The CAMT, as it’s called, has the mission to be:

an applied research center at Carnegie Mellon University that investigates ways technology can improve and enhance the practice of arts management and, when appropriate, develops technology solutions and services that meet critical needs in the field. We partner with nonprofit arts organizations from all artistic disciplines from around the country. In addition to online software tools, we provide consulting services, informational blog and podcast, and an annual conference. Our team is made up of geeky artists and arts enthusiasts with a passion for streamlining arts management processes through intelligent use of technology.

And even though I’m not currently a manager of the arts, that’s right down my alley — and in this technology- and creativity-doused 21st century, whose alley isn’t it down? Every two weeks, Pittsburgh-based hosts Brad Stephenson and Jason Hansen go around talking to people either residing at the center of the big art-tech convergence or making that convergence happen, occasionally taking the show on the road to interview other tech-using art people — and sometimes art-using tech people, from whom I’d like to hear more — at conventions held in far flung lands like Denver [MP3] and Waterloo [MP3].

One of my favorite aspects of podcasting is that it allows the listener to “meet” a wide range of new people doing neato projects who they wouldn’t normally run into. Technology in the Arts serves up quite a few of those, from the founders of [MP3] to the president of the Association of Arts Administration Educators [MP3] to the co-director of the art-space Future Tenant [MP3]. But Brad and Jason also exchange words with a few people I’ll bet you do know, like Max Fun pals Merlin Mann [MP3] and Jonathan Coulton [MP3], as well as Max Fun punchline Leo Laporte [MP3] — of Laporte on Computers.

Listening to these conversations, I find I’ve been picking up bits and pieces of information about a lot of cool stuff of which I hadn’t previously been aware, like Bjork’s ReacTable synthesizer, the handy-sounding Zoom A4 recorder and the old-time-radio-filled (Okay, I’ve known about since its inception. But I like to hear it brought up.) I’ve also learned that I’m very glad that I don’t have to manage technology for arts people. From what I’ve gleaned off this podcast alone, arts people sit, on the technophobia scale, somewhere between J.D. Salinger and the Unabomber. (I rarely meet tech people who seem artphobic, though — I wonder why that is.) So I guess I raise my Asahi to anyone man enough to unite art and tech, no matter the results.

The producers of Technology in the Arts fit into that group, and their podcast easily scores an A for concept. (I could go into my well-worn rant about how the convergence of art, technology, business and science — or perhaps exposure that the divisions between them were always artificial — is the most important phenomenon of our time, but I, uh, won’t.) The conversations can be a little clunky and something has to be done about that synth-xylophone theme music, but hey, I’m not going to complain.

Vital stats:
Format: interviews and between-host commentary
Running since: October 2006
Duration: ~30m
Frequency: biweekly
Archive available on iTunes: most of it

[Freelance podthinker Colin Marshall soared like the glorious eagle to the top of the dog-eat-dog podcast-reviewing game, but blew his fortune on a series fix-and-flip scams, a brutal Elmer’s-glue-sniffing habit and unslakable thirst for blonde Asian hookers, dying derelict in 1987. Reach him at colinjmarshall at gmail. Discuss Podthoughts here, or submit your podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]