The academic evaluation team on the Culture Cloud project comprises Dr Nick Webber, Dr Simon Barber, Dr. Paul Long and Professor Tim Wall. They are representatives of the Interactive Cultures research team, based in the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research, which focuses on work associated with the cultural and creative industries, emphasising cultural consumption and new digital technologies.

The team have run externally funded projects and published work which deepens and integrates the following themes:

  • cultural practice, history and heritage;
  • social media, interactivity, digital participation;
  • digital and online archives;
  • locative-media, gaming cultural practices, application to other domains.

In the last five years, Interactive Cultures has worked with over 100 organisations in the creative industries and the arts. The team is highly committed to knowledge exchange, and to forging partnerships with shared goals and benefits.

The work of Interactive Cultures is based upon three principles. Firstly, technology does not determine cultural activity, but enables certain forms of practice. Accordingly, knowledge of technology is not in itself sufficient for success. Secondly, we need to understand the distinctive cultural practices and values of audiences associated with institutions and their art works, and the way that new technologies could enable interaction and engagement. Thirdly, because existing organisational approaches were forged in particular phases of technological and cultural practice, it is now necessary to find new ways to communicate and engage with audiences. For these reasons, organisations need bespoke solutions, forged through collaboration, that meet institutional objectives and the needs of the audiences with whom they work.

Our interest in the relationship of New Art Exchange and Artfinder in the development and execution of the Culture Cloud project is informed by the following themes:

The nature of cultural markets in the digital age (cultural and political economy of the art world online; concepts of innovation; exchange and collaboration between arts organisations and technology providers; the meeting of commercial and ‘public’ organisations and workers);

The professional ideologies, attitudes, and institutional practice of cultural/creative industry workers and organisations (the educational, cultural and career trajectories of individuals, their sense of purpose and disposition towards the development and dissemination of their work);

The sociology of cultural consumption and its inflection by the digital sphere (the mechanics of cultural consumption of art and artefacts in the digital sphere; how audiences for cultural consumption are constituted, engaged with and identified in terms of taste and competences).

Based upon these themes, and in response to the nature of the Culture Cloud project, we have organised our evaluation around a series of questions about the project:

Q1: Who engages with the curator and customer levels of the proposed Culture Cloud prototype, in terms of demographics and of previous engagement with the visual arts?

Q2: What is the individual’s perception of the experience of using the Culture Cloud prototype?

Q3: Did engagement with the Culture Cloud prototype change awareness of, attitudes towards, or further engagement with, the galleries and artists involved in the project?

Q4: What are the implied business models of the Culture Cloud prototype, and how could it be extended or refined to meet the needs of customers for visual arts and the creative artists themselves?

Q5: What are the implied cultural and technological models of the Culture Cloud prototype, and how could it be extended or refined to meet the needs of the wider arts and cultural sector?

Q6: How did the individuals in the Culture Cloud project organisations construct a workable partnership, and what approaches and processes led to success in delivering this collaborative endeavour?

Our research questions broadly situate our work among qualitative studies of cultural consumption, professional ideologies and attitudes, and institutional practice, collaboration and project working. We see ourselves as action-orientated participants in, and observers and interpreters of, this technological and cultural R&D experiment.

We see audiences, professional work and cultural organisations as three different instances of cultural practice and attitudes, and so we intend to take a broadly ethnographic approach to the study. Such an approach is appropriate as it ‘fits’ research objectives, builds upon our expertise, and will generate data capable of supporting both sophisticated analyses and interpretation for different audiences.

Primarily, we will use methods of interview and participant observation to generate rich information about the audience members/platform users and individuals in the project and wider organisations. The audience studies will also include some sampled demographic categorization and analysis of their interaction as users.

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