The ‘Culture Cloud’ project was successfully pitched to NESTA/ACE/AHRC in response to the ‘Digital Research and Development’ funding call. ‘Culture Cloud’ is a partnership between the Nottingham-based visual arts organisation New Art Exchange and Artfinder acting as technology provider. The team from Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research will act as academic evaluators on this project.

Artfinder is an ambitious internet start-up that brings the approach of social media practice to the world of art. Describing Artfinder, the Guardian’s Jemima Kiss suggests that we think ‘of movie details site IMDB, music recommendations service Last.fm, gig tracking site Songkick, online mixture site Muxtape (RIP) and Shazam, the music identification service all as shorthand for some aspect of ArtFinder is trying to do. (See: Jemima Kiss, ‘ArtFinder brings social media to art’, 6 May 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2011/may/06/artfinder-social-media-art [accessed 3/2/12]).

The aim of Culture Cloud is to connect audiences and creative workers in order to share, curate, buy and sell art using an interactive digital platform. Culture Cloud aims to connect gallery, artist/creative, audience and the commercial market place. It is also a digital portal encouraging the exchange of art produced by a network of artists from local to international spaces, connecting creative movements from one city to the other on a UK and international level via NAE’s wide networks.

The project will run until September 2012 and is currently in its formative stage.

In the first instance work is to be sourced via a partnership of galleries, established and emerging artists who will provide content for the platform where the work will be uploaded and displayed digitally. The partners that NAE calls upon for this project include institutions such as: MAC (Birmingham), FACT (Liverpool), Corner House (Manchester), Rivington Place, Nottingham Contemporary and Derby Quad. NAE has a relationship with a range of established and emerging artists such as: Barbara Walker, Zineb Sedira, Vanley Burke, Raghu Rai, Saleem Arif Quadri, Sokari Douglas Camp, Rashid Rana, Basel Abbas, Ruannne Abou Rahme, Hetain Patel and Nadim Chaudry.

Culture Cloud seeks to engage audiences by involving them in the ownership, curation and creative processes of art production. Its goal is to establish a longer, more meaningful connection between them and art, and between them and the arts organisations involved in the project. Thus, NAE’s local audience, as well as those engaged online, will be invited to curate the works online by voting for which of them should appear in a final physical exhibition at NAE. These works will also be collectable – in a virtual sense as digital reproductions – but also as to-order limited prints available through Artfinder. Thus, Culture Cloud also aims to explore and produce new business models in engaging with this e-commerce platform in order to sell the art curated in the project.

This initiative is also predicated on experience that suggests new artists have few distribution outlets and limited tools to break-into the ‘mainstream’ art market (we’ll comment on the nature of the art market in a later post). This platform then takes up the democratic potential of the online world, offering one innovative solution to this situation by growing e-commerce and new business models for venues and providing new ways of developing the profile of the artist, all while seeking to generate revenue from creative work and its reproduction.

A further aim is for this model to be ‘rolled out’ to other arts and cultural organisations, particularly to those within the partnership supporting the R&D phase. Culture Cloud as ‘product’, then, serves as a means of exploring how galleries encourage new (and old) audiences to connect with artists and their work, some of whom might be well-known, others yet to establish a reputation and recognition. Is it possible to establish new markets and consumer relationships at the interface of digital and physical spaces, connecting with art outside conventional practice? Will this digital engagement and business model for gallery activity draw in new audiences and talent that might be ‘missing’ within the parameters and practices of conventional practices of curating and in the management and programming of physical arts spaces? Will this project strengthen and complement existing practices, for instance by driving more people into the gallery and indeed to visit and engage with new art online, raising awareness of unknown works, artists, and exhibitions and stimulating trade in art amongst new buyers? Will it open up business opportunities with respect to trade and engagement with wider arts, cultural and creative organisations?

The ways in which the project will be evaluated will be in terms of its impact upon the wider cultural sector – for how the product and process offer models for other galleries, artists and indeed for audiences too. In its ultimate realisation Culture Cloud may appear in a form that diverges in some ways from the original vision of NAE and Artfinder and presented to NESTA. The nature of any changes, how and why they happened and what this means for digital research and development in such instances and for such partnerships are some of the aspects of this project that make evaluation such an interesting task.

This post draws from the original bid document presented by the project partners, so thanks are due to NAE, Artfinder and of course the funders.

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