How arts organisations can find technology providers

This topic has come up so many times recently – in the past couple of months it’s been raised at the AMA Conference, at the ACE/NESTA Digital Day in Birmingham and at the Art of Digital London meet-up.

It’s obvious why. The word on the street is that digital is the future and arts organisation need to bring themselves up to date. They need to avail themselves of cheaper ways of working, new income streams and more engaging modes of communication and they need to do it now.

However, quite often the first problem is finding the right people to help. That’s understandable too – I don’t know the first thing about building so I’d be cautious about getting someone in to renovate my house. I wouldn’t know where to look for the right person, whether they were credible and how much I should be paying.

Which is a shame, because there are good people out there and, in fact, there are plenty of ways to find them.

First up – what’s a technology provider?

Yeah, sorry about that. I’ve taken the catch-all phrase ‘technology provider’ from the ACE/NESTA R&D Fund’s blurb where they mean:

any creative, media or technology company including other arts and cultural organisations with relevant technology know-how

So that could include a freelance software developer, a web design agency, a social media consultant, a film company, a broadcaster, a telephone company, a computer hardware designer… it’s a wide field.

For the purpose of this post I’ll be talking about finding the sort of people or companies who might provide you with a website, a mobile app or some help with social media.

There’s no one way of finding these people. This post is just meant as a guide to some of the ways you might find people to help you with digital stuff.

Agencies and freelancers

Firstly, I’d really recommend not just blindly Googling for someone. Try the BIMA directory, the Recommended Agency Register or the Arts Marketing Association‘s list of members (the search facility isn’t perfect, but select ‘supplier’ and browse through).

Even better, look up some arts organisations that are similar to your own (and who probably have similar budgets for this kind of thing) and see if you like their websites or the digital projects they’ve worked on. Chances are the agency that made that site will have their name or logo right down the bottom somewhere. If not, give the arts organisation a call and ask who their agency is. Even if the name is visible, call the arts organisation anyway and ask if they’re happy with their agency’s work.

There are plenty of web design agencies that work in the arts and culture sector and have built up a lot of expertise as a result. Try and find one of those.

[Shameless plug] At this point I should say that I work for Made Media and we build websites, mobile apps (and mobile websites) and we also help with many aspects of social media. Most of our work is with arts organisations, broadcasters and advertisers and we count Arts Council England, Glyndebourne, Royal Court Theatre, Birmingham Rep, Warwick Arts Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Channel 4, Maverick TV and many others among our clients.

Web meet-ups

Around Birmingham alone there are loads of events where people who share an interest in technology can meet to chat with each other over a coffee/beer/energy drink – I compiled a big list of them here. Some of these will have a mailing list, an email group or a forum – if you’ve got a specific request for a person or a thing then maybe ask if you can get it included.

Most cities and towns will have similar events. Try looking on Meet Up or Upcoming for ones in your area. Go and meet people, honestly.

Arts Jobs

If you’ve got a brief for a website job then try putting it on the Arts Council’s free mailing list service. It’s a good way of getting it out there.

Jobplot’s Opportunities page was set up for this kind of thing too.

Look at conferences

See who’s speaking at and/or sponsoring any of the various digital-themed arts conferences that are taking place. If someone’s speaking then they’re likely either to be reasonably well connected (in which case they can point you in the right direction) or on the lookout for work. If they’re sponsoring then they’re looking for work from the likes of you – the fact they’ve paid for the privilege says they’re keen to work with you. That’s good, so maybe have a chat with them.

Ask your peers

You know people at other arts organisations. There’s no sense in doing work that someone else has already done – ask how they last went about finding their agency or freelancers. They might refer you on to someone and give you some tips.

There should also be someone at a public body with a remit for knowing the right kind of people – maybe a relationship manager at the Arts Council or the local screen agency/funding body.

Hack days

A culture hack is:

an opportunity for cultural organisations to make digital prototypes and develop new networks within the technology and creative industries

It’s a frantic 48 hour period in which programmers and developers quickly put together working prototypes of web services. For more information, see the sort of thing that was built at Culture Hack Day in London earlier this year.

Be aware that if you’re an arts organisation then your role at a  hack day is really to provide raw materials and inspiration. It’s unlikely you’ll get someone to build that thing you’ve been wanting for ages (but you never know). However, it’s a great chance to learn how developers work, what they can do with data and to find someone you might like to work with on a more formal basis.

Social media surgeries

If you’re a third sector or not-for-profit organisation then you can pop along to an informal ‘surgery’ and spend some time chatting with a helpful person who can give you some advice and guidance. It’s a great way of taking a first step in this area.

Nick Booth from Podnosh has done a great job of popularising these with plenty of information available via the Social Media Surgery website. The Arts Council would do well to run some of these, in my humble opinion.

Matchmaking schemes

I’m thinking here of geek-in-residence schemes, which I reckon are a very good idea indeed. Unfortunately, I don’t know of anything similar happening in the UK but I know some people who’d like to make this happen.

Australia’s Council for the Arts deserve a hearty pat on the back for their scheme (now entering a second year) and I especially like the digital skills Marketplace they’ve just opened up too.

Think educational

Cornerhouse has a digital reporters scheme. The National Theatre works with schools and colleges, giving students access to their theatre and rehearsal spaces to come in and make films and so on.

In a more general sense, you may want to work with an academic team on developing something. This isn’t something I’d know a great deal about, but maybe get in touch with the media or computer science faculties at your local university. The people there may well have links with local industry too, so could refer you on to others.

Other suggestions

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. If something’s worked for you then please do add it in the comments. I’d also be interested in hearing how this sort of thing should work.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

2 replies on “How arts organisations can find technology providers”

  1. hey there, thanks for the Geek in Residence plug! Edinburgh Festivals adopted a similar model for their community of orgs (one geek working across the group of orgs rather than our model of one/two geeks per host & now the NBN Geeks model which puts a geek in the area where our new broadband network is rolling out to help artists AND orgs.
    Also I recommend if you want to find geeks, go hang out at those arts events that sound quirky & you’ll invariably find a bundle of them totally happy to chat with you because it’s social & infectious, right?! You could also just run a geek speed dating event to encourage them to come to your place & share tips. Hint: free booze is always a good draw-card 🙂
    Happy to discuss more if anyone wants to know more about the model & how we went about building it. [email protected] (creator of #residentgeeks)

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