“…digital networks will continue to be increasingly central to daily life and anticipates a time when they are regarded as a mundane, but vital part of the social infrastructure.” ~ Andrew Clement and Leslie Shade, “Access Rainbow” (PDF)

Infrastructures are essential yet invisible to us, even as they play a critical role in our everyday lives. Just imagine if our power grid goes out, roads collapse, or water ceases to flow in our homes. Unimaginable disruptions.

We are in an era of constructing digital infrastructures. From high profile projects like electronic health records, which requires the coordination of policy makers, creating of new jobs, and the partnership of various health organizations, to the less visible but no less impressive network of digital applications and social platforms.

While invisible to most of us, digital infrastructures are being built, either by purposeful collective creation or by adapting existingtools and solutions.

The challenge of creating something new is in matching technical knowledge with experience in the field in order to meet a community-driven mandate. The danger of the latter without the former is unintentionally building an infrastructure that cannot evolve or grow in ways its users might want in the future.

Ticketing, as one example, is a service we take for granted. There are dozens of solutions that are more or less the same, except for service fees and whether they can follow your ticket pricing strategy and selling process.

Take a step back to consider the following:

Which one offers your patrons a hassle-free buying experience? (Easy checkout, no surprise convenience fees, no registration process, quick retrieval of tickets and receipts, proactive patron support.)

What else do your patrons want to feel when they are buying tickets? (That they are dealing with an arts-friendly service provider that supports the same artists and community that matters to them, and that is actively trying to improve the patron experience and foster audience relationships one ticket and a time.)

What can we learn about our patrons without subjecting them to another survey? (What other kinds of shows do they buy tickets to? How far are they willing to travel? Where are they coming from? How often do they attend arts and culture events?)

The online ticketing service that addresses these issues would not emerge from the Brown Paper Ticket, Eventbrite, Universe, because they have no incentives to build such services. The sheer scale of their operation and the priority of turning an ever higher profit are two factors that work against an arts-focused agenda.

BeMused Network, on the other hand, has been dedicated to building exactly the kind of ticketing service that artists, and most importantly, their patrons love. It’s a simple philosophy, but an immense technical and creative undertaking.

Despite the many challenges (which I will spare you), the rewards of creating solutions to address what’s ineffective about the tools we use in the arts is truly great. It’s what keeps us going, changing our digital future, one artist, one audience, at a time.

For overworked arts workers and leaders, we risk placing our artistic future in the hands of technologies and businesses that are shaping our future for us, rather than in the hands of technologies and business that respond directly to our needs. There is no harm in the short-term, and the feeling of being able to choose from a plethora of great digital solutions is empowering. However, the lack of real ownership of the digital infrastructures of the arts could potentially will be costly in ways that are unimaginable to us today.

In the end, through the everyday choices we make, I have no doubt that we will get the Digital infrastructure for the arts that we deserve. The question is, what do we think we deserve, and how can we make sure we get it? I would love your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks to John Terauds for reading a draft of this.

Join me and other like-minded folks at BeMused Network’s Open House on Nov 29, 2016. RSVP here. Can’t make it? Join our network and subscribe to our newsletter for updates.

P.S. Check out this LinkedIn Discussion Group for Digital Infrastructures for Arts and Culture in Canada.