A Conversation with Barry Jones: How To Generate PR for Ephemeral Works of Internet Art

 

Barry Jones, Associate Professor of Art at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee and I met recently at the 2012 ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art) conference where Professor Jones was hosting a panel on how to get greater public attention–PR–for Internet/New Media/Digital Art projects. Actually when we (the talk was attended by a little shy of a dozen people, which was pretty good for that time slot) all arrived, Professor Jones mentioned that the title of the panel “How To Generate PR for an Ephemeral Award and Exhibition System?” was a little misleading. His panel was less a “how to” and more of a “how would you do it?”

Here’s Barry’s abstract:

How To Generate PR for an Ephemeral Award and Exhibition System?

“Terminal (http://www.terminalapsu.org/) is a space sponsored by the Department of Art and the Center of Excellence in the Creative Arts at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. Its mission is to showcase and examine internet and new media art. Annually, Terminal gives out four $500 awards for the creation of new internet artworks. Since its founding in 2007, Terminal has had difficulty building an audience, both inside the art world and without. This paper will explore the difficulties in generating PR for an ephemeral award and exhibition system and strategies to get important work the attention it deserves.”

What better place to investigate this subject than at a world-class electronic art conference? I was impressed by Barry’s attempt to turn the tables on the usual panel format, from a “one to many” information exchange to a “many to one” exchange. Why not take advantage of the incredible brain trust at ISEA and hold your own think tank? Professor Jones got the conversation started and made his case about TERMINAL, a one-person curatorial and funding organization he runs out of Austin Peay. TERMINAL actually provides funding to New Media/Digital Artists. Let me repeat that. TERMINAL funds artists. Coming from my perspective, as an artist seeking funding, this is nothing short of heroic, and a rare thing for a university to actually share scarce funding dollars.

Since I had this guest blogger stint coming up with the Art21 Blog, I decided on the spot to enter into a conversation with Professor Jones and try to incite a broader conversation on the subject. Why? Because maybe the difficulties of TERMINAL to generate PR for Internet and New Media artworks indicates some broader trends, some continuing struggle of new art to gain a greater foothold and public profile.

So these blog entries will begin with TERMINAL and venture out to the broader picture. My hope is to provide a little of that PR profile to Barry Jones and TERMINAL and kick off a conversation about whether or not Internet, Digital and other New Media Artworks get proportionately less attention than they deserve. Conversation is what this medium is all about, and any strategies used successfully by others might work for TERMINAL and beyond. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to be clear that as a New Media Artist, I have a vested interest in this subject. So like Picasso, I enter this blogging project as a spy looking for clues, and since this is a public forum, any clues uncovered by what we hope will be a frenetic conversation, will benefit everyone who cares enough to read and contribute. To kick things off, I will begin with a conversation with Barry Jones and end with a call for the community to share what they think. Here goes:

DC  Spensely: Professor Jones, please share some details about the difficulties you have had generating PR for TERMINAL.

PBJ: I hope I don’t sound to whiny here …

I try to think about TERMINAL’s mission in two ways: to expose my University and local community to important and groundbreaking internet art and to engage and contribute to the art world. I have had some success locally with PR, but the greatest hurdle I face is education. Even though artists have been making art on the internet for over 20 years, it is an incredibly new concept to most people. I find that I have to attempt to define the medium in every press release, no easy task since the medium is continually redefining itself. I still get many emails and phone calls asking where the gallery is located.

The greatest difficulty I have faced is entering a conversation with the larger art world. This may be due to a southern inferiority complex, but it seems that the home base of an internet art site matters when it comes to art world attention. Does the art world pay more attention to organizations based in larger art centers? Also, TERMINAL is a one-person operation, which makes doing the PR right a challenge.

DC: Do you think this is a broader trend, this lack of acknowledgment for Internet, Digital and New Media Arts? And if so, why?

PBJ:  I certainly do think this is a larger trend. The logistics of exhibiting new media work is difficult for most institutions (equipment, technical knowledge, etc.) and internet-based work in particular creates even greater problems since it does not require a gallery or museum at all. The fact that most of this work is ephemeral and not object based also creates problems, and as far as PR goes, it can be incredibly difficult to explain.

DC: Since you asked this question, what have you uncovered? What strategies have you encountered and have you had any successes you can share?

PBJ: I have discovered that more people are aware of TERMINAL and its programing than I thought at first, so some of what I am doing is working. But in general, traffic to the site has not increased much in the last few years and I’m still uncertain exactly how to change that. The best suggestion so far has been to open the site up to more contributors and increase the number of people directly involved with TERMINAL.

DC : Just for the record, I am not directly involved in TERMINAL at this time except for the subject of this guest blogger stint. With that out of the way, I would like to encapsulate a few of Barry’s questions and open up a larger conversation with the Art21 Blog’s audience. Here they are again:

1. How can artists and organizations that create and display internet based artworks overcome the “education gap” and shape the art viewer’s understanding and expectations of internet art to make it conceptually accessible to a wider audience?

2. Does the “home base” of an Internet art site matter in terms of how seriously the work is taken or whether it is even considered in the “art world” conversation at all? If so, how might one overcome this geographic or regional challenge?

3. Does Internet based/New Media Art get less recognition than it deserves in an “object based” or “venue specific” art world? If so, how can this challenge be overcome?

Tell me what you think in the comments section below!

Thank you for sharing your opinions and ideas with the Art21 audience!

 

 


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