Net Neutrality and Film

Kudos to Sonos (disclosure, a sometimes client) for taking a big stand this week pre-Grammy’s. That’s their website artwork at the beginning of this post, and this week, they closed their NYC and online stores to support Net Neutrality, and took out big ads in the NYT and WSJ (and many social media posts) in support of it as well. I hope some people in the film world do the same, and soon, but it also reminded me to post this little bit about the impact of recent net-neutrality decisions on the future of film.

I’ve been writing about the importance of Net Neutrality since I started blogging in January of 2006. There’ve been many close calls since that time, and many decisions that those close to these issues considered likely precursors to the end of net neutrality, but 2017 brought the official end of net neutrality, and it’s not hyperbole to say it’s the beginning of the end of the Net as we’ve known it. The changes will be gradual and practically imperceptible, but very real. We’ll wake up one day and find a very different internet unless we take some pretty radical steps, and soon.

But what does this mean for film in the short term? You can expect more deals to privilege certain content over others – get Netflix or Verizon Go90 or whatever other content faster and cheaper. That will be good for consumers when you want to watch stuff on the big guys – Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, etc. But it also means it will be that much harder for people like Fandor or Mubi to get traction, and even harder for new services to launch, as the costs to deliver quickly to consumers will become hurdles too high. That may not seem too bad, but as Netflix and Amazon buy/license less indie and arthouse fare, these alternate services are crucial to those wanting to find and watch the multitudes of films not on these larger services. And those viewers wanting to experiment might be discouraged when a “Classic,” or “experimental” focused service is slower to load or costs much more to access.

It will also mean less relevant alternatives like Vimeo, and over time, fewer opportunities for truly independent work to reach an audience. Right now, if your film doesn’t get picked up by one of the major services, you can always fall back to using a Vimeo to reach your audience, but that could become more expensive, slow or difficult quite easily.

But in a world of super-abundance, where I can barely keep up with the content coming over the transom, this will be imperceptible to all but those stuck behind, trying to break through, and I suspect very few people will care. That’s one reason why it’s even more important to fight this trend now, before we forget why we’re even in the fight.

But the more important concerns are the loss of possible futures we can’t even imagine now. It’s hard to believe, but we’re at the very beginning of the revolution(s) brought about by digital, and what movies you get to watch are in many ways the least concern. Perhaps artists will come up with entire new artforms, utilizing new technologies still to be built, but they cant get them out to an audience because they’re made harder to find or censored from the web altogether?

And speaking of censorship, that becomes much easier under a non-neutral net as well. Incumbent powers who might be threatened by new competitors to their services, or regimes who don’t want certain voices heard already have it pretty easy, but the loss of net neutrality makes it even more assured that alternative voices, business models and visions of the future will be that much harder to find.

Want to join the fight? I recommend Public Knowledge and Free Press as two great places to find out what’s happening and how to fight back.

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Contrarian Views on Artist Support


Artist Service organizations should stop serving artists

image:No Film School

Ok, I’m being hyperbolic here, but bear with me. Back in the ’70s, many nonprofits started to spring up to help filmmakers (and other artists). For film, the idea was simple – buying a film camera and equipment and then a Steenbeck to edit a film with was super-expensive. Band together, apply for grants and voila – you’ve got access to equipment. This is how IMAGE Film & Video of Atlanta, GA came together, an organization I used to run, and which still exists in a different form as the Atlanta Film Festival. In fact, that’s how many (but not all) film festivals came together – those same filmmakers thought, “geesh, now that I’ve made my indie film, where the heck can I show it?” So they started film festivals to show their work, and soon after the work of their sisters and brothers from around the US and the world. Nonprofit film organizations launched across the country – helping filmmakers through education, equipment access and training, screening venues, and then sometimes with advice and access to funding (re-grants) and market/industry connections. Whether big events like the IFP Market, or small,like bringing some industry vets to speak on a panel in Atlanta, these organizations could help connect these “disconnected” voices to decision-makers from NYC, LA and major international markets.

But today, filmmaking tools are cheap and ubiquitous, and you can find and audience and screen your work for free online. Heck, more people can watch it on their phone or on a connected large screen than even the biggest festivals can service. As a regional filmmaker, I can learn from websites like Filmmaker Magazine and NoFilmSchool or random bloggers about any aspect of the art, craft and business of film. Yes, we still have a problem with diversity and for some, access, but let’s admit – a lot has changed. The nonprofit sector? Not so much. An enormous amount of nonprofit money goes towards putting on artist development projects that can be better accomplished online, or that are obsolete in today’s marketplace.

The problem today is not access, but discovery. In a glutted marketplace of content, it’s increasingly hard to stand out from the crowd. Nearly every dollar spent on artist training and development should be shifted to audience development and helping to connect audiences to filmmaker’s work. And this will have the added benefit of still helping artists, by giving them a bigger audience which should lead to more money earned back from their films.

Yes, many artists will bemoan any decrease in funding for the creation of work. But we don’t face a crisis in the creation of good work, rather the crisis is in getting that work seen. The key here is to make sure that any new programs in audience development include some mechanism for positive cash flow to filmmakers for the screening of their work. Right now, too many programming efforts don’t reimburse filmmakers for their screenings. Organizations that program films, run film festivals and connect work with audiences will need to start paying filmmakers for these screenings. That’s a big hurdle for most film festivals – I know because I’ve run a few, but it’s a hurdle we need to conquer for independent film to survive and thrive.

The main concern I have with ending direct artist support for creation is the possible impact on diversity behind the lens – we need more diversity, not less. And the market – investors and studios – tend to still support white males. But plenty of diverse work is being made too, but not enough of it is being seen. This is a big problem, and I’d argue it’s mainly because so many festival and venue programmers, and acquisition executives, are white men, but again the nonprofit industry should build programs to address these issues. Let’s think hard about how to create innovative solutions to bring more diverse films to a wider audience instead of just focusing on the (relatively easier) part of just getting them funded.

What would this look like? I don’t know, but I’d like to see just as many new projects here as we have grant funds and markets/pitch forums. For every GoodPitch, we should have a GreatAudiences program. For every Hot Docs forum, we should have a new audience focused program, and the same for every Creative Capital grant. Note – these are all great programs, and I’m using them to showcase the type of excellence we should seek in audience development.

The first thing we should do is work towards every festival that is not a major market (meaning below the big guns like Sundance) starts working towards paying filmmakers for screenings. Second, we already have a pretty vibrant theater space – go to the Arthouse Convergence and you’ll quickly be dispelled of any notions that arthouse theaters aren’t doing great work to build audiences. That said, the nonprofit sector could be doing more to help them discover diverse voices and then work to ensure those screenings are attended. We can definitely help bring audiences to the work they program, and someone needs to build a tool that helps us find that work again when it finally makes it online.

We need more national screening programs, for films that may not warrant a theatrical. At Patagonia (my client) we’ve been having a huge success with getting audiences out to our tours, with our last film averaging 1500 people per screening. There used to be more film tours, but I believe Southern Circuit (where I also worked) is one of the few still around. I’d love to see a grant that allowed Thom Powers to take Stranger Than Fiction on the road, for example, with guest filmmakers in tow and being paid to attend.

We need more online curation – and no, that’s not easy. I launched a start-up focused on just this, and it folded. Nearly every online platform for managing one’s queue or sharing films has failed or is stagnant with no real consumer use. Perhaps that’s another thing nonprofit’s could tackle, and the foundations that fund them.

I admire the program Sundance just launched to help filmmakers with distribution, but we need more programs like this, and the foundation world needs to fund distribution and marketing more (and creation, and “impact” less).

Ok, like I said at the start, I don’t really want to disband artist support for creation. But I do think we need to start spending equal energy on what happens after the films are made.


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More on Blockchain and Film/Arts

My last post on Blockchain and the future of content led to many interesting exchanges – people emailed, people scheduled meetings, and many of them were way ahead of me in terms of thinking about how blockchain, the technology underlying Bitcoin, might be used to change various cultural industries, especially music and film. While there are still some problems with this theory, I’m increasingly convinced that blockchain could completely revolutionize the business models here, just as it might in finance and other industries. There are a lot of vested industry players that will fight this tooth and nail, but I think it’s worth exploration. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve learned about, and what I think is needed.

Perhaps the most interesting take on this has come from the musicians Imogen Heap and Zoe Keating. No surprise there – I feature Zoe in almost all of my lectures, and Imogen has been very tech savvy. Imogen Heap proposes a new service she calls Mycelia, which would be a blockchain based digital eco-system for the connection of artists and fans, eliminating many of the middle men. She explains it on her site (note, it seems to work best on Safari, not Chrome), but the best summary of this comes from George King, who has been writing a series of posts about blockchain and the future of music and the arts on Forbes. I recommend reading all of these articles. Among other things, her system would use the blockchain to tie-in payment info, artist info (who played the bass on that song, how do I find their other music?) and track derivative works. It would eliminate many middle-men and allow for much greater transparency in how the money flows – something Zoe proposes as well. Using blockchain as a way to track derivative works is precisely what is most interesting to me – in theory an artist could embed how much you must pay for using a sample or a film clip in the actual source file, and you could complete this transaction without any lawyers, agents or even an email, as it would all be handled on the blockchain. As a leader in the transparency movement, I am all for the idea of using this for greater transparency- in theory, an artists could see every way their work was used and accessed and payments could go directly to them (and sub-artists in the contract as well, such as your actors). But Imogen’s idea is even bigger – I think of it as a Library of Alexandria, mixed with Wikipedia, Kickstarter, Amazon, Creative Commons and the ledger of blockchain. Mycelia would feature all music, and all aspects of that music in a giant interactive database that allows for artists to set transaction rates, give you more data about their project and anyone involved in it, and trace its evolution, so to speak.

The idea of blockchain revolutionizing music and arts has gotten enough traction that Billboard has written a must-read article on how bitcoin/blockchain can change the music industry. A few businesses have launched specifically around this idea as well. ProMusicDB is proposing a system for better tracking of credits on music, and Ujo (no active site yet), is building an open source technology for tracking rights-holders and payments to artists. Because it is open source, it could also be used for film or any other art form. The Billboard article explains it a bit more. I also suspect many more businesses will launch as a result of Richard Branson’s blockchain summit, which Zoe attended, and I’ve had meetings with at least three other companies that are building businesses in this area (but who want to remain confidential for now). If you really want to get wonky, read The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto. While the book is ostensibly about why capitalism has worked in the West but not so well elsewhere (it comes down to how we build property systems, but read it), it has become the new blueprint/Bible for those thinking about how property changes in the future, perhaps under Blockchain, and its extremely relevant to the future of intellectual property (I found the book by way of Zoe Keating’s writings).

To my mind, all of these ideas are great, but we need to combine them to make it work for film and other arts. Perhaps this could be built as part of Ujo, since it’s an open-source project. Artists and organizations supporting them should be getting behind these ideas, as they have great potential to help build a better business model for artists and to bring more (real) transparency to the financials. Here’s just a few of the things I’d like to see in this space. If done properly, it should include (at minimum, and here for film, but you can see how it works for other fields):

  • Deep rights agreement tracking systems: track all artists/people involved in a film and any payment agreements, license agreements, etc with them, as well as other agreements such as locations, music licensing, clip licensing, releases, etc;
  • Allow for micro-transactions with them – set how each of the people involved get paid;
  • Expanded linking to items/artists involved in a project – allow you to connect to these artists involved in any project in other ways – see a dress in the film, know the designer and also see her info and not just buy the dress but also commission a design for your film, etc (and trace the history of this engagement);
  • Micro and advance Licensing terms  – license a clip with a compulsory license, pre-paid – down to the clip level; You could agree in advance to pay an amount based on the future views of your subsequent film. Payments can go back to the source film and any sublicensees/artists, etc. What I pay back varies based not just on total views, but what type of views, whether they were at a nonprofit, theater or other venue, or person at home, etc.; This is essentially the same as the derivative works proposals from Imogen Heap and Zoe Keating, but for film, and would allow a whole new business to be built upon sampling, mash-ups, remixes and bring greater ease to clip licensing. A work-around for fair-use would need to be developed, but that should be technologically possible;
  • Expanded, artist-centric payment schemes & term setting – facilitate payments directly to the artist, but not just for this film – I can pay for the film, or for the song in the film, or can subscribe to the artist’s future work, make donations, or whatever else the artist has set up, and the artist not only sets the terms but can see how the money flows along the way. For example, the artist could set what iTunes must pay them as a percentage of any sale, and know how many transactions there were, or even turn them down if they don’t agree to her terms;
  • Permission levels, so that I can share work privately and authenticate who watched it, for how long, etc, as well as share contractual information, fee payments etc based on various permission levels; This should include permission based data sharing as well – perhaps I want to share how many downloads I had publicly, or from what regions, all of this could be shared via this system;
  • Authentication of originals vs copies, etc. Consumers don’t care about originals vs copies, but it would be a way to combat piracy, as well as to assign value to the original work; One could theoretically build a system as well that allows for only authenticated devices to play content, meaning that I could share a rough cut and if it’s pirated, I would know where it leaked (this has major DRM implications, I know);
  • Usage tracking and types of usage (not just for payments, but to see impact, subsequent uses, what types of eyeballs watched my film, etc);
  • Ancillary content – version tracking, ancillary materials access (poster, etc), unlocking of bonus content, etc.

Some of this is blockchain related, some is just stuff that we need that can be done technologically now with or without blockchain, but the ideas represented by blockchain could help build a smart eco-system for film. These are just some preliminary thoughts, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that blockchain has relevance for the film business in myriad ways and is worthy of further exploration. Care about this at all? Send me your thoughts.

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Funding Individual Artists – some ideas

While it’s a great time to be an artist in so many ways, it remains difficult to raise money for making art, much less for sustaining a career as an artist. In fact, funds for support of artists have been drying up over the years. In film and new media, where I work, there are just a handful of places to turn if you aren’t making very commercial work or social issue documentaries – Creative Capital and Jerome being the most prominent. There are others like LEF in New England, and Sundance, which also offers support through labs and services, but not nearly enough support is out there for interesting artistic work. I’ve worked in artists support organizations for most of my career, so I think about this often, and lately I’ve been dreaming up a few things I’d love to see. Here’s my wish list for new types of grants for artists (particularly media artists) that I’d love to see, in no particular order:

  1. More money to those supported – the more money vs. more people supported debate always rages on, but to my mind, that’s just because grant givers haven’t been able to truly keep up with inflation and use the more people argument as an excuse. Minimum grants should increase, and I’d love to see more funds giving greater than $50,000 USD per grant.
  2. General Operating Support for artists – Every nonprofit complains about wanting more general operating support and less funding tied to specific projects. This should be true for artist grants as well – fund artists for their career success and/or potential, not just their proposed project. Underwrite their living expenses for a year. Here’s a good place to start:
  3. Give the same amount you pay in salaries to the same number of artists. Have an ED/CEO making the big bucks? Give that same amount to one artist per year, to support whatever they want to do that year. Hell, add on what it would cost for insurance and benefits as well. Then pay as many artists as you have staff the same average yearly amount. This would bring some needed transparency to the process, and would actually be a great concept for fundraising.
  4. Commit to diversity, in all ways – racial/ethnic/sexual orientation/geographic/artistic practice, etc. Not that these are all equal, but you know what I mean. Sure, everyone says they do this, but not enough grants shake out this way. Don’t have enough applicants or nominees? That’s your fault, do better outreach. I could find 15 lesbian, African-American artists making cutting edge art or film in Georgia alone, but I’m not seeing that many of them on grant rolls, festival screening lists, in galleries or other artistic venues. I think this is an organizational failure – of improper scouting, not enough use of good nominators (not at the expense of open-calls), not enough outreach and an accrued liability where many people don’t feel they fit into established grant maker’s giving histories and thus don’t bother to apply (this last one is especially true for the lack of diversity on the film fest circuit).
  5. Increase support for established artists. Everyone loves emerging artists, and I’m not saying anyone should cut back support for them, but I know way too many “successful” artists over 40 who have won nearly every award and who can no longer get grants, but they still struggle to pay their bills and make their art.
  6. Portfolio Training – I’ve been on numerous grant panels, and you’d be shocked at the difference in the presentation skills of various artists. You can tell which ones went to schools that teach how to present their portfolio and those who didn’t, and it severely impacts how their work is received. Multiple grant organizations should conduct regional training workshops on how to apply for grants and how to present a portfolio. They should also agree on a common application form (this is in the works in many places), and every grant giver should be required to have a sample, successful application available on their website.
  7. Use the Crowd: I’ve seen numerous proposals for this, with this one being my favorite, but to my knowledge almost no one has embraced the crowd in their grant giving. You know, because their program staff are such experts (ahem) that they don’t need any help. There should be a fund available only to people who have completed a successful Kickstarter (or similar) campaign. There should be funds where the majority of applicants come from crowd-sourced nominations. There should be grants that come with a guaranteed minimum and a match for up to X amount of dollars raised from the crowd. And support for the campaign as well. There should be much more experimentation with participatory grant giving. Not to the detriment of other giving, but come on – Kickstarter is six years old now, and we’ve had no new funding mechanism invented since that time. That’s leadership for you…
  8. My personal bias here – there should be a fund to support media about art and artists. Almost no funding exists if you are making a documentary about art. We need more films showing great art and artists, and these works rarely get support. This should cover all disciplines and practices, and it should not just be film, but also new media.
  9. Travel grants – Fund artists to travel around the world. Not just to attend some conference, lab or retreat, but just to travel the world, live, think and perhaps make art as a result.
  10. Shake-up the decision-making process – Almost every grant program has a panel process. But panels don’t always pick the best art, they pick the art everyone can agree on (this is also true of festival juries). I’d love to see a different process, perhaps where each panelist can pick one artist they want to see supported whether or not anyone else agrees, and then the rest are decided by the committee. Let the panelists, especially the artists on the panel, take some risks and support some artists that not everyone can agree upon.
  11. More funds for exhibition, promotion, marketing and audience development. All of this work is falling to the artists themselves now, so let’s fund it separately from the funds given for production. Let’s have grants that go towards hiring a publicist, mounting an exhibit in Manhattan, touring a work or marketing a film.
  12. More funds promoting collaboration. Let’s recreate the Bell Labs without Bell. Let’s fund more artists to collaborate with scientists, with start-ups, with other artists in other disciplines.

That’s just twelve quick ideas. I could give twelve more, but let’s face it – what we really need are more funds for artists, no matter what the idea. Perhaps what we need most of all is a fund to promote the idea of giving more direct support for individual artists. Maybe we should fund a marketing campaign geared towards convincing more of these new dot-com millionaires to support artists.

note: I can’t seem to get the wordpress editor to number the last ones 10-11-12, so sorry for the weird numbering

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Blockchain and the transformation of the ownership of digital culture

blockchain Now that’s a title I’ve been waiting to use for awhile! I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how Blockchain might transform industries beyond finance, like film, for example. If you don’t know what the f I’m talking about, you’re not alone. While many tech people know Blockchain as the fundamental technology behind Bitcoin, few of the rest of us know much about it, and I’m not calling myself an expert, but many people believe it is as transformative as anything to have come around in quite a long time – so one has to ask, will it transform multiple sectors, and if so, will film be one of them. I think….maybe, and Monegraph points towards that future.

Quickly and grossly simplified, Blockchain is the technology that allows Bitcoin to work – it’s a way to ensure that when I pay you with Bitcoin, I am using a real Bitcoin, that I haven’t also sold the same Bitcoin to someone else. It’s like a virtual ledger that can show the history/ownership of any file (not just Bitcoins, it could be a media file for example) and allows for a decentralized mechanism to trace ownership. If you want to really understand it read this or this, but importantly, the technology allows one to authenticate the a certain file is a unique, true “original” file. It also allows for many other complex interactions, including interfacing with devices. This solves many a problem when you’re trying to trade money and buy/sell things, and it might also solve the question of authenticity in a digital world. That’s where Walter Benjamin comes in (again) to the conversation.

As any (poor-out-of-work) liberal arts major knows, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction summed up what happens when mechanical means make it easy to copy pretty much anything. The aura of an artwork is lost – what’s the value of an original when anyone can access a copy? Well, you can read that again to find out what happens (politics) but we’ve been wrestling with the nature of ownership in a digital world for a very long time, and Benjamin is a good reference point for the conversation.

Monegraph is a novel attempt to restore the aura of originality to digital artworks. It uses blockchain technology to authenticate an original work of art. You can watch this presentation on Monegraph, or watch the founder speaking about Monegraph for more details, but essentially you submit your work to Monegraph using your Twitter handle, the NameCoin client (you’ll spend a few pennies to get some NameCoins) and then you can create a Monegraph for your digital file. This is kinda like an interactive digital stamp that says: this here is the original artwork as created by the artist on this date. Yes, people can still make copies (legally or illegally), but only those created through a blockchain type transaction are “authentic.” The copies coexist, but if you want to buy and “original” work, you can do so through Monegraph.

As this same technology can be used for any file, it could be used to authenticate films, books, music, pretty much any digital file. In theory, it could be used to sell artist “special editions” of films, but it could theoretically be used instead of technologies like Ultraviolet, de-centralizing the control of the files, but allowing for authentication of “real” copies. Doing research today online, I found a writer, Ken Tindell, who has even proposed that the blockchain could be tied to your digital device, allowing it to read whether you have proper ownership of the file. So a Studio could sell you a film and you could own it and not have to worry about that file disappearing should Amazon suddenly stop carrying that title (which has happened). As Tindell proposes: 

“The full features of Bitcoin transactions could be then used, enabling a movie to be rented, sold, re-sold, loaned, and so on. The issuer of the coloured coin for a movie would be the movie studio and they would control the terms of the market for their own movies (perhaps demanding a ‘droit de suite’ fee when it was transferred). Because the rules of the scheme would be open and transparent and the ownership rules (such as requiring the issuing studio to countersign transfers) embedded directly into the blockchain it would then be possible to define just what ‘ownership’ of a movie means.”

That’s pretty cool, and is probably just the tip of the Iceberg, because we’re at the beginning of this revolution. But as an indie producer, I could sell my film and control how you share it (giving various permissions or charging certain fees based on my proclivities) without using iTunes or Netflix or Amazon. Sure those services still help with discovery, but a blockchain powered VHX could be pretty cool. It could also be used to make a better system of copyright registration, so we don’t have to send VHS, beta tapes or film to the Library of Congress (though film is a great storage medium).

In theory, I could also tie the blockchain at the clip level of my film, enabling me to share the clip with another filmmaker for “free” up-front, but then demand payment based on how that subsequent film is bought and sold. This would revolutionize the clip licensing business, letting me pay based on how successful my film is instead of some theoretical price paid up front before I know if my film will even be seen. It could allow for remix in new ways as well, perhaps allowing effective monetization, while retaining some artistic control and de-centralizing the authority (go direct to the artist instead of some agency). This could work not just for films, but any digital artwork, meaning a(nother) transformation of the relationship between artists and audiences, as well as a transformation in the concept of ownership of culture.

Importantly, it’s also a move towards de-centralization of the ownership and trade in culture. As Taylor Davidson has written elsewhere, there’s a big trend online now towards decentralization as people start to realize the problems we’ve got with so much power being held by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and the NSA. Peer to peer transactions, like Bitcoin and Monegraph, among others, put more power back in the hands of people, and in this case give more power to artists connecting directly with audiences. As Taylor writes:

“But it’s possible to see how bitcoin, as a leading app for the blockchain, and a wide range of other peer-to-peer apps built on top of new mesh network technologies, could create unique, valuable, distributed alternatives to centralized approaches. Alternatives, not complete replacements, but viable alternatives could create knock-on effects at how the stacks do business. And the time for it could be now, as people are beginning to see the broader implications of the centralized Internet, and it’s feeding a burgeoning appetite for alternatives to the stacks. Bitcoin, multipeer connectivity, and mesh networking may seem far-fetched, but they could be signals that the next movement is already here.”

I’ve not given enough thought yet to figure out all of the potential uses and possible futures this affords, but that’s a panel/conversation I’d like to attend at some film festival (instead of another transmedia panel).

Got any ideas on how else this might be used?

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April Art: Chelsea & LES Edition

Last week was the Upper East Side, now I’ll cover the best of what I’ve seen in Chelsea and the Lower East Side, again in order of what I liked the most. There are a bunch of new shows, and I haven’t made it to all of them, but here’s the ones I’ve liked thus far.

Vik Muniz: Album at Sikkema Jenkins through May 10

Vik Muniz, New Car, Album

Vik Muniz is one of the hotter photographers right now for good reason, and this show proves why – because he’s speaking to our culture’s pastiche-making, copying and nostalgia all at the same time through the medium, by creating collages that make up a bigger picture. His “nostalgia postcards” series stand out for their multi-color takes on iconic, now ruined sites (the WTC for example), but my favorites are the family photo album collages such as “Car” in the photo here.

Friedrich Kunath “The Temptation to Exist (May Contain Nuts)” at Andrea Rosen through April 26th

Canvases pained to resemble note-pad paper, with dreamscape images exploding from the page, all with not-so-subtle environmental apocalypse messaging and plenty of surrealistic dream touches, accompanied by rotting fruit on cat-scratch poles and vibrantly colored carpets. What more could you want?

Robert Longo, Gang of Cosmos at Metro Pictures until May 23


Longo re-creates 12 abstract expressionist masterpieces in B&W charcoal paintings. Detailed, very much duplicates of the originals as studied in museums and through photographs. Make sure to flip through the Longo catalogues while at the gallery, as they represent some amazing past work by the artist. Pretty and pretty nice.

Joel Otterson 1980s and 1990s at Elizabeth Dee (link is to Time Out since the gallery’s website sucks so bad)

Joel Otterson, Divine Intervention

Joel Otterson is just one half of this show with Ryan Trecartin, but steals the show with his pre-steampunk sculptures. Of course steal a show from the much over-hyped Trecartin is pretty simple, and gets simpler when you were as flash-forward thinking and fun-making as Otterson. See the show, but avoid the gallery’s website which is a disaster. Every gallery’s website makes restaurant websites look ghastly (and those are among the worst), but this one doesn’t even work.

Urs Fischer: Mermaid/Pig Bro W/Hat at Gagosian 104 Delancey St through May 23rd

Urs Fischer: Mermaid

One of two shows right now where the venue is as interesting as the art. Gagosian took over an old Chase branch on Delancey St and turned it into a gallery. It’s hard to find, still looks like a bank (with the neon Chase sign inside and out), contains the old safes and is now filled with debaucherous art from Urs Fischer and his collaborators. These clay sculptures (now bronze) were made collaboratively with 1500 other people in 2013 in California. From Mermaids to pig-fucking, yes really, you find something new in every room. Someone finally did something appropriate with the Chase brand.

Corin Hewitt: The Third Station at Laurel Gitlen, through May 11th

Hewitt’s gigantic police station/abandoned store-front sculptures are an interesting companion piece to the ongoing NSA spying disaster, and make for interesting contemplation with their surveillance cameras capturing empty-ness. Detailed work, including detritus in the back alleys remind me of former East German ruins – another state brought down (in part) by its over-zealous capturing of data. What’s real? What’s fake? Definitely topics on your mind after this exhibit.

Florian Pumhosl at Miguel Abreu through April 27th 

The art in this show is good, but the real reason to visit is to see Abreu’s new gallery in this block-long loft warehouse building. Amazing space with so much potential, and a great inaugural show. Pumhoesl is up to some cerebral art with these 12 paintings based on ancient rabbinical maps, and 6 more based on Georgian letters. Austere, minimalist and way above my head, but I believe the press release which explains it like this: “Pumhösl’s restaging of these sources exploits the threshold between the referent and the space of the image.” Yep, and what better way to investigate a new space on the artistic map.

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End Of Story, panel today

I’m speaking today at the Webvisions conference on a very exciting panel called End of Story. Love the title, but we’re not talking about the end, but perhaps the future of story. I’m late to announce the conference here, but I’m very excited to join two people I admire on stage – John Carlin of Funny Garbage and Casey Pugh of VHX, and for this panel most importantly, of Star Wars Uncut.

Here’s the panel description:

Join in a lively conversation that explores how technology is expanding and challenging our ideas of narrative, authorship and community with a panel that features Brian Newman (Sub-Genre Media), Casey Pugh (Star Wars Uncut), moderator John Carlin (Funny Garbage) and other special guests.

The panelists will discuss ways technology and digital media have empowered creative people to do new things over the past decade – rather than just distribute and market linear content. They’ll also talk about the challenges to some of our most cherished ideas about authorship, content and how art should provoke, engage and amuse us. They’ll share and critique some of the most well known (and obscure) examples of emerging interactive media, as well as what might be missing and how that will change over the next few years.

Finally, the panelists will publicly imagine the kind of digital culture we would like to see and how that will transform creative and commercial work around the world by the end of the decade.

The conversation promises to be intriguing and enlightening (thanks to the other two panelists), and I hope to post an update about it here next week. John is also leading a keynote on the future of Interactive Culture earlier in the day, which also looks pretty awesome. Here’s some Star Wars Uncut:

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Guest Post: The Net Helps People Do What They Love

This is a guest blog post from Adam Richardson of Netstars. Check out his site and his IndieGoGo Campaign too.

The convergence of high speed internet, exponentially faster computers, and user generated content is drastically changing the mass media industry. How we get our entertainment and information is being transformed as we speak. Consumer expectations and consumption habits are changing drastically. The new digital era has helped turned passive consumers into creators of their own media experience.

Technology advances always bring new challenges, but they also frequently present us with new opportunities. Digital media can only be expected to continue to pervade all aspects of our lives. Creation and distribution of content have been revolutionized and continue to evolve before our eyes.

If you are an aspiring musician, writer, photographer, filmmaker, or any other creative type trying to get discovered, then the Net provides you a great opportunity. Selling on the Net makes it easier than ever for you to find customers for your niche and for your customers to find you. You can use the Net to sell directly to customers. Online marketplaces help connect you with your buyers and makes it easy for everyone.

So, there is no need for a publisher, record label, or film studio to take most of your earnings anymore. After realizing this I created to help creative people cut out the middleman. Now digital creators can connect with buyers, get recognized, and be able to make a living doing what they love.

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