Social Media as Creative Practice

Social Media Artist in Resident Logo. Man Bartlett. 2012

Who are RU?

Residency Unlimited is an organisation that creates tailored individual artist residencies. Recognising that residencies can be quite insular experiences, RU creates residencies which see artists partnered with arts organisations through out New York.

What are they doing that’s so interesting?

Recently they launched a new residency, the Social Media Artist in Residence (S+M for short). Earlier this week I went along to meet RU Director Sebastian Sanz de Santamaria and the first S+M artist Man Bartlett.

Other organisations have invited artists, and celebrities to take over their official twitter channel to mark a special occasion or as a temporary intervention. The S+M artist in residence marks a shift towards recognising social media as both a creative platform and artistic medium, rather than solely a novelty platform for temporary intervention.

Why was the residency developed?

I asked Sebastian about the residency, and why they decided they wanted to develop a residency that recognized S+M as a platform and medium. I was surprised by his response.

Sebastian explained that as an arts organisation RU , like most arts organisations felt they needed to use social media channels. They are a small organisation with only a handful of staff, so they didn’t have much time to post interesting content on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

They tried to get interns to manage social media channels but they just didn’t get it. The Interns posted links to mainstream arts sources, this curated content did not align with RU, or the artists that they represent.

For a number of years RU have posted artist residency opportunities from around the world on their website. They have just over 17,000 Facebook fans and about 1,000 Twitter followers. When RU posts a residency opportunity on their website it automtically posts to their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

As they had a large online following due to their residencies listings service, and were struggling with time to create and curate content on their social media channels they took a step back and thought: People like our social media channels for the listings they provide, so rather than add to our workload and feel the need to do cool stuff on Twitter and Facebook because everybody else is, what else could we do?

So the S+M residency was born, part artist opportunity, part strategic response to RU’s dilemma of how to effectively use social media.

Who is the first artist in Residence?

Man Bartlett had been using Social Media for a couple of years before starting the residency, and was instrumental in the development of the residency. In January 2010 a few months after joining Twitter he took over Brooklyn Museums Twitter art feed  a very early example of artists and museums collaborating to use social media channels.

As RU creates individual, tailored residencies the first S+M residency feels like a really exciting dialogue, with both RU and Man testing new ways of working, pushing boundaries, experimenting and playing. Man has taken over RU’s Facebook and Twitter, and has started a Tumblr blog, on these channels he is playfully responding to digital culture and social media practice in unusual, subtle and intriguing ways.

Will Man have an exhibition at the end? What form will the exhibition take? How long will the residency last? are all questions that have yet to be answered but that is what makes this residency really interesting.

What can we learn from this?

I have no doubt that in a few months or perhaps even weeks, such is the pace of digital practice that more organisations will begin exploring how they can engage artists in new ways through social media. The RU example is particularly interesting because it has been developed in response to a genuine institutional /organisational problem. What should we do with our social media channels? Rather than doing what everyone else is doing, RU took a step back and looked at the opportunities this problem offered.

Is this the first dedicated Social Media Artist Residency?

I haven’t come across any others, but if you know of any @ me on twitter @OonaghTweets , or leave a comment here.

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