Poet Ellen Steinbaum finds social media an annoyance at performances. She thinks it diminishes the experience for the audience and shows disrespect for the artist.
Gallery owner Brian Crete believes the integration of social media into the arts is inevitable.
“If we want to sustain our businesses, we need to be part of the movement and be open to where it leads us,” Crete said.
Despite its ubiquity, social media has yet to establish itself in today’s arts community. Artists, performers, and organizers alike are struggling to negotiate a role for the technology, with many of them viewing its use as irreconcilable or even detrimental to their craft.
Boston University student Alexis Lamper shares a similar belief. Throughout her work as the secretary of Wandering Minds, a student-run theater group open to all BU undergraduates, Lamper has noticed a rise in social media use during performances. She worries this trend will undermine one of theater’s key qualities.
“I have always found that one of the best things about the arts is that they help to take you away from your life, problems, [and] worries,” said Lamper.
“The use of social media really negates that and pulls you out of it.”
Charlotte Seley works as the digital content coordinator for Mr. Hip Presents, a Boston-based poetry reading series that encourages social media use throughout the events. She argues that social media is not diminishing the arts experience but is instead transforming it.
Though Seley admits that its use can disturb some audience members who choose to keep their phones tucked away, she views its integration into the arts as necessary in an increasingly digital world.
“Social media has…rapidly [become] a part of how we experience art and performance,” said Seley. “Our social media accounts have become so deeply woven into how we structure our own identity that it only makes sense that the arts should adapt to that social space.”
Seley believes that allowing audience members to interact on social media during events can help them create more accurate representations of their experiences to share online.
Yet, sometimes these representations are far too accurate for an artist’s liking. Caitlin Donohue, a member of Boston University’s On Broadway, notes a particular issue with using social media during live theater: not only does it serve to distract the actors, but it provides the digital world with an unfair sneak peek of the show, which she worries may discourage people from attending the actual performance.
“I believe that online reviews and recommendations via blog posts, Facebook statuses, and tweets are a more efficient way to contribute to both the audience and the actors, because these encourage people to witness a performance in-person,” said Donohue.
Crete, the owner of UFORGE Gallery, understands social media’s power as an advertising and promotional tool. The artwork at UFORGE gains a lot of digital exposure, hosting various social media-friendly functions including Mr. Hip Presents. While this aids some emerging artists in expanding their reach, Crete recognizes the threat it affords to his business. Buyers who view work on the Internet may attempt to bypass the gallery, trying instead to contact the artist directly in order to receive a lower price on certain pieces.
“I always look at my nephew, who is eight years old and glued to his iPad, as a reminder of what’s ahead. I don’t think [social media] will be going anywhere soon.”
While members of the arts community may not have a clear idea of how their use of social media may evolve in the future, Seley finds that they are already reaping the benefits. Though she understands her views may be unpopular, she embraces social media for its ability to expand what is often an intimate experience into a widespread conversation.
“I choose to believe that, for the most part, if we’re tweeting and recording the event, we are engaged in a way that does more than just hearing and seeing a great performance – we’re documenting it in time and sharing it with those who cannot be there for myriad reasons,” said Seley.
“At the end of the day, we’re all creating something greater than just ourselves, and by using social media, our audience ends up doing more than just hearing a performance and letting it stagnate there – it takes the performance out of the room and becomes much bigger than just one night in Boston at an art gallery.”